I started wearing makeup when I was nine.

I am 1/8 Filipino– but I know absolutely nothing about Filipino culture and my Filipino grandfather died when my mom was sixteen, so I’ve never met him. I look inherently more Caucasian than my mother or my sister Carly. I’m stuck with overt paleness and a long nose, like my dad. I’ve got a Jewish sort of look, which is predominantly what I am. On the other hand, my mother has slightly darker skin than I do, and Carly has a cute little button nose and a rounder face, as well as slightly slanted eyes.

When I was younger, I would watch my mom get ready to go out for the day and see her put on mascara and lipstick and cover up. She would cover her face with long, thick swipes of this compact foundation, hiding her slightly olive colored skin and making it even where it wasn’t. “I look so tired,” she would say, blotting out the skin under her eyes to make herself seem less so. “That’s better.”

I didn’t understand makeup when I was younger. I didn’t know why mama would want to cover up her skin, because I didn’t have to. I figured it was an adult thing to do (which it was).

And being a little kid, I wanted to be just like mama. I wanted to be grown up and beautiful like her. So I started wearing makeup when I was nine.

Taking my mom’s rejected compact foundations with remnants of makeup in them, I blotted out the skin under my eyes. It was the easiest of her makeup to use, because I didn’t have to put on mascara with a wobbly hand or unevenly outline my mouth with lipstick. It was easy.  “I look so tired,” I would say to myself, which wasn’t true at all, imitating my mother and painting my skin and making it look uniform with the foundation. “That’s better.”

But it wasn’t. Because my skin was obviously paler than my mother’s, her compact foundation made me look as if I had dark rings under my eyes. I didn’t look pretty like my mama– I looked like a tired racoon. So I tried covering my entire face with it. To me, it felt like I looked better. To others, I looked like an unevenly tan little girl.

Maybe I wasn’t as beautiful as my mama was when she put makeup on, but at least I could copy her and try to be. A big part of it was that I wanted to show her that I was grown up, and the way that I could do that was copying her makeup.

I had this odd obsession with the skin underneath my eyes– my eyes are kind of big, so when I was younger the skin under my eyes also looked a bit big, but because I hadn’t grown into myself yet and lost all my baby fat in my face it was more prominent. I thought I looked tired when I really didn’t, and my mom saying that she looked tired didn’t really help.

I’m not sure that my wearing makeup at nine had much to do with self image other than that.

When I was little, I would say that a big portion of my life was trying to act/be older than I was. Although I was a bit sheltered growing up– I was brought up to be extremely dependent on others– I still strived to be older and mature. I looked up to people like my mom or actresses that I saw on Disney Channel or my teachers or my friends who were allowed to be more independent, and I wanted to be like them. Wearing makeup was one way that I could do that. There was one other thing that I did to try and be more grown up– but I’ll tell that story another day.

I guess that nine is a young age to start wearing makeup. But all I wanted to do was feel like I was beautiful and grown up like my mom.

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