Friday, August 15, 2008


I may be going to some sort of hell where feminists send other feminists when they misbehave. Yesterday, for a belated birthday present, I took Leibovitz’s eleven-year-old daughter to the Clinique counter for a make-over. While she looks older than your average Chinese Olympic gymnast, she is, after all, still a girl. Eleven is not a milestone birthday and so did not deserve this premature ushering into womanhood, and even if it were a milestone birthday, I should have done something more empowering like rock-climbing or chemistry experiments or volunteering the two of us for a day of nail hammering for Habitat for Humanity. But I didn’t do these better things. Instead, I led a fresh-faced lamb of a child to the slaughter-house so she could start obsessing now about flaws she does not have. This is the legacy of womanhood I have willingly chosen to pass down.

And the reasons I did it are more shameful than the act itself. The reasons I did it were because I was too lazy to think of something substantive and, more importantly, because I wanted to be cool.

To a ‘tween.

In my defense, it wasn’t even my idea. It was her mother’s. And in my further defense—in case Leibovitz had gone momentarily off the rails because it is the end of summer and she’s ready for the kids to go back to school—I called the Clinique counter to make sure this was an accepted practice. The Clinique woman assured me it was done often and she scheduled an appointment with Amanda, the Clinique Make-over Expert. So my conscience was clear. For awhile.

When I handed my protégée over, a look of horror swept across Amanda’s face. “A makeover? On her?!” she asked. I told her I’d been assured by the voice on the phone that they do this all of the time, and Amanda said in a near wail, “I’ve never done one on an eleven-year-old.” I looked at Little Leib, who looked back at me as if to say, Are you going to make her give me my birthday present or what? I set my mouth and raised an eyebrow. Amanda straightened her faux lab coat and directed us to the make-over station while she fussed with cotton balls, Q-tips and her composure. Still, she questioned me. Was I sure we wanted to do this? It was only just that the child’s skin was so beautiful, and what if she had a reaction (even though Clinique products are hypo-allergenic, she was quick to add). I questioned Little Leib about what make-up of her mother’s she had played with.
“Pretty much all of it,” she said.
I nodded at Amanda and said, “She’ll be fine.”
Amanda set her mouth, as if I’d asked her to pierce the child’s eyebrow, and opened some powder.
“Well go with a natural look,” she said. And the make-over began.

To Amanda’s credit, once we chatted a bit and she discovered that this was just for some fun, that I was absolutely not going to be driving the child to auditions for a remake of Pretty Baby, and I would be buying a few Clinique products for myself, she relaxed, and did the thing I did not do. That is, she did some good. Virtually everything she applied she explained to Little Leib that she really didn’t need it because she had such beautiful skin, such pretty eyes, such nice lips, and because Amanda is probably only 22, she knew exactly how to say these things without sounding like an adult trying to dissuade a girl from starting down a path that could end up looking like Joan Rivers (which is probably exactly where Leibovitz and I are going to end up because we’re a little worried about our eyes and age spots and are thinking maybe some treatment is needed).

Little Leib did look very nice when Amanda tossed her last cottonball in the waste bin. She had not been transformed into a Lindsay or a Britney, but was very tastefully highlighted. It seemed to put an extra spring in her step to be a little closer to womanhood, though I can't say if I gained any cool points. I bought her some pink translucent lip color that I’m pretty sure she’ll have smacked off before anyone notices given the veracity with which she chews gum. Amanda threw in a trial-size mascara but withheld the bag for a moment and reminded us that it was “just to play with.” Little Leib nodded solemnly and no doubt made a mental note to apply it during lunch break on the first day of sixth grade next week.

Maybe I’m gong to feminist hell. Probably not. The kid would have gotten her fingers into the bronzer pot with or without me. But I do feel a little guilty. Her naked face reminds me of her baby face that was a force to be reckoned with about six seconds after she was born, and I really don’t want her to ever feel she has to hide it behind a layer of powder and sparkle to make it more acceptable to the rest of the world. For that matter, I hope Leibovitz and I can withstand the siren song of the Botox needle for the exact same reasons.


Anonymous said...

I love it! I work with jr high girls and I take them to a make up counter for their birthdays. It is a great time to talk about natural beauty and highlighting it as well as inner beauty. I'm glad you guys had that time together.

Slatts1962 said...

Beth, I love your blog. You are fantastic at conveying your thoughts and moods on cyber paper. Please keep writing & give my regards to Z!

The Neurotic Turtle said...

Aww, you had to say that. We're related. Z is packing his bags and as soon as I get the last grades posted this week, I'm going to become a blogging fool.