The face project
Today, for the first time ever, I wore makeup. Well, save for a brief foray into cosmetics in ninth grade, but that ended after I realized that my face should not be a different color than my neck.
It's not that I never attempt to wear makeup. Sometimes, when I'm feeling brave, I jab at my eyelashes with mascara. But by the end of the evening, I usually look like an owl. I have neither the patience nor the eye for applied beauty that is required to put on one's face. I just wear the one I wake up with.
But college changes the way you think about yourself. Every day I'm surrounded by girls with perfect faces, and I wonder: How do they do that? Did their mothers give them lessons? Do they have a special steady hand gene that I missed out on? I don't feel ugly or imperfect compared to my wonderfully made-up peers. I feel like an idiot. I feel like I should at least try to do what they've obviously been doing for years. So I put myself up to the challenge.
I put on foundation and powder and mascara and pink eye shadow. Standing in front of my sister's mirror, I stared at my face. "Is it supposed to look like this?" My sister peered around and shrugged; "You just look like every other girl who wears makeup." I smiled and nodded, accepting that looking like everyone else is a heck of a lot better than looking like a freak.
"So I don't look like a freak?" My sister slowly shook her head. She doesn't wear makeup either, but she fully supports my experiment.
I turned my head left to right and realized that I look a little pale. Of course I don't own blush, or lipstick, or lip gloss, or eyeliner or anything particularly glittery, so I decided to improvise. Rubbing the pink eye shadow on my cheek bones, I felt myself actually blush. I already felt like an idiot and I hadn't even walked out the door.
My sister sighed behind me and said something about how sad and pathetic I am. I was tempted to go scrub the whole thing off but maintained my now-perfect complexion. This was an experiment, and I needed something to write about.
I learned my first lesson from what I now deem "the face project." Walking quickly to class while wearing one's face is not easy. I continually turned to my sister and asked if I was melting. The sun was beating down on my carefully applied cheeks, eyes and chin and I wasn't entirely sure if I could handle it. My project accomplice put up with my questions and assured me that all was well and that I still looked like everyone else.
After my first class, I rushed to the bathroom to see what kind of person I had become. In class, I said very little as I sat erect with my hands in my lap and texting, careful not to touch my face. I was sure I had lost brain cells because I'd spent so much time considering my appearance. In the mirror, I didn't look all that different. I realized that my makeup was hardly excessive and that if you didn't know me, you wouldn't think I looked different at all.
But I did look a little different. The usual blemishes and freckles that sparkled proudly on my nose and my forehead were hidden behind my new face. I felt vulnerable without them. I think it's usually the other way around: Naked flesh leads one to desire some sort of cover up. So used to the lack of a veil, I wanted to rip off the falsehood that shone black and long on my lashes and pink and sparkly on my lids.
By the end of the day, the startlingly smooth-flesh colored veil that had bothered me in the morning had blended into my normal skin and didn't seem so scary. I didn't think people were laughing at me as I passed. I didn't think I'd lost brain cells because by the end of my two-and-a-half-hour seminar, I was still intrigued by women and politics in South Asia. I'd forgotten about my face and my fear that it wouldn't fit. It fit all right.
Back home, I invited my friend to my apartment, saying that I wanted to run but meaning that I wanted her to see my face. "Notice anything?" I asked, sticking my head close to hers.
"Ew, why are you so close to me?" she shrieked, backing up. She hadn't noticed anything. "But I'm wearing makeup!" I exclaimed. "Oh," she offered. And she still hadn't noticed anything. I wasn't sure if I was offended or relieved.
I'm ambivalent about "the face project." On principle, I've never made my face up. This is not because I think it's shallow or because I think it's pointless. On principle, I've never thought I should look any different than when I wake up.
I'm probably not going to wear makeup again anytime soon. As many lessons as I may have pretended to learn from "the face project," I learned a better one on my run with my unobservant friend. Sweating, I wiped my face with my sleeve. The only thing that came off was sweat, not powder or glitter or thick black goo. I felt prettier than I had all day.
Connelly's column runs weekly Thursdays. She can be reached at email@example.com.