Color Me Beautiful

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For a writer, I have woefully expensive taste.  I have always been this way.  If asked which of four silver bracelets, pairs of running shoes or pieces of china, I like best, I will, without hesitation, choose the most expensive of the bunch.  (I’ve tested myself on this several times, hiding my eyes from the prices of said items.)

I come by this honestly, right down the maternal line.

In the old days, my grandmother, Doll, drove an hour and a half from her Tidewater home to Richmond, Virginia to shop at a lovely department store named Thallheimers.  She had a weakness for fitted ultra-suede suits,  sleek Ferragammo high heels and well-tailored, stylish hats.  After buying three, sometimes four, hats from the department store’s millinery, she would return home – well before my grandfather – with booty in tow.  Doll would show just one of her day’s purchases to my grandfather and stash the rest of the big, round hat boxes beneath her four-poster bed.  After a reasonable amount of time had passed, she would pull another hat from her stash.  My grandfather never knew the difference.

My mother, too, has a weakness for beautiful things.  She loves new cars, bed linens made of high-thread-count cotton, good jewelry and dogs with distinguished pedigrees.  My father, unfortunately, did know the difference, so there were no hidden hat boxes beneath her bed, just as there are no hideaways beneath mine.

Nevertheless, I’ve maintained my penchant for small luxuries: pedicures; magazines; Mrs. Meyers geranium-scented counter spray; and good makeup.  Yes – makeup.  While I’m sure that Maybelline and L’Oreal make stuff of fine enough quality, I am drawn to the mall’s shiny, crystal clear makeup counters with an urgency that defies intelligence.  I revel in the sheer vanity of good makeup, the blissful thirty-minute makeover sessions, the glee reaped from new cheek colors and sparkling eye shadows, perfectly sculpted lipsticks and luminescent glosses.

Last week, this weakness got the best of me.  After a lengthy day of writing and tutoring, I had plans to meet a friend for coffee.  Only traces of the scant makeup I’d put on in the morning remained.  Dark circles, intensified by droopy mascara, ringed my eyes.  I looked this way partly because I’d applied my makeup while driving that morning, and partly because I’d recently run out of concealer.  But the mall was on the way, and I imagined I could pop in to Nordstrom’s quickly and solve two problems – the droopy circles and my need for new concealer – at once.

I’ve read enough copies of Allure magazine in my lifetime to know that a girl should never go to a makeup counter looking the way I did, and that, once there, she should say, “I need concealer number 3,” not, “I’m looking for concealer, but I’m not sure which shade.”  Yet, I broke both rules.  With raccoon eyes and disheveled hair, I shuffled over to the TM counter and asked for help.

Jeanie, a perfectly powdered saleswoman, took one look at my bulging belly and faded foundation and her eyes lit up.  She’d just hit pay dirt.  Before I knew it, I was in the midst of a hard core makeover.

“What kind of foundation do you use?” Jeanie asked innocently.  I explained that my foundation was actually a tinted moisturizer, made by TM Competitor X.  She rolled her eyes and shook her head, as if I’d just told her I put dog food on my face each morning.  When she asked how I applied my makeup (to which I actually responded “with my fingers, in the car”) I knew I was in deep trouble.

Jeanie assured me that after thirty minutes with her (and a hefty sum spent on new TM makeup) I’d become the most beautiful pregnant person the world had ever seen.  She complimented me on my beautiful skin (once “good” foundation was applied), my motherly glow (once brightener was applied), and she feigned disbelief when she learned I’d recently entered my third trimester (unfortunately, no high-end makeup to help the bulging belly, but she could probably tell I needed the compliment).

Under normal circumstances, I’d like to think I’d see through Jeanie’s ruse.  But, in the thrilling midst of the high-gloss makeover, I buckled.  Would I like the brightener?  Yes.  The concealor?  Certainly.  The new foundation?  But of course.  A professional brush with which to apply my high-end makeup?  You bet.  The kicker came when Jeanie convinced me I needed a new TM makeup case to help me stay organized once Baby K arrives.  I can’t believe I said yes to that, but I did. At least when Jeanie asked (with new urgency) if I needed any mascara, I resisted.  Everyone knows only the truly duped fall for makeup counter mascara.

I left the mall feeling utterly taken, but – now at least this is true – prettier than I have in a while.  Thankfully, Nordstrom’s accepts returns on unopened makeup (and overpriced makeup organizers), and Jeanie wasn’t there the following day to rebuke me.

Don’t worry – I kept the concealer … and the foundation … and the brightener … but I took all the other stuff back.  If Gay Talese could indulge in handmade Italian suits and leather shoes at the beginning of his writing career, a little good makeup won’t hurt mine.

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