From April 7-20, I’ve asked some friends whose hearts I trust to participate in The Authenticity Project. The goal? To share something true. I gave these folks very loose parameters — no word count, no guidelines, no rules to follow — and I asked them to be free with what’s real for them these days, whether that reality is thoughtful or funny or poignant or ridiculous. I hope you enjoy meeting these people as much as I enjoy counting them among my friends.
Mascara, Mystery, Mess and Me
An Authenticity Project guest post by Jen Foster
“Okay, this time without blinking!” she says, her laughter hiding just the tiniest hint of frustration. Pulling out yet another Q-tip, she cleans up the black smears of mascara under my left eye, retouching the concealer she’s carefully applied half a dozen times. My friend seems to have the cosmetic equivalent of a Mr. Clean Magic Eraser in her arsenal, but even her careful layering of tinted moisturizer, concealer, and some sort of enchanted unicorn powder can’t hide my dark under-eye circles. Apparently they have joined the smile wrinkles and double chin among my permanent, not-to-be-disguised features. It feels like we’ve been at this for hours, her applying my makeup, me blinking, mascara smearing everywhere. How most women do this every morning before breakfast remains a mystery to me.
Handing me the mascara wand, she tells me to try it myself, that maybe that I can stop the incessant blinking and resulting smearing. I laugh too, hiding just the tiniest bit of my own frustration. I know that I am totally incapable of applying anything in a way that would meet her standards. This friend is a beauty pro. In college, she worked at a department store cosmetic counter. Now she sells high end skincare and makeup in her spare time between raising children, toning up at barre class, and looking effortlessly gorgeous and classy. This is a woman who, in the throes of postpartum exhaustion, somehow managed put on full face makeup every single day. Meanwhile, I spent those new baby days in a sleep-deprived stupor, never quite sure how long it had been since I had brushed my teeth. How we have remained friends is a mystery to us both.
I don’t do makeup. My skincare regimen consists of sunscreen and self acceptance.
It’s not that I never learned how to put makeup on. My mom’s bottle of Maybelline foundation and pots of taupe eyeshadow sat on the bathroom vanity beside her tub of Noxzema. Each evening she’d religiously wash off the layers she’d put on that morning. She tried to teach me the value of a good base foundation, and I’m sure she’d have taught me how to use the medieval torture device eyelash curler if I wasn’t scared to death of pinching myself. But when all of my preteen friends were begging their moms for the chance to wear lip gloss or applying contraband eyeshadow on the school bus, I just wasn’t interested.
It’s not that I’m opposed to the idea of looking pretty, though my inner feminist tells me that if men don’t need it, neither do I. If each of us is created in the image of God, I’m not sure why that image needs a little more blush on the cheeks or sheen on the lips.
The reason I don’t wear makeup is that it feels phony, like I’m trying to look like someone I’m not. It feels like I’m pretending to be prettier than I am, disguising the real, very average me in favor of some costumed, painted version of myself. It’s not that I mind trying on a new look. My favorite activity as a kid was dressing up as a princess in hand-me-down bridesmaid dresses; I still love that Halloween allows me to try on a new character for an evening. But those are days when it’s clear that I’m pretending to be someone else. Applying makeup feels like playing dress up, and doing that every day feels inauthentic.
Don’t get me wrong – I’m not opposed to beauty treatments that make a gal look better. I shave my legs. (Oh, shut up, husband, I can hear you laughing. I do shave the bottom half of my legs on occasion.) I straighten my hair, and I’ve had it colored a time or two. I get pedicures with purple sparkly polish, and nothing could be further from my authentic toes than purple sparkle. Heck, last Sunday I squeezed myself into Spanx to smooth out the rolls that three pregnancies have bestowed on my abdomen. If wedging yourself into that kind of misery to look skinny at church isn’t putting on airs, I don’t know what is. Somehow, none of those feel like I’m being inauthentic. Why putting on eyeliner feels wrong and sparkly toes feel perfectly fine I cannot explain. But that doesn’t make it any less true in my mind.
I look back in the mirror, glancing over my shoulder at my friend whose patient smile shows me that she’s willing to clean up my mistakes as many times as it takes. “It’s a big night,” she says. “You want to look your best. You can do this.” I do want to look my best. But I don’t think I can do this.
I bring the wand toward my face, hand shaking a bit, which, let’s face it, really should have been a sign. If my friend, who’s actually been paid to do makeup for others, couldn’t achieve mascara victory, surely my own inexperienced, shaky-handed attempt was going to be far less successful. Slowly, I bring the mascara right to my lashes, close enough to touch but not quite there. I think about putting in contact lenses each morning, the times I’ve actually touched my eyeball without blinking. “You got it,” my friend reminds me. “Just a gentle swish across the lashes, a zig zag as you pull it away.” I touch the brush to my lashes, darkening the tips with just the tiniest bit of mascara.
I don’t blink.
I go for the other eye. This one is trickier – as a right hander, I have to reach across my face to get to the other eye, partially blocking my view of the mirror. Do I turn the direction of the wand? Change the angle of my wrist? Again, I bring the bristles close to my lashes without touching them. I go in for the kill, gently zig zagging as I drag the wand away. This time, I’m not just hitting the tips. I’m all in, baby. I’m getting all the lash plumping and lengthening and thickening that this little green tube can give.
The left eye looks great. Stunning. Lashes out of a magazine ad. Poor right eye, who only got a glancing blow across her lash tips, looks forgotten and weak.
I get cocky.
I go for another layer. Bringing the wand back up to my right eye, I don’t even pause. Holding my eyes open wide, I touch the wand straight to my lashes, doing the zig zag pull, exactly as instructed.
BLINK. A hard blink. Mascara dots and smears are everywhere: on my lid, under my brow, like an arrow pointing right at those those under-eye circles yet again.
I laugh hysterically, trying desperately not to cry and ruin what bit of makeup might be salvageable. My friend pulls the q-tip container back out, her tube of concealer at the ready. She carefully begins to clean up the mess that my overconfidence created. As she puts on the finishing touches, finally getting the mascara just right, I look at myself in the mirror. I look pretty good, better than usual, actually. I don’t look painted up like someone else, just a better version of me. The real, authentic me.
All those times that I tried to wear makeup, felt phony, and vowed to never touch eyeliner again? The idea that makeup made me feel inauthentic? The feelings were sincere. But as I look at myself in her perfectly lit magnifying mirror, I start to think that maybe I could be genuine while adding a little color to highlight my cheekbones.
The real reason I still don’t wear makeup?
Ain’t nobody got time for that.
Jen Foster is a North Carolina native currently living in the 1950’s era house she grew up in. She’s a mom to three adorable but exhausting kids and spends large portions of her days searching for lost shoes. She spent 14 years in higher education, helping helicopter parents let go of their college kids and serving as a bonus mom to hundreds of college students. All those years of advising 18 year olds on what to be when they grow up have left her wondering what she might want to do in the event she ever grows up. For now, she’ll stick with being a full-time mom with the option of becoming a writer/photographer/