You’re walking through Saks. OK, not Saks. Macy’s. And you know you’re getting close to the makeup floor because of the musty rose scent wafting in your direction. So, you begin to put your guard up as you pass. But you can’t avoid it; the makeup girls who take one look at you and tell you how to fix yourself. The “Trust me, you’ll love this” kind of girl; the “sit in my chair for a smudge of gloss” girl, the “just give me a quick second to sell you products you didn’t know you needed” girl.
And let’s be honest, you have preconceived notions about them: They’re pretty and perfectly done up, maybe shallow, probably not the smartest and pushy as they try to annoyingly sweep your face with powder or spritz you with fragrance as you walk by. They are skinny and wear black and their eyeliner is always perfect. They smile. They ask you if you’d like to be touched up.
It’s the makeup counter pitch. And it’s a hard-won skill. How do I know? I was once one of those lipstick-pushers.
“Does this color look pretty on me?” I was asked, a million times a day. But what is pretty? Does getting a Monday morning blowout to start your week make you feel as pretty as it does me? Do you feel pretty when you’re all sweaty post-yoga? Is it about taking an art class, trying a new recipe, devoting the little free time that you have to philanthropy, singing in the shower, wearing a bright color, holding on to a precious secret only you and your significant other share?
If so, then why do people say that beauty is in the eye of the beholder — outside looking in versus inside looking out?
Because I know that when I feel pretty — like, really on another level beautiful — there are so many damn beholders. It’s like they come out of the woodwork and are drawn to my “I feel pretty, oh so pretty” vibe. Personally and professionally.
Which got me thinking for a bit… and by a bit, I mean for five years, 27 days, and two hours, all resulting in 350 pages of a thought-turned-novel called What Pretty Girls Are Made Of.
In it, I throw my heroine, Alison Kraft, into a journey of a life change, a job in the beauty industry, on countless dates and in a relationship to figure out what makes her (OK, me) feel pretty. Because through an industry that’s about shielding imperfections — protecting, hiding and enhancing the (im)perfect veil — Alison Kraft comes out bruised, challenged, experienced, bettered and undeniably beautiful.
She learned, because I learned, that feeling pretty goes beyond the external and the obvious. It’s about knowing your value and fully comprehending that what uniquely makes you feel ravishing (and confident, handsome, successful… pretty!) has to come from inner self work.
When working in makeup, I was surrounded by sheets of colors and palettes of glosses. I had all of the equipment to paint myself pretty on the outside. But I felt ugly on the inside, dissatisfied and lost. And it wasn’t the frizzy, weather-dictated hair that had me nicknamed “Fuzzy” at summer camp that was at the root of it all. I was painting blush onto bored housewives and giggling teenagers, misogynistically mistreated for no good reason, undervalued and living for each paycheck perched behind a makeup counter versus on the front lines of my own creative dreams: producing and creating entertainment and talk-based television. I had to scrape some courage together and take my life back.
And when I discovered my pretty by taking myself out of an unnecessarily challenging situation, I had to go wide with my confidence-boosting success.
Today, my 9 to 5 is as a TV producer — though it’s never, ever, 9 to 5. At heart, I learned that I’m a storyteller. Every day at my job, I see stories touch people on a molecular level. So I wrote one of my own. And through writing it, I rediscovered what makes me feel pretty all over again. It’s an ongoing process, but an invaluable one. Because each morning, I wake up knowing my worth and I’m thoroughly excited to share it with the world.
For the record, I wear makeup every day. I believe it enhances. It makes me feel more put together on the outside. But it’s not as transformative as the advertising industry would have you believe; it’s war paint. I’ve already made it through the war, and now I’m enjoying the peace.
Lindsay Roth currently produces “Larry King Now” for Ora Media and created and executive produces “Real Girl’s Kitchen” with Haylie Duff on Cooking Channel. Her first novel, WHAT PRETTY GIRLS ARE MADE OF (Simon & Schuster) is availablehere.
Please follow her on Twitter @lindsayjillroth — she’d love that!