Reminiscing in Rose

By Maria Luevanos
April 27, 2024

I wasn’t just committed to being myself now, I was devoted.

Like “Ocean’s Eleven,” our elaborate heist was set in motion. We were eight, too young for makeup but more than interested. We tried to withhold our giggles as we made our way into an older sister’s room. The house was old, the floor creaked, and the bedroom door alerted everyone of our plan. My friend grabbed the purple box, decorated with stickers and a small silver latchet. Jackpot. This box might as well have been treasure for us. We kept it close and held it carefully. With it tightly hugged in my friend’s arms, we made our great escape successfully, finding refuge in the four corners of her closet.

“What if they find us?” One of us would ask each time, a hint of panic and a lot of hesitancy. As if taking turns, the other’s response would be a giggle, a signal of encouragement and an agreement that we’d take our chances.

Like a game of dress-up, we had clad our faces in bright colors. We felt we were on the precipice of adulthood; we became our older sisters, our mothers, the Disney channel stars we sat down and watched every week. We became everything we were destined to be. I decorated myself with rhinestones and glitter. We switched brushes and swapped lipsticks and mascara wands, innocently unaware of germs and where to put what. We replicated what our Bratz and Barbies looked like, changing into clothes that were too big and makeup that was too adult. We tried different nail polish colors, adding blue on top of purple, not caring to take off the layer before. When we felt sneaky, we’d grab the red nail polish, wear her mom’s blazers, and play adults. Red was the forbidden color. Like bad words and beer, it was only meant to be used by adults. But we’d do it anyway. The closet was chaotic with her mom’s heels, my mom’s jewelry and the carpet barely visible under the clothes of our various wardrobe changes — it was a mess. But the closet was our secret New York Fashion Week. We used our hands and pushed air through our gritted teeth to mimic the cameras, developing photoshoots in our memories. When we felt that a suspicious amount of time had passed or heard the stairs creak, we’d embody the Flash, quickly covering our traces.

This was my introduction to makeup. It made me nervous. It felt wrong. It felt vulnerable. It felt exciting.

I believed this game of dress-up would be brought to life as I got older, that a familiar experience from girlhood would embrace me in womanhood. But the older I got, the more I realized this game was a chore. I saw myself losing the Disney I once idolized. I watched as makeovers became removing glasses, straightening hair, using colors that would help you camouflage instead of stand out. It was a punchline when characters were presented with a “no make-up” look, they were called tired or sick. I began to feel like I was the before of the makeovers. Whereas makeup was once an expression of  creativity and exploring different versions of myself, it became a task of blending in with everyone around me.

I learned that to have a bare face was to be naked. Growing up, I felt that naked was a bad word. Even now, it doesn’t comfortably roll off my tongue. I knew that naked meant being seen in a way that was irreversibly vulnerable. So when I learned a face without makeup was a face naked, I made sure I was never at risk of being exposed.

And somewhere along the way, the glitter left and the bold colors mellowed. Rhinestones and different colors of nail polish for each finger were too childlike. Red was still too adultlike. I learned makeup was meant to conceal not accentuate. The colors became soft, neutral pinks. The glitter became a brown almost indistinguishable from my eyelids. I didn’t try anymore with the nail polish, the rhinestones disappeared, and altogether, my days of dress-up were gone.

I wouldn’t say I missed those days. After a while, it felt that those things were only relevant to a past self, one who had yet to grow into adulthood. And it wasn’t that not wearing makeup or nail polish made me feel adult — of course, the adults around me did both of those. It’s just that it didn’t feel natural. That bridge from colorful childhood antics to monotonous adult routine still didn’t feel walkable.

Last year, my roommate brought out two bottles of nail polish. There were only 30 minutes before we had to leave, but she was convinced that it was more than enough time. Maybe it was, but I have always been bad at painting my nails; I spill it, I stain something. My hands shake and I'm easily distracted. The colors I liked were too bold or too grown, and sometimes they didn’t match. Painting my nails wasn’t something I really did anymore.

But I had nothing else to do, so I used the bottle she wasn’t. Eventually, 20 minutes went by and the nail polish sat on the skin of my left fingers. Some on the nails too, though they were smudged, and some layers showed lighter than the others. When time inevitably ran out, and my other hand was even worse than the first, the option to wash it off was gone. But I wasn’t worried about it looking a certain way.

I felt like a time traveler in that moment. I was 20 yet eight at the same time. With each layer of nail polish returned a layer of my past. Girlhood was a time when I was unapologetically myself. My games of pretend were an unconscious, innocent manifestation of the woman I hoped to become. There were no rules to follow, no color schemes to match. It was a time when I was committed to being myself because I hadn’t learned how to be anything else. Even entering my twenties. I was still just playing a game of pretend. I pretended to be a woman the only way I knew how. I mimicked what wasn’t mocked and I embraced what was advertised. But, as I sat there painting my nails, I felt the innocence of girlhood intertwining with the novelty of womanhood.

That day, I decided to play dress-up.

It felt vulnerable as I began to decorate my adult face with the rejected influences of my childhood. The brushes, my brushes, were now tinted with the untouched bold colors of the palette. I used the glitter and rhinestones from my concert bag. The makeup I put on resembled that of my younger self, but the process felt natural. My identity as a woman stood independent of mine as a girl, but we entangled so beautifully. I was no longer pretending to be a version of myself that I thought I needed to be. I was authentically and unapologetically myself. And I wasn’t just committed to being myself now, I was devoted.

I started painting my nails more. I started wearing my makeup out. Like I had cut the strings on a marionette, I gained control of my own body. So my room was a mess: there were nail polish stains, foundation spilling on my dresser, music still playing from my speaker, and clothes on the floor. But, God, did my makeup look good. ■

Layout: Jaycee Jamison & Ashley Guzman
Photographer: Esmeralda Cruz Castellanos
Videographer: Madison Payne
Stylists: Reyana Tran & Adeline Hale
HMUA: Mariela Mendoza
Model: Arliz Munoz

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