I’m in a class on how to audition for commercials. It involves watching your auditions on tape and getting real about what works and what doesn’t. When it was my turn, all I could go on about was how limited I felt; limited by my face shape, limited by my how pale I was, limited by how my eyes were too narrow and small.
“Did someone, somewhere along the line, make some kind of comment about your eyes?” the teacher asked. It was clear that she was frustrated; after all, this class was about critiquing performance and technique, not picking apart the things we had no control over.
“All the time,” I replied.
Then, I added, “I know how absurd it is. I know it’s ridiculous.”
She furrowed her brow a bit and said in a way that was joking but also quite serious:
“I want you to wake up and write this in your little actor journal at least once a day: my eyes are good enough.”
It was the fall of seventh grade and my Girl Scout troop leader announced that we would shift focus from public service for a little while to focus on the Beauty Badge. It caught me completely off guard. Beauty badge? We still had a beauty badge? This was a thing? Don’t get me wrong – I would have traded my teenage soul to learn secrets that could transform me into a human specimen seen only in the style pages of Teen Vogue. The Beauty Badge involved grooming lessons from an “industry professional,” however, and I questioned my troop’s ability to draw someone with the right pedigree. We met in a building surrounded by roads that hadn’t been paved since the 60’s. We shared it with the county shriners and a church that forbid women to shave their legs and cut their hair. What kind of beauty industry guru would take time out of their fancy job at the Georgia Square Mall Clinique counter, which is where I imagined all beauty gurus lived, to come talk to us?
For the Troop #360, that professional happened to be none other than a Mary Kay beauty consultant. She didn’t work at a luxury brand makeup counter. Instead, she sold makeup out of a catalog and stayed at home with her children. I was confused; I always imagined that a makeup guru would look like Phillis Diller’s headshots from the 80’s. This woman looked like the secretary from Ferris Bueler’s Day Off.
She told us how important diet and exercise were to a positive complexion.
“Remember, you are the ultimate foundation,” she said. Then, taking out her catalog and her magic bag of tricks, she added, “But some real foundation certainly don’t hurt!”
She put out quite a spread of tubes and compacts, lipsticks and glosses, and mascara. They had names like “Pristine Pink” and “Olive Mystery.” She explained what each one was and how Mary Kay made sure their makeup was made with fine ingredients and empowered women to look their best.
“And part of looking your best is knowing how to apply makeup to your face shape.”
Then she brought out the piece of her presentation that I have consistently referred to as “that fucking chart” throughout my life since.
Each of us got our own copy with 6 basic face shapes on it: the heart shape, the diamond shape, the tear drop shape, the round shape, the oval shape, and the long shape. I didn’t know that “long” could be classified as its own shape, but I decided to roll with it.
“So now we’re going to play a little game. We are going to go through these magazines,” she said, dumping a small stack of People and US Weekly on the table, “and you are going to go through them and try to match the celebrities in all the pictures to the face shapes on your chart!”
And all the traditionally good looking celebrities went into the heart or diamond shaped face pile. The Mary Kay consultant explained that these faces were the best and easiest to apply makeup to.
“You can accentuate all of your features in so many fun ways! There’s really no way to go wrong if you have one of these face shapes.”
Then there were other celebrities. Politicians, authors, women who had carved their niche in playing midwestern moms. You know – women who were famous for something other than their beauty. They mostly went into round face pile.
“Alright, now the fun part! So you’ve seen some real life examples of different face types. Let’s see if you can guess which one you are.”
She went around the table and, one by one, asked each girl where they felt they fit in on the chart.
“I think I’m a heart and a diamond!”
My troop was an exception in the stereotype of scout troops, which tended to fill out with the outcasts and nerd children. Mine actually had a sampler of some of the coolest girls in my grade since one of them was the troop leader’s daughter. Not wanting to fall prey to the stereotype, she enlisted some of her friends to join the troop and it became a middle school away from middle school. There were still three of us holding up tradition, though.
I had no idea what to do when she got to me.
“I… I don’t know,” I said.
She studied my face for a few seconds before it came out sounding like a slo-mo voiceover: “Roooound shaaaape.”
My “round ass face.”
(also doubles as the cover for my eventual season of Making a Murderer.)
No! No! I quickly took in all of the cut-outs in the round face pile and nearly had a panic attack. As an adult, I know that women like Bette Midler or Delta Burke are fabulous and wonderful, but as a young girl with a skinny, delicate older sister and a mom who was never not on some sort of diet, having a round face felt like the end of the world. It felt like someone had just pulled back the curtain on why I was having a hard time with school or making friends and behind it was my disgusting, round face. It was like the Mary Kay lady told me I had an asshole for a face. A face-asshole. That’s how quickly a psychosis can form.
“But I could have a heart shaped face,” I said.
“Mm, no, you definitely have a round face. You are a little jaw heavy, too.”
I persisted. “But if I turn my head a certain way…”
“No, you definitely have a round face and you need to learn how to wear makeup for your face type.”
If the realization that I had a sub-level face weren’t bad enough, the makeup tutorials surely took it home. The industry professional went through all of our face types and gave mini lessons on how to apply various Mary Kay products. The heart shaped face tutorials were filled with phrases like,
“This looks AMAZING on you!” and,
“To REALLY make it pop, you should…” and,
“Brilliant finish! Just lovely!”
My tutorials sounded a little different.
My lessons included phrases like,
“You can make this work by…” and,
“Create the illusion of ___ by…” and,
“You can use eyeliner to make it look like you have eyelids.”
It didn’t help that she had no makeup in my shade. I was so pale that the kids at school called me “Living White Girl” after the Rob Zombie song and the Mary Kay lady had no shades for the undead. She tried to make it work with lightest shades she had, but I just ended up looking like a cross between a raccoon and Two Face from Batman.
She ended by pushing us to, in turn, push our mothers to buy us some of her products. She actually ended up making a few sales. The girls who had learned all about the wonders of their miraculous, movie star quality faces made their cases and got their reward. I didn’t take anything home except a pamphlet to give to my mother.
“You know. In case she wants to take control of her financial life,” said the Mary Kay lady.
I think that was the day I started muttering the phrase, “Goddammit.”
Holy crap; that meeting was so stupid.
I can actually remember a time when I had no qualms about my face. I used to think things like,
“Wow, I look really cool.”
Back then I thought it was kind of cool that my skin was radioactively pale. People could find me in movie theaters with the lights off. As far as my face shape: until that meeting, I had no idea that round meant anything. I used to think I looked like a comic book super hero child, yet I have spent every day since then being unhappy with at least one thing about myself.
“You can’t keep doing this,” the teacher said.
She was right. I can’t. I will not be the grown woman who beats myself up about ridiculous beauty standards. I’m not going to be a woman who gives up on looking nice because looking nice is wasted on a woman who is less than perfect.
I looked at the teacher. She would have gone into the round face pile at that meeting, too. Yet she was gorgeous, assertive, funny, and didn’t fuck around. No one has time for that.
I don’t want to fuck around anymore.
My eyes are good enough.
Also, I don’t know where the hell I got off thinking my eyes were too small to express emotion. LOOK at how amazing they are expressing “I do not wanting to be on top of this crucifixion rabbit but I know I’ll be in trouble if I don’t smile so HERE’S YOUR SMILE, MOM.”