When I put on makeup myself, I was a complete failure. My mom finally gave me permission to wear it when I was about 13, around the same time I was allowed to shave my gorilla-hairy legs — for some reason, just up to the kneecaps.
Makeup and I have always had a love/hate relationship: I love it, it hates me.
Even as a little girl, I was fascinated by makeup’s transformative qualities. My mom didn’t wear it much, just when she went out for special occasions. Her eyelashes were naturally so dark and lush, she didn’t even need mascara. But Mom looked so different — good different — with a dash of red lipstick, a swoop of eyeliner to accent her soulful brown eyes, and a touch of color on her lids. It was the ‘60s, and aquamarine eyeshadow was all the rage.
I always knew when my grandparents, who lived downstairs, were going out on a “date,” usually to see the Christmas pageant at Radio City Music Hall. Nana always doused herself with Evening of Paris perfume and put a bit of rouge on her cheeks, the kind that came in a brass compact and had a fluffy little powder puff.
This was in direct contrast to my friend Theresa’s grandmother, Mrs. Prill, who seemed to put on her makeup with a spatula: white pancake powder, feverish blush blotches, and lipstick that was always cracked and caked.
As a special treat, when I was older, my Aunt Chubby would put makeup on my sister, my cousin, and me. Her touch was like a soft breeze, so gentle and fleeting on our eyelids, blending the turquoise shadow with her fingertips. It rolled up from a tube like lipstick.
When I put on makeup myself, I was a complete failure. My mom finally gave me permission to wear it when I was about 13, around the same time I was allowed to shave my gorilla-hairy legs — for some reason, just up to the kneecaps. With my Woolworth’s color palette, I looked like an earnest, somewhat crazed raccoon.
No one bothered to educate me on the fine points of eyeliner — like Spandex, it’s a privilege, not a right.
No one clued me in on the scientific equation: Sweat + Great Lash + liquid liner = a scary, bruised look.
Or that a shaky hand makes you look like a walking, talking lie detector test. And that cat’s eye accents were not a good idea. Ever. With them, I resembled a crackhead Cleopatra clone.
Given my dearth of makeup expertise, I couldn’t believe how great I looked — and felt — under the magical fingers of makeup artist Maria Giorgio, who’d been hired on to work on a low, low, low budget film I had a bit part in. Maria smiled and told me that her nickname was “Butterfly Fingers.” It was true! I tried to pick up pointers from Maria, but it was no use. I was all thumbs when it came to a makeup brush.
The next time I went to a pro was when I was up for an indie scriptwriting award and wanted to look my best for the ceremony. I guess I had been spoiled from Maria’s light touch and minimalist skills. I ended up looking my worst! When I saw the finished product, I almost cried. A bizarre death mask stared back at me. I could have been mistaken for an understudy in a drag version of Madame Butterfly.
Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to wash off the “Fashion Don’t” I’d spent a small fortune on. It took all my strength not to sob that night, but I knew my tears would cause furrows in my thick, caked foundation. I did manage to sneak out a tiny boo-hoo, which made me feel slightly better.
Who would have thought it would take Look Good, Feel Better to finally teach me fab makeup techniques when I was diagnosed with breast cancer a couple of years ago. Not only did I learn to properly apply foundation, but I also learned to fill in feathery eyebrows when mine thinned from chemotherapy. Those beauty pointers might have been chemo’s only positive fashion takeaway. But hey, I’ll take makeup advice wherever I can get it!