Skin Deep? From Guest Blogger Liz Georges

Post Urban Culture

I was wondering about how exactly one does have a substantive conversation about things like makeup and fashion.  See, I like fashion and makeup.

For the first part of this exploration, I went to the mall, to that cosmetics wonderland, Sephora.  I will confess that while I do a lot of shopping for makeup here, the place tends to leave me cold and feeling guilty afterwards.  Sort of like a booze-laced sex encounter with an attractive jerk.

For starters, the place is overwhelming by design.  There are rows and rows of different brands of makeup, skincare and perfume. Everything may be sampled, as there are open testers of nearly all the products, but that almost makes it worse. The lighting is glaring, the signage is unhelpful, and the steady drone of upbeat techno music is maddening.  It is no wonder that most of the people in the store are at least 15 years my junior.  No one else has the patience.  I should have paid heed to the fact that when my toddler comes with me to the mall (he likes to ride the escalators and elevators – they are magic to him), he is scared to go in here.

The massive selection of product confronting me, one would think I might find comfort in the many, many staff people circling the floor, all clad in black smocks, sort of like Johnny Cash in scrubs.  But there is something sinister about it that I just can’t place.  Perhaps it is the headsets and earpieces they are all wearing, transforming them into members of some wireless-worshipping beauty cult.  We are not guarding the President, people!  I know that all of this has been masterminded by some retail consultant to assure “seamless customer service” or some other corporate doublespeak mantra that is supposed to “maximize my retail experience.” (What does that even mean?) Instead I find it off-putting.  I do not need to have a retail “experience,” be it maximal or minimal.  I need eye cream.

Some of the consultants are busy painting things on teenage girls at their lighted workstations.  When one approaches me cheerfully asking if I need help, I shoo her off. I will not be duped into your nefarious experiments you beauty cult member!  Besides, I think to myself, you have too much eyeliner on for me to take you seriously as a makeup expert.

I do not look my age.  When people guess, they consistently place me about 5 to 10 years younger than I actually am.  I do not have the faint lines around my eyes that many women my age have. Some of it is good genes.  Some of it is clean living.  But some of it is skincare products.  I’ve done enough reading of articles about the technology of skincare to have a passing understanding of the potions, lotions, vials, creams, scrubs and serums that collectively promise to make me look 19 forever. This is an overstatement, of course, since I do not look 19 right now.  Perhaps I should have started moisturizing earlier.

Skincare lines have various marketing ploys they use to convince you to spend hundreds of dollars on a skincare “regime.”  (I always wondered about thinking about skincare as a “regime.”  Stalin had a regime, and look where that got us…) There are the ones that are allegedly designed by a DOCTOR with some big fancy name.  They have clinical looking white bottles with lots of text on them, as if the gibberish actually tells you anything useful about what it does. Lately there seem to be a lot of organic skincare lines with green labels and earthy looking packaging to convince you that the natural minerals these products contain are somehow better for your face than the polysyllabic gibberish on the DOCTOR’s labels.

These days, there are many different types of eye creams, even within a single skincare line.  There are general moisturizers, meant for twenty-somethings who still look 19.  These are the cheapest. There are the eye creams designed to fight under-eye puffiness, also known as the “I stay out all night pretending I am 19, so I need this to keep me from looking like I am 91” eye cream.  These are not cheap, but they are not expensive.  Then there are the basic anti-wrinkle creams, which are meant for people who may have some fine lines, but certainly no wrinkles.  They have fancy peptides and vitamins and other nonesuch that allegedly keep you from getting wrinkles. These are about the same price as the anti-puffiness creams.

Last are the high-octane, industrial-strength wrinkle fighters, the ones that promise to “visibly” reduce the actual creases and crinkles you have on your “so not 19” face. They promise to have “revolutionary” chemical craziness that is apparently so new, exciting and different that you must pay the equivalent of the gross national product of a small country to possess it.  Thankfully, I do not need this particular species of eye cream.

I locate my favored brand and the appropriate strength eye cream and wait in line for the cashier. The line is flanked with bins of various travel size products.  Obviously, every opportunity to tempt me to buy must not be wasted.  Despite the obvious attraction of purse sized atomizers of skanky perfume and face “blotting” sheets, I manage to resist temptation long enough to be rung up by one of the cult members.

After this retail experience (which I am sure is not nearly as maximized as the consultants were hoping), I spend the drive home considering a very simple question:  Why?  Why buy eye cream? Why wear high heels?  Why care about fashion?  What do I get out of this?

It’s certainly a fair question when one considers that the fashion and beauty industries have done plenty to undermine the confidence of women around the world by creating images of womanhood that are cartoonish and impossible to achieve.  The dark side of fashion is anorexic models and the endless hamster wheel of having to keep up with the latest trend, whether or not it suits the person wearing it. The dark side of makeup is the obsessive fakery, the desire to erase flaws to the point where you are also erasing the very uniqueness of the person under the makeup.  Clearly one can take this makeup and fashion thing to a dangerous extreme.

The whirlwind of having a newborn baby wreaked havoc on how I presented myself to the world.  Fortunately, I lost my baby weight rather quickly, so I did fit back in my pre-mom clothes within a week or two.  But I found that I had no time to do more in the morning than throw on some jeans and a shirt.  The main prerequisite for which shirt I wore was whether or not it had baby barf on it.  I didn’t wear makeup for nearly six months.  I had one pair of clogs I wore incessantly.  The fact that I maintained at least the basics of personal hygiene was a miracle attributable to my ability to endure sleep deprivation.

Somewhere along the line, I realized that I missed looking good.  I missed feeling attractive and well put together.  There are some that would say that I was living an incredibly unique female experience (motherhood) and yet I never felt so out of touch with certain aspects of my womanhood.  Most specifically, the sexual aspect.

There is nothing sexy about clogs.  There is nothing sexy about a shirt that is selected largely due to its absence of visible barf stains. My husband certainly didn’t have any problem finding me desirable. But one of the wonderful things about my husband is that he means it when he says he loves me for me and not what I look like.  This wasn’t about my sex appeal to others.  This was about what made me feel sexy to me.  And I was tired of feeling like motherhood had somehow neutered me as a sexual being.

I started taking whatever opportunities were available to me to be well put together.  I bought a couple pairs of comfortable, yet somewhat sexy high heels.  I found a couple of very basic, yet very stylish dresses that were versatile and looked great on me.  I made a point of updating my makeup.  I dug deep in my drawers and pulled out some scarves that had seen little use and started accessorizing with them.  I found excuses to dress well.  Going to the movies with my husband warranted heels.  Going to dinner (even TGIFriday’s) merited a dress.  This wasn’t about turning hubby on (that is why God invented lingerie, not fashion), this was about me feeling like I looked good. This was about me caring for and about me.

There are plenty of ways for me to care for and about me, to be sure. And I could have chosen something less superficial to start with.  But the thing is, there is no lack of substance in my life.  And when you are looking for a change, sometimes starting with the superficial isn’t a bad place to begin.  It’s quick.  It’s easy to digest. It offers success you can see, a tangible thing to work with.  A pair of high heels and some makeup won’t cure cancer.  Eye cream won’t bring peace to the Middle East or solve the energy crisis. But using a little alteration on the outside to spur a little alteration on the inside can sometimes be just the thing.

Liz Georges




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