A few weeks ago, I had the great fortune of meeting a group of young women who reminded me that it’s never to early – or too late – jump in and live life to the fullest. These young soccer players had traveled south from Saginaw to play in a tournament over Mother’s Day weekend, and on the Friday night before the games began, they showed up at my department store cosmetics counter enthusiastically asking to be made over.
From the moment they arrived, I was fascinated by their energy and bright spirits. Their words tumbled out of their mouths and over each others sentences as they begged me to give them smokey eyes and glossy lips, and before I could respond, aided by the tag on my apron, they were calling me by my first name. ”Mary, please?” “Mary, can you make me look glamourous?” ”What do you think of this color, Mary?”
How could I resist?
The first question I asked was whether their mothers would allow them to wear makeup. I learned this one the hard way, when, one afternoon, a group of pre-teen girls showed up and begged to try the new mascara our line had just launched. Since I have no children of my own, it never occurred to me that some mothers might not want their daughters to wear makeup at home, let alone test it out in a department store. So, I meticulously applied a layer of lengthening mascara to the lashes of a young woman who, it turned out, was not even supposed to be wearing lip gloss.
When her mother showed up, all hell broke loose at the counter. I apologized profusely, soaked a cotton ball with makeup remover, handed it to the girl, and swore to myself that I’d never again forget to ask, yet knowing full well that the answer I’d get would most likely be questionable.
Hey, I was twelve once, too.
The girls all assured me that their mothers would not mind a bit, and because they had such open and honest little faces, I decided to trust them.
I’m so glad I did.
Since being hired at this counter, I’ve made peace with the giant cosmetics industry by deciding that I would never sell a product based on what a woman was lacking, but rather as a means of enhancing the beauty she already possessed. It’s the only way I can look at myself in the mirror as I apply my own makeup every morning.
The Saginaw girls were already gorgeous – to me – and as I listened to them, I was reminded of the excitement I felt when, at twelve, I pulled out the shoe box (hidden under my bed) that contained a compact, a lipstick (Bonnie Bell Lip Smackers in Watermelon), and a pallet of very blue eye shadow that I’d dug out of the discount bin at Walgreens, and applied them all – libreally.
Not wanting to repeat the debacle that defines my seventh grade picture (read: orange hair courtesy of Sun-In and blue eye shadow up to my eyebrows), I gave them each the option of a “natural on the go glow” or a “Saturday night party girl” look. As I worked, I listened to them talk about everything – music, soccer, boys, school, and each other. They were hilariously honest and asked a million questions, which they quickly answered themselves as I concentrated on applying colors that complemented their skin tones.
I answered their questions, and only interjected when they began to talk about how someone was worried about what boys thought of her fat thighs. I was shocked because not one of them was remotely close to being overweight, and because they were expressing the exact same fears that I had at twelve – and, if I’m honest, still have at forty-five.
I told them that all of the cool guys I know do not judge a women based on the size of her thighs, stomach or any other part of her body, to which they smartly shot back, “Her boobs! Boys look a a girl’s boobs and judge her!” I had to bite my tongue to keep from laughing as I replied, “Yes, they do. And they will for the rest of your lives, but as long as they are not rude about it, just pretend not to notice because they simply can’t help it.” This caused them to laugh loudly and talk about the boys in their favorite band (which they told me the name of, numerous times, and I still can’t remember).
When I was done with each girl, I held up a mirror and asked them what they thought. I watched as a look of awe spread across their faces giving way to excitement, and I knew I was watching each one of them see themselves as beautiful and grown-up. The funny thing is that I hadn’t applied a lot of makeup – a little blush, a little light eyeshadow, a coat of mascara and some lip gloss – so they were simply looking at slightly enhanced versions of their own natural beauty.
When they were done, one of the mothers came to pick them up and take them back to the hotel. She approved of the job I’d done as she gathered up her little ducklings so they could hit the pool before bed. Both the mother and I were openly envious of the fact that they still had energy to burn.
The next night, my soccer friends returned with three new teammates, and we went through the routine again, except this time they talked with me like I was an old friend. Again, asking questions, telling me about school, soccer, boys, and all of the wonderful things that twelve-year old girls will talk about when an adult treats them like they’re grown up. When I was done, they handed me a stack of notes they’d written on the back of sheets we use to outline the products we’ve used during a makeover.
Later, after they’d left, I unfolded the notes and found that they’d written “Mary, from your favorite person you’ll ever meet. Mary, your the best person I ever met. Love, M.” and “A.A. is soooo cool and loves Mary” and “M.C. is the most amazing person ever and she LOVES Mary!”
As I read the notes, I teared up, and thought, “We should all be so lucky have a group of adoring twelve-year olds in our lives.”
What will stick with me forever, though, is the moment when, on the second night, one of the girls began talking about not being pretty enough, I cut in and said, “You’re beautiful. With or without makeup, you are absolutely stunning and gorgeous because you are *you*!” All at once, five girls began singing the lyrics to “Beautiful” – loud and proud, ignoring all of the looks that other shoppers and cosmetics sales people shot at them. They sang, in unison, through the chorus, and all I could do was stand back and smile as I watched them.
I hope I never forget how empowering it felt to watch a group of young women be that bold and beautiful.
Fortunately, I know that if I ever do, I’ll have a team of intelligent, hilarious, and fiercely strong young friends around to remind me.