Confessions of a Makeup Addict

My name is Garrie, and I’m an addict.

This morning, as I do every morning, I leaned into the mirror on my bathroom medicine cabinet to put a contact lens into my right eye.  It is a struggle, as I cannot see the lens and have to fish around the little well of soaking solution with fumbling fingers.  However, without this lens, I cannot see to apply my makeup, and without makeup, I cannot go to work.  It’s as simple as that.

I began my love affair with cosmetics as a young girl.  My mother used very little makeup; Mabelline cake mascara that mascara jpgcame with a tiny application brush, a compact of pressed powder, and a tube of red Helena Rubenstein lipstick.  When she was busy in the kitchen, I would lock myself in the bathroom, examine each item, smell its contents, and dream of the day I would be old enough to apply small touches like my mother.  On rare occasions, I would try her lipstick, slowly twisting the base, but not too far, least I break the stick or wear down the point.  I carefully applied the ruby-red to my little girl lips, admiring myself in the bathroom mirror while my little brothers and sisters complained from outside the door that they had to pee.  Knowing my mother would never allow her seven-year-old to emerge from the house like a painted lady, I scrubbed at my lips until they resembled swollen strawberries before stealing out the door and skipping off to see if my sisters would notice how sophisticated I looked.

My sisters were not as captivated by the world of cosmetics as I, although Martha-Jean once reported for breakfast with bright blue eye shadow on her lids.  It was the latest fad- all the girls were wearing it- and my older sister bravely and unapologetically brushed it on and sat down to eat her oatmeal, until my mother caught a glimpse of her.  Mom promptly sent Martha-Jean upstairs to wash her face, sputtering “No child of mine is going to leave the house looking like a lady of the evening!”  I didn’t really know what a “lady of the evening” was, but it sounded intriguing.  I would have asked my mother for an explanation, but her face was a bit purple and distorted, and it didn’t seem like the right time for questions.

As I approached my teens, I heard the call from the drugstore counters and began saving my money for lipstick and mascara.  My first purchase was a tube of clear lip gloss that hung from a cardboard display on the drugstore wall.  It cost one whole dollar and it took me weeks to collect enough abandoned change from the floor of the phone booth by the Monson Inn.  1954-EraceWhen the clerk took the tube off the display and placed it into a neatly folded white bag, I thought my heart would burst.  My hands shook as I removed the top of the tube and breathed in its waxy aroma.  From the first application, I was hooked, and the next years were filled with small purchases; Bonnie Bell Blushing Gel, Max Factor Lash Maker, pale Yardley London Look lipsticks, and a wonderful product called Erase, that made my teenage blemishes less visible.  My mother finally realized that her daughters would not be doomed to a life of walking the streets and allowed us to wear eye shadow, as long as we applied it sparingly and avoided very bright colors.

During college I rarely wore makeup- probably because I was always running late for class.  I’d sleep through two alarms, rising with just enough time to pull on my jeans and sweater, brush my teeth, and run from the dorms to the classroom, arriving just in time to slip into the back row.   It was the early seventies and those of us who chose jeans and t-shirts over disco polyester didn’t bother with much jewelry and makeup.  During the years that followed college I became so busy juggling kids and work, that I only swiped on a small amount of makeup when I dressed for church, or to go out for a rare dinner date with my husband.

One day a coworker remarked on how tired and pale I looked.  I went home that night and took a long look in the mirror.  My coworker was right, but it wasn’t a good night’s sleep I lacked.  I knew what to do, and headed for the closest drug store.  I stocked up on blush, mascara and lipstick, and as I opened the packages the next morning, I caught the familiar scents and gently caressed the smooth surfaces with a virgin applicator. I knew my addiction had returned.  It wasn’t long before I graduated from drug stores to department store and Sephora counters.  I discovered mineral foundation and blush, and began collecting various brushes and fancy sponge applicators.  I traded my zipper makeup pouch for a makeup box that is nearly as big as a suitcase.

While I know that my makeup addiction feeds Wall Street’s Barbie doll version of how a woman is supposed to look, I can’t 1950s-red-lipstick-ad1help but feel that dressing one’s face is also an art form and an opportunity for self-expression.  I like to experiment with different shades and techniques, and although the end product looks pretty much the same day-to-day, it’s fun.   It’s an affinity I share with my daughters and some of my nieces, who carefully line their eyes and apply red lipstick that would make their Grammie proud.  Also-and don’t underestimate the value of this- it makes me feel a bit better about the way I look before I face the world, and people are less inclined to remark on how tired I look.

Besides, I’ll never get over the thrill of opening a new product, gazing at the fresh, untouched surface, and drinking in its delightful aroma.  I’m an addict, and I’m not ashamed.


Why You Shouldn’t Listen to Puccini Early in the Morning

mimiWhen I was growing up, my mother often listened to opera music on the record player.  She had loved the opera since she was a girl, and often took the train into Boston to see a matinée performance. My siblings and I heard stories of how she always missed the final act of La boheme, never seeing Mimi fall into her final repose, because she had to catch the final train back to Andover.  She explained the story lines, encouraging us to read the librettos that were neatly folded in the record jackets.  I would scan the page, listen for a few polite minutes, and run off to play hop scotch or kick ball.

My father disliked opera music, and openly complained if my mother played it, but when he was not home, my mother had free reign over the hi fi.  On days when she planned to sew, she carefully removed a vinyl disc from its cover, blew off any dust, and gingerly placed the needle at the beginning.  Soon, echoes of Carmen, Rigoletto and La Traviata would fill the house.   We children often made fun of it, mimicking the mezzo-soprano arias, but my mother blissfully hummed along, pins in her mouth, sewing machine at full tilt.

As I matured, so did my taste for music.  One Sunday evening, Aida was on PBS and having never seen an entire opera, I sat down to watch – just for a few moments.  By the end, two hours later, I was sobbing.  However, my family did not enjoy opera so for the next ten or fifteen years, I never listened to it, save part of an aria bastardized for a television commercial.

Over the years, Mom replaced her scratchy records with DVDs and even put some of her favorite performances on her Ipod.  When she died, I inherited much of her collection, and about a year ago, I began listening to the opera music she loved so much.  I find it enchanting.  Enrapturing.  I forget what I’m doing and find myself in the midst of the scene, surrounded by the players

This morning as I readied for work, I listened to Maria Callas sing “Un bel di” from Puccini’s Madam Butterfly.  The aria is sung by Butterfly – a young Japanese woman who had married an American at fifteen years old.  She married out of love and reverence. He, out of convenience.  As she awaits his return after a three-year absence, she sings, not knowing that he brings his American wife with him, intending to divorce the naïve Japanese teenager.

…He will call, he will callbutterfly
“Little one, dear wife
Blossom of orange”
The names he called me at his last coming.
All this will happen,
I promise you this
Hold back your fears –
I with secure faith wait for him.

It is a heartbreaking piece of music- filled with emotion that wrenches the hardest heart, pulling tears from the driest eyes.

And therein lies the rub.  For a few short rapt moments, I was sitting by Butterfly and she poured out her heart, forgetting that I had just finished applying my morning makeup.  I remembered my first love, the excitement and intensity of it all, and the crushing blow at the realization that it was not to be. My heart swelled with the music, and spilled over, leaving streams of black mascara in its wake.  I had to wipe it off and start all over. Mom would have been proud.

Okay, I admit I am a bit overly emotional.  But here’s the thing.  Opera speaks to the soul as much as it does the eyes and ears.  If you’ve not ever sampled it, try a small sip- just a small bit.  It may be like a fine wine, where you have to acquire a taste for it, rather than say, a margarita that you have to keep yourself from chugging.  But it is truly worth sampling, again and again.

So try it. Just not in the morning when you are putting on your makeup.


I never really liked the idea of aging.  Some people think of creaking bones and sagging skin as badges of honor.  They talk about aging as “having arrived,” as if it were a destination we have longed to reach. I’m not so much of a fan.

One of the things I hate about aging is how-long-it-takes.  When I was in college, I could sleep until 7:30, jump out of bed, pull on jeans and a sweater, brush my teeth and sprint a third of a mile in time to make my eight o’clock class.

Now, at fifty-something, I have to be at work for eight o’clock, and I live about a third of a mile from work.  Theoretically, I should be able to sleep until 7:30.  However, that is not the case. In order to get there on time, I have to get up at five thirty. 

Why so early?  Well, first there is coffee.  I cannot find the shower unless I first have coffee.  I cannot make decisions unless I first have coffee.  I do not speak, stretch, or think without first having coffee.  Early morning coffee must be slowly sipped in front of the morning news.  There I can slowly pry my eyes open, listen to the young and perky anchor tell me what I missed during the night,  and consult with the weatherman about what I should wear to work.

Next, there is “hair-and-makeup.”  Although separate components of my morning routine, one of these does not exist without the other, thus they are not “hair” or “makeup” but are “hair-and-makeup.”  There is an exact science to “hair-and-makeup.”  First I have to put in my magnefying contact lens.   I have to do this because I cannot see to do “hair-and-makeup” without my contact. 

First is the natural mineral makeup.  Beautiful young women with flawless skin sell this stuff.  If I rub enough onto my face, the age spots that miraculously appeared after a day at the beach last summer fade and blend into a murky shadow. 

Next is mineral blush. If I do not wear this to work, people greet me with “What’s wrong?” instead of “Good morning.”  I suppose if I wanted to get sent home from work, I could omit the blush. People would say “What’s wrong?” and I could shake my head sadly and say I can’t talk about it. They would send me home.  Maybe I should try that.

When I was young, I had eyelashes.  I did not wear makeup because people could see my eyelashes.  Now, even with my contact in, I can see eyelash.  Not eyelashes.  Eyelash.  If I carefully crunch black eyeliner around my eye lash, it looks like I once again have eyelashes.  I coat the eyelash with mascara, brushing the wand around my eye area, hoping that it might find other eyelashes.  I am usually disappointed.

The final part of “makeup” is Mineral Veil.  It is supposed to hide fine lines and wrinkles.  I buff it on, hopefully.  I think perhaps it has to find the fine lines and wrinkles before it hides them, so I do not despair when more fine lines and wrinkles appear as I buff.  I finally give up and remove my contact.  Miraculously, the fine lines and wrinkles disappear. So does my eyelash.

“Hair” is next.  When I had my first daughter, I had hair to my waist.  However, I found that my hair usually smelled of animal crackers, drool and popsicle.  The daughter stayed, the hair had to go.  Twenty five years later, I went to a college reunion and people gasped, “Oh, you cut your hair!”  Who doesn’t cut her hair in twenty five years? 

Now my hair is short.  I like low maintenance hairdos because I spend so much time on the “makeup” portion of “hair-and-makeup.”  Usually things fall into place pretty well, but last Friday, a coworker told me that I had kind of a “chicken” effect going on. 

“Oh.  Must be static,” I said. 

“Wise guy.  Hope you go bald” I muttered under my breath. 

I usually do “hair-and-makeup” wearing earphones and listening to my Ipod.  I have to keep the volume up very loud to hear Jason Mraz over the hairdryer.  I dry my hair with my eyes closed and the volume up.  I am seventeen again.  My head bobs, my hips sway, my feet dance.

A banging, not quite in sync with the song disturbs me.  It is my son at the bathroom door. 

“You almost done?  I have to get ready for work” You’ve been in there forever.” he grins.

Rats. I am no longer seventeen.  My hips hurt from swaying and my feet creak as I step out of the bathroom and climb into a conservative suit and sensible shoes.  I have to rush now, because “how-long-it-took” is longer than I thought.  Oh well.  Let them wait.  I’ve earned it.

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