I almost never talk about my looks, but like most girls, I think and worry about them all the time. Growing up, I never considered myself pretty. Not ugly either, I just wasn’t one of those kids who turned heads and got constantly complimented on their looks. You could say I was average, like any other girl in my class, and very much invisible to boys.
With my friend Gulya, circa 1998. I look like a dorky version of Madonna!
I didn’t pay a whole lot of attention to my appearance until the very last month of high school. I didn’t wear makeup because I didn’t believe it could do anything for me — I had a pot of sheer gloss and maybe some mascara, but didn’t really know how to use these tools to improve my looks. I didn’t hate the way I looked; I just never thought of myself as someone who could be beautiful.
Everything changed on Prom Night. I will never forget what happened. A little back-story first: in Russia, you don’t need a date to come to the prom, everyone goes solo. It’s more of a graduation ceremony followed by an (optional) dance. I remember girls talking excitedly about what kind of a dress they’re going to wear, some even got theirs custom made. As for me, I chose a long, floral dress I found at a thrift-store paired with some funky jewelry — which was an improvement, seeing how I was a tomboy and categorically refused to wear a skirt.
Aged 16. I really liked Guns N’ Roses.
I asked my mom to braid my hair, but didn’t even think about makeup. Turns out, my mom called in a favor from a friend, who happened to be a professional makeup artist for runway and TV. Inessa was the first person to tell me I had a ‘great face for makeup’. (I wasn’t sure what that meant at the time; I know now it means a face that transforms well under makeup.) I remember her filling in my brows, dotting concealer under my eyes (Do I have abnormally dark circles??), and applying light pink and pale green eyeshadow over my lids. My eyes widened when she pulled out a tube of green German mascara and did my bottom lashes with it!!! (She wanted a more adventurous look, to suit my personality; she later gifted me the tube, which I’d held on to for years and years.) My lips were painted a light mauve shade and my cheekbones contoured slightly — “it will look really beautiful in the evening”. No one had ever used the words ‘really beautiful’ and me in the same sentence before!
Getting my fierce on!!!
The rest of the night was a whirlwind. I remember walking to prom and people staring (I kept tugging at my dress and hair, thinking something must be wrong) and hearing whistles (surely they must be whistling at someone else?!). At the prom, everybody commented on how wonderful I looked. I smiled for pictures, sipped champagne and socialized confidently. My mother later told me that other parents approached her throughout the night to tell her her daughter was ‘the most beautiful girl in class’. Whaaaa?! Just like that, I went from moth to butterfly… in one night.
When I got home, 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 with colored pencils, deciphering it as best I could. I didn’t want to wash it off; I wanted to preserve it somehow. The thought of going back to being Plain Jane didn’t agree with me any more. Lucky for me, I now had a tube of green mascara at my fingertips…