With high school friend Gulya, 1998.
Growing up, I never considered myself beautiful. Not ugly either, I just wasn’t one of those kids who turned heads and constantly got complimented on their looks. I was average and I made peace with it. I didn’t bother with makeup because I never thought of myself as someone who had a chance at being beautiful. My makeup ‘kit’ consisted of a pot of sheer lip gloss.
Until Prom Night. Everything changed that night and I will never forget what happened. A little back-story: in Russia, you don’t need a date to come to the prom, everyone goes solo. It’s a graduation ceremony followed by an optional dance. I remember girls talking excitedly about the elaborate dreses they’re going to wear, but I just wasn’t that into it. Perhaps in protest, I decided to wear a long, vintage dress I found at a thrift-store paired with some funky jewelry.
I asked my mom to braid my hair, but didn’t even think about makeup. Turns out, she had it covered: a friend who worked as a makeup artist owed her a favor. Her name was Inessa. She did makeup for news anchors on TV, but also had experience with fashion and even runway. Inessa was the first person to tell me I had a ‘great face for makeup’. (I wasn’t sure what that meant, I was just excited to see her work her magic!) I remember sitting in a chair patiently as Inessa carefully filled in my brows, dotted concealer under my eyes (do I have abnormally dark circles??), and applied light pink & pale green eyeshadow on my lids. My eyes widened as she produced a tube of bright green mascara (“It goes with your personality”) and applied it on my bottom lashes! My lips were painted a pinky-mauve shade and my cheekbones contoured slightly (“It will look really beautiful in the evening”). I wasn’t sure what she meant, all I knew is that someone just used words ‘really beautiful’ in the same sentence as me. :)
The rest of the night was a whirlwind. I remember arriving at the venue and noticing being… checked out. I smiled for pictures and socialized more confidently. For the first time, I felt like myself! Everybody thought I looked great. Other parents were even approaching my mom to say that her daughter was ‘the most beautiful girl at the prom!’ It was a true Cinderella moment. Just like that, I seemed to have gone from moth to butterfly, overnight.
When I got home that night, I did something very strange. I sat down with a mirror and copied down my eye makeup onto a piece of paper. I drew a diagram of an eye and filled it in with color pencils as best I could. I didn’t want to wash it off; I wanted to preserve it somehow! The idea of going back to being a Plain Jane the next morning didn’t appeal with me any more – I wanted to be bold and expressive, just like I knew I was meant to be. Lucky for me, Inessa left something behind, a little graduation gift and my new secret weapon: a tube of bright green mascara.
I held on to that tube for years. It became my beauty amulet, a reminder that a simple piece of makeup can transform you from within and change the way you see yourself forever.