I took my first trip to the beauty counter this weekend and it was almost a disaster. I went with a friend, who is always wearing popping lip colors and while I admired them on her and other people, I’d always failed at wearing them myself. I had no idea about how to apply lipstick besides simply smearing it on and pursing my lips together to “blend it”. I believed lipsticks didn’t look good on me because of my dark chocolate brown skin tone.
Of course, I love my skin color. And of course, I’ve always felt empowered by the beauty vloggers and social media influencers that boast about dark-skinned girls being able to wear any color lipstick. Still, every time I took a chance and tried a lip color on myself, it looked an amateur mess. If it couldn’t look editorial, then the perfectionist in me didn’t want it. I figured the idea that dark girls could wear whatever lipstick they wanted must apply to everyone of them except me.
Deep down, I also didn’t ever try hard enough because I always feared makeup. Not only have I battled with eczema most of my life which made trying new products on my skin a scary, itchy gamble—but I’d also witnessed one too many girls in high school peer at their mirrors in such disgust if they came to school without mere eyeliner. I specifically remember a classmate who I thought was one of the most gorgeous girls in school saying how horrible she felt she if she forgot to wear mascara. “Mascara!? You can barely even see it when you do wear it,” I thought. I had just survived middle school. Just figured out why I hated the “pretty for a dark-skinned girl” compliments and just learned to check friends who would introduce me to guys as their “pretty dark-skinned friend.” Hell, I had just read Sharon G. Flake’s The Skin I’m In! No way could I risk being set back after rubbing what I called “the other creamy crack” off of my face and falling out of love with the imperfections that awaited.
I had also seen what my mother—whose battle with eczema was once worse than mine—went through when she discovered that she had the skin condition and couldn’t wear her beloved products for a while. She absolutely hated it. Like me, she grew up admiring the ladies in magazines but, unlike me, she taught herself to wear it just like them. I remember her entire disposition being in a slump because she couldn’t even put on foundation. There were some days when she was near tears leaving for work without her usually done up face.
I wanted my mama to feel as lovely as she looked to me, but I couldn’t turn her reflection into something she valued. It was her beauty battle to fight and it crushed me to see her feel so low because of a little powder.
So I steered clear of all beauty counters and makeup products. I feared I would never like my bare face again if I started sporting an enhanced version of myself on a daily basis. When I did wear makeup (ever so minimally), it would usually be at my mother’s hand and suggestion. I’d buy a pack of eyeshadow—the kind with the three colors that showed you exactly where to put each one from your eyelids to just beneath your eyebrows. Two weeks into it, the compact would find its way to the back of my bathroom drawer only to be re-opened a year later when I would re-start the start-and-stop process all over again.
Yet, there I was in the mirror at the M.A.C. store trying out lip colors that I’d seen models wearing in Essence. Why did those pretty pinks look so good on the chocolate models on those glossy pages but never on me!? I’m cute too, dammit!
I started to give up. “Maybe make-up wasn’t meant for me,” I thought for the millionth time in my life. “Plus, Alicia Keys has been on this no make-up thing and she’s been glowing.”
Though I expected to be disappointed again at Sephora, where my friend and I headed next, I was pleasantly surprised. The counter girls not only helped me find products but suggested unique lip liner colors I would have never tried. Heck, I didn’t even know lip liner existed until this weekend. “I can wear that?” I kept hearing myself ask, as my friend smiled and cheered me on and the counter girls brought me color after color.
“Of course you can.”
I realized that though I had accepted the idea of darker girls being able to wear whatever color lipstick they choose—I hadn’t internalized it. Darker girls could wear bold colors in theory, but that sort of aesthetic freedom wasn’t for all of us, particularly me. Beauty affirmations had left my lips but had not totally saturated my heart.
I left out of Sephora with an Anastasia lipstick in ‘Madison’ pink and lip liner in ‘Train Bleu’, plus a few other goodies the counter girls hooked me up with for the Free 99. More importantly, I left with a newfound assurance. Instead of fearing how I’d feel about my face after I removed the beauty products, I realize I’d reached a fine plateau in life where I appreciate what I look like either way.
That night, I stepped out in a nude sweater, a leather skirt, knee-high boots and an ombre lip that I learned to create during my short Sephora tutorial earlier in the day. As I ran to the car to meet my boyfriend for our movie date night, he said, “Your makeup looks beautiful, babe.”
I smiled because I liked the compliment, but also because for the first time—I knew that already.