Everything I’ve Come to Love About Makeup, I Learned From Sephora

The following is NOT a sponsored post. I have not been paid for my views. I just like shopping at Sephora.

I never really wanted to be a tomboy, but it was the lifestyle that best suited my *ahem* financial situation. Have you looked at the cost of a quality primer? A good primer cost the same as a week’s worth of lunch. And for a girl who ate plantain and beans every day until she graduated high school, that was too much. While my counterparts had access to and used their allowances to buy pretty glosses, St. Yves facial scrubs and weekly trips to salon, I sported a ponytail (replete with split ends, prompting me to cut it all off), baggy jeans and whatever buttoned-down shirts my father could spare from his closet. I clung to this “edgy/alternative” identity to help get me through the image conscious world that denizens of my posh high school confronted me with week after week. Eventually, this plantain-and-beans-tomboy shtick became my persona and persisted long past its utility. Though I bucked against it, I did not really break until recently: As in two years ago.

Me, in possession of neither hair nor makeup in 2003

Although I love the look of a made up face, I have never worn it for practical reasons and cultural pressures alike. I’m someone who sweats profusely and always have been. Makeup never lasted more than an hour on my face. Then there is the question of the steady diet of conservative Christian norms that my gender is/was always being assailed with, courtesy of the misogynistic teachings of Saint Paul.

Don’t braid your hair.

Don’t adorn yourself with bright colors.

Don’t preach (i.e. present yourself an authority while the presence of men).

Don’t wear make up.

Don’t, don’t, don’t.

As a consequence, I learned to harbor and exhibit disdain for art forms that deserve deep respect and admiration, refusing them any place in my life. (And make no mistake about it – hair and makeup is an art form.) But as I have grown, I have come to the firm conclusion that Paul’s teachings on acceptable conduct where women are concerned must come from a deep place of hurt and anger. There’s no other reason why one man would dedicate that much of his time to policing another gender’s appearance and behavior, especially when the focus of his ire is on the very things that make being a girl so much fun.

Is there anything more beautiful than a woman’s gregarious laughter? Have you ever heard anything more captivating than weighty words that drip from her mouth like sap? Is there anything more gorgeous than eyelids framed by a cat eye, or a Cupid’s bow traced with a flattering plum lip pencil or the glow of a foundation that perfectly matches her undertones? These women are ‘too much’. We call women who embrace these aesthetics ‘slay queens’ as an unflattering pejorative. Humph. I have yet to encounter a slay queen who is not living her best life or making strides every day to accomplish some version of it. Meanwhile, the rest of us are walking around adhering to a beans lifestyle like it holds the key to Heaven. However, as much as I confess admiration for the slay queen aesthetic, I know it’s not one I can or want to emulate in its entirety.  

Back to 2018.

That was the first year I really began to take stock of my appearance. I no longer shouldered the financial/family obligations (daycare costs, carpool, play dates, an unused gym membership, etc.) that prevented me from attending to it before. I was finally ready to explore, but the question was: Where to even begin? Beyond lazily drawing on some black eyeliner and slathering on decent gloss, I was completely ignorant about makeup. My apprehension was only heightened by negative experiences I’d had at Ulta, where I was racially profiled on one occasion and nearly sold an abysmal shade of pink lip paint by an aggressive consultant on another. I haven’t been back since.

It was my friend Karim who introduced me to Sephora after I complained about the ever-increasing number of dark marks on my face.

“What kind of foundation do you use?” she asked.

“None,” I replied.

“What do you mean?”

“I don’t use foundation. I don’t think there is one that matches my skin.”

She cackled. Stupid likkle gyal, her Jamaican eyes said judgingly. But her mouth said, “C’mon. We’re going to the store.”

We drove to Sephora in Beaver Creek, Ohio where she explained my dilemma to a grinning, plump 20-something year old white woman with bright red hair. She was kind enough to ignore the skepticism that was plastered across the face she held up under the bright store lights. Finally, she gave her assessment.

“Fenty has a foundation that I think would work well for you. You have yellow/peachy undertones. Let’s try these two.”

The latter of the two was a perfect match for my winter shade. I was ecstatic. Once she matched me, she sold me a sponge applicator and didn’t try to push any other product on me.

The Fenty shade I’ve been faithful to

“This should work for your lifestyle you described to me,” she said.

 I thanked her, hugged her and wrote to corporate singing her praises once I got home.

I had such a positive experience at Sephora that I wanted to share it with the person I love most in this world: my sister and fellow by force tomboy. Like me, she had reached her late 30s without making any real investment in makeup. When she saw how easy and light my foundation was, she was eager to get on board.

 “Let’s go to Sephora!”

This time, we were in DC. A completely different experience than the one I had in Beaver Creek. It was a zoo. After we were passed around from one impatient sales rep to the next each trying to sell us skincare or fragrance, we were finally dropped into the hands of a petite Latinx woman who listened to us.

“My sister wants to buy foundation,” I said firmly, slipping into my big sister role. “Just foundation. I’m wearing Fenty. Can we start there?”

The raven-haired women obliged us, but advised we had to be careful. Despite their claims, she said, Fenty does not match everyone. “You also need to invest in a good primer to use her products.”

Liar! Did she not see my face? Riri never lied to us. What did she mean by…

Okay, so Raven Locks knew what she was talking about. My sister in Fenty LOOKED made up – the very opposite of the effect we were in search of.

“Let’s try NARS,” said Raven.

Naomi Campbell for NARS photo credit: Glamour

She presented us with two options, one with a cooler undertone, the other with a warmer, both that made my sister’s skin glow. For the first time in our lives, it was hard to choose a flattering foundation! Raven asked about lifestyle, hoping to help us make a decision.

“What look are you going for?”

“I don’t want to look made up,” my sister said. “I just don’t want to look like I’m so f-ing tired all the time.”

“And that’s the power of makeup, isn’t it?” mused Raven. “Yes, it can completely change your appearance, and a lot of people use it for that – but it can transform you into want to be. You don’t have to look tired if you don’t want to. You can have bigger or smaller eyes, if you want to. I think this is where a lot of women and society get it wrong. Make up isn’t about making you less of who you are, but more of who want to be.”

Y’all think I’m lying. She dropped a whole Tao of Pooh on us right there between the crowded aisles and the din of frantic shoppers and Christmas music.

It’s that philosophy that has fed my new love for makeup, and Sephora by extension, ever since. It’s also an interest I’ve enjoyed sharing with my three daughters, who have also begun exploring the joys and pitfalls of liquid liner, pigmented shadows and brow correctors.  

Eat jeans, Saint Paul.