Painted Faces

It's fun to be a woman. It's fun to flirt and wear makeup and have boobs. -- Eva Mendes

'I can feel my pores tightening from the mist." "She was paid to say that," I whispered to Stephanie. She nodded in agreement, and we turned back to look at the freakishly beautiful woman who had "volunteered" to assist the speaker in his product demonstration.

"It feels like I'm not wearing anything! And wow, that smell," the model breathed in deeply, and as she let the air out, she sounded post-orgasmic.

"This mister contains silver and gold, the same materials used by ancient Egyptians," the speaker announced. The room seemed to undulate beneath the oohs and aahs. "And... it's only 12 dollars."

"I'm thinking about getting the mister," Stephanie leaned in to tell me.

"Oh yeah, must have," I said. "I'm already decided on that and the 'temptress' red lipstick with 'extra pigment.'"

"We are such slaves to the advertisement," she added with a giggle, leaving the obvious unsaid -- that even though we were mocking the staged sales pitches and despite our state-of-the-art bullshit filters, we wanted to be persuaded to buy more makeup. When it comes to cosmetics, we feel the same way many women feel about shoes -- there's "no such" as "too much."

I met Stephanie shortly after I graduated high school, around the same time I began to develop an interest in beauty products. She immediately became my fashion guru. One night, when the phones were not busy at the call center for which we worked, Stephanie tweezed my brows, something I'd never tried before. One by one, she plucked away, and I was amazed at how different my face looked after such a seemingly subtle change.

I never wore makeup in high school, proud of the fact that I didn't "need" it. Because I'm half Irish and half Greek/Italian, I have naturally rosy cheeks, a spattering of freckles, and, depending on how much sun it sees, my skin tone fluctuates between milky pink and olive. The truth is, no one "needs" makeup. Just as no one "needs" a flattering hair cut. But I have yet to meet the woman whose personality doesn't shine a bit brighter when she's feeling more attractive.

Four years after the initial tweezing session, I convinced Steph to join me living in Los Angeles, where I had been taking makeup tips from Sassy, the rambunctious little drag queen, for almost a year. When she joined me in Plastic Land, Steph was in her "V" phase, meaning her upper lip was shaped into a sharp, deep-red "V" at all times.

We would get vamped up and go to clubs with names like Sinomatic and Perversion. This gave me a reason to experiment with extreme looks, weird colors, and dozens of moods. Red lips for sexually aggressive, dark eyes for sultry, shimmery blush for ingenue, and so on. Makeup became the way in which I expressed myself, and the means for which I could change my appearance, and therefore myself, instantly.

I began to follow makeup artist legends like Kevyn Aucoin. In one of his books, Kevyn wrote, "The excitement of beauty lies in the ability to look different." It was my goal to look different every day. My collection of cosmetics grew and grew. I felt like each new product brought me that much closer to achieving the "perfect look." As if by making myself look better, I would feel better.

And it worked. Makeup, on many an occasion, has made me feel better. One Saturday night, in the throes of PMS and caught up in a pensive phase, I told Stephanie I didn't want to go out or see anybody. She lived downstairs from me in our small apartment complex and was at my door in less than a minute.

I couldn't even muster a smile for her, but Steph wasn't fazed. She took my makeup kit and went to work on herself. Fifteen minutes later, she stood in front of me wearing a t-shirt, baggy gray sweatpants, and tube-socks, over which she had slipped on my black heels. Her long black hair was ratted out in glam-rock style and her face matched her coiffure -- purple and black eye shadow, geometrical streaks of dark blush on each cheek, and it looked like she had mixed black eyeliner with red gloss to cover her lips.

"Come on, baby," Steph said, swaying her hips back and forth either in an effort to balance in my heels or as part of her odd little act, "Mama needs some laundry change." That was about all I could handle before doubling over in laughter.

Though Stephanie reminded me of the theatrical benefits to makeup, it is the ritual of applying it that usually improves my mood when I'm feeling poopy. There's something about the process of grooming, of carefully painting a wet line of black along my lashes, of sketching burgundy wax onto my lips and taking the time to examine and perfect each feature on my face that has always made me feel... confident.

The way dressing in a suit can make you feel professional or wearing silk can make you feel sexy, painting my face makes me feel "ready." Ready to take on the world, ready to spark up a conversation with that cute guy, ready to run into old high school friends at the supermarket. Everyone who puts something on her face, whether it's a sheer gloss or a full mask complete with concealer, foundation, powder, shadows, liners, mascara, blush, and lips, has her reasons (or his reasons -- I'm hard-pressed to name ten things sexier than a man wearing black eyeliner). Some might say this is a disguise, like putting on an ornately decorated Venetian mask before going to the costume ball. Confidence in appearing different from the person you really are.

This used to be the case with me. The reason I fell in love with makeup in the first place is because it helped me hide myself, of which I was ashamed, and play the part of the confident woman I wanted to become. Practice makes perfect, and though I am far from the latter, in recent years I find myself not remembering my rule of not leaving the house without lipstick on. In the last year, I have even gone out to clubs with a naked face, something inconceivable just a few years ago.

Am I more comfortable with who I am? Yes. But wearing makeup isn't always an indication of insecurity. Many times it is used to enhance those features you are most proud of. Though I realize now that I can achieve the "perfect look" by simply being myself, sometimes being myself means to don bright red lips and a giant feather boa.

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