Cosmetics Case: Bare-Faced in a Sephora Society

I don’t wear makeup.

Not in that sexy, Julianne-Moore-profiled-in- Jane kind of way, where she arrives at a

coffee shop with a naked face and it’s a testament to her cornfed beauty and

earthy self-confidence. Nope. With me, it’s just that I’m lazy and frankly a

little scared of the stuff.

Which goes a long way

toward explaining my trembling as I emerged from Saks Fifth Avenue on a recent

Sunday afternoon. I’d just come from the Calvin Klein makeup counter, where a

woman named Brenda had touched my face a lot and then covered it with what felt

like a sticky layer of topsoil, but which she insisted was “the new spring line

of colors.”

It was all a part of a

ritualized survival scheme. I’m single, female, overworked and living in New

York City. That means that I have girlfriends who come up with activities.

Because of them, I have participated in bacchanals of feminine excess I never

dreamed existed. Manicures, pedicures, dramatic waxing events, massages-I’ve

even entertained the idea of going for a facial.

But makeup day was a surprise. My friend sent out an e-mail

saying she’d made an appointment for four of us to do something free that

involved beauty and self-improvement. The only word that penetrated was “free.”

Which is how I got dragged to Saks.

Just a few months ago, I was on TV, a six-minute desk

interview on CNNfn. The studio people patted some foundation on my face so I

wouldn’t shine. My memory of the event itself is obscured by the loop that

played in my inner ear throughout the segment: “My face itches. My face itches.

My face itches.” Friends who saw me said I looked good, which was

disappointing. I don’t want anyone to get used to seeing me in makeup. My real,

bare face will only be a letdown.

At Saks, Brenda placed me on a high stool, an enormous

mirror aimed at my face. “What do you usually wear?” she asked.

“I don’t wear makeup,” I said, perhaps a little shrilly.

“Really?”

“Really.”

Brenda didn’t hide her suspicion well. “O.K., so you want to

go subtle, right?”

She started vigorously rubbing my face with moisturizer,

clicking her tongue and saying, “You want your boyfriend to caress your face

and think how soft you are, not how you feel like an alligator.” I giggled

nervously. No boyfriend has ever caressed my face in quite the manner she was

miming.

“Do you like brown or red lipstick?”

“I don’t wear lipstick.”

Brenda smiled sweetly, as if I were a toddler. “So, are you from New York?” she asked casually,

fingering a pale pink gloss. I told her I’d lived here for four years.

“Where are you from originally?” she asked, fishing for some

key to my freakishness. My face was beginning to itch.

“Do you use black or off-black for your lashes?” she tried

again.

“I have never worn mascara,” I replied.

Brenda took a step back. “Do you have a boyfriend?”

Her impeccably made-up eyes, layered with silvers and

charcoals, narrowly peered at mine, and I knew, in the deepest part of my soul,

that if I admitted to being single, Brenda was going to tell me that it was

because I had never worn mascara.

“Yeah. I have a boyfriend.”

“Hasn’t he said anything about the fact that you don’t wear

makeup?”

“Yeah,” I fibbed again. “He likes that I don’t wear any.”

Brenda didn’t buy it. “Well, just wait ’til he sees you

tonight,” she said, sure that after a thorough coating, I would experience an

outpouring of lust unlike any I had ever known. It was kind of sad, actually,

since I knew that there would be no lust and no boyfriend, either-just a lot of

crap on my skin.

After showing me my new face, Brenda began to make a list of

the products she’d used and, more terrifyingly, started to harvest them from

the drawers behind the counter. She was putting them in a bag, ringing them up.

“No!” I pleaded. “I don’t wear makeup!”

She turned on me and

said, “Well, it’s really important that you begin to learn how to do it,” as if

she were my doctor counseling me about the importance of breast self-exams.

Half of me wanted to buy everything, drop the $250 (she’d throw in a free blush

brush!). I knew I’d never wear it, but part of me wanted Brenda to think I

would. So she wouldn’t catch me refusing to get the paint on my face and the

love back in my life. So she would

think that I would make an effort, that I would never again be satisfied with

my pale, washed-out features when I could be a rainbow. So she would think that

I was a real girl. A real New York girl.

Fortunately, I was broke.

I grabbed the moisturizer and smiled triumphantly. But

Brenda-and my girlfriends-were staring at me in disbelief. I needed to buy

something with pigment. I blindly grabbed the blush.

Out on the street, I felt

wildly out of place-dolled up at 5 o’clock on a Sunday, with no plans except

for The X-Files . More than that, I

felt like I had been found out: as a not-girl, or at least a not–New Yorker.

The truth is, it wasn’t

the first time. At a socialite-infested party in October, I had been felt up in

the ladies’ room-by a bunch of debs. When a woman asked what lipstick I was

wearing, I replied that I wasn’t wearing any. A tangle of long, tan limbs

closed in on me, fingers fluttering over my naked skin while they laughed and

laughed. A friend said that I should have taken the mauling as a compliment,

but I felt like an exhibit at a petting zoo; they were reaching into a dark box

at the reptile house to feel snakeskin.

And just last week, I

was at Elaine’s for the first time. In the ladies’ room, a beautifully

presented woman inspected me in the mirror and asked menacingly, “How old are

you-26? I know all about you. You don’t wear makeup on that pretty face.” And

then, more alarmingly, “I’ll haunt you like the dead.” Apparently, I didn’t fit

in at Elaine’s.

But I am a New Yorker. I’ve held four jobs here now, in film

and publishing and television and now at a newspaper. I ride the subway. I’m

over H&M. I have friends who take me to makeup day at Saks. And hey, I was at

the party with the socialites! But apparently, without makeup, I’ll never

really pass. Moreover, it seems my

bare face can spark violence in otherwise civilized women. A refusal to paint

can be taken as an affront by those who do.

The night after Saks, my friend who’d planned the outing

called to say, “I pictured you alone in your apartment, staring at that blush

like it was a bomb, thinking, ‘What did I just do?’”

Truth is, I don’t know where the blush is. I have been using

the moisturizer, ensuring that any future boyfriend will not think “alligator”

when he softly brushes my cheek.

A day with makeup did nothing to spark my inner girl, nor

did Mr. Klein’s camouflage help me feel any more comfortable on the streets of

Manhattan. If I ever get married or appear on television again, maybe I’ll dig

out that blush for the cameras. But until then, it’s just me, naked.