Friedman: Facing my face on the battlefield of beauty – Burlington County Times

Columnist Sally Friedman gives readers a look at her world.

I approach the counter and try to smile. But the “consultant” in her jacket of palest peach will have none of it. No smiling! This is serious business.

So with a pounding heart, I announce my mission: “I’d like to buy some stuff. …”

She flinches. Pales visibly. To call her merchandise “stuff” is no less an affront than to call her a salesperson. This day has been long in coming, but it is upon me.

Buying cosmetics these days, you see, is a cosmic event, and certainly not a fast stop somewhere while you’re double-parked. There are rules and there are rituals, and there is surely no place for the word “stuff” on the battlefield of beauty. But thank goodness for my friend H. H is my gorgeous friend whose sole project in life is … H.

She is perfect from the top of her beige mist head to the soles of her Manolo Blahnik feet. And H has recommended this counter to me in a hushed whisper, the kind generally reserved for religious shrines. She has taken me into custody, offered me salvation.

“Try their products. You’ll see.”

So I have finally summoned the courage to approach H’s shrine, oddly ill-placed in the middle of a busy department store aisle. I am in search of nothing less than a miracle. The countess of the counter studies me. She takes in every flaw, every shadow, every spot of shine. Her glance tells me I’m about one step removed from hopeless.

“Now, dear, have you been skipping your astringent? Have you short-cutted your five basic steps to beauty?” she purrs.

This golden-skinned, softly-blushing goddess faithfully follows HER five steps. I grab whatever’s in the jar, purchased because of its attractive sale price at the discount drugstore, and go to sleep.

“You use that?” She blanches when I tell her the name of my product. I have clearly uttered a filthy word.

By now, my head is spinning, and my mentor decides that one picture is worth a thousand words. She will demonstrate the process right here in the department store aisle. She’s found a live one.

A crowd gathers as she strips my face to nakedness. They watch in amusement as we track the 33 products and processes to a glorious new me. There is a Roman circus mood developing. I’m the unwitting main attraction.

I try to remember where to place the pore minimizer, the bronze mist, the charcoal emphasizer, the all-over highlighter that will drive men mad with passion. But when it’s all over, I feel headachy. Humiliated. And to my hopelessly untrained eye, I look vaguely like a character in a Punch and Judy puppet show. I am smeared with color. I am stained with mauves and taupes and crimson, and a little dab of green rests near, but not on, my right eyelid.

My mentor, unstoppable, has started to draw a map of my face. I kid you not. She recognizes that I may as well be wearing a dunce cap, so cosmetically illiterate am I. Drastic measures must be taken. I feel ashamed. Unprepared for this major quiz, just as I was decades ago for my geology final.

The crowd by now has dispersed. I can almost hear a collective sigh of relief as they race safely to sportswear while I’m still perched on the fool’s stool. The genius of lotions and potions is now making a list of the absolute essentials. She is buried in the buffers and blushers and lip creams that will save me from the unspeakable crime of uneven skin tone.

And when she isn’t looking, I do something awful.

I run away.

I lose myself in housewares, then linens, then luggage.

And to this day, I have images of her searching the aisles for the slattern who isn’t using her firming masque. To this day, I have nightmares about being revealed as not concealed by erasing stick. But she’ll never, ever find me. Not me.

Because I’m hiding behind my own naked face.

Sally Friedman is a freelance writer. Contact her at [email protected]

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