I'm the sort of person who sometimes envies (and truly can't imagine) the types of friendship that span any longer than five years — let alone 20 or more. It's not that I dump my relations frequently or anything like that. Rather, it's that my life has, thus far, tended to change drastically — sometimes putting me in a different physical place — every two to three years or so. I had coffee with a friend visiting from Halifax, Canada last week who is an anomaly in my life: We've stayed friends for eight whole years, despite her move to the East coast of the country. And the thing is: I value friends and friendships. I have the boxes of photos and handwritten notes — physical markers of what must be thousands of memories — to prove it. Sentimentality and I are quite well-acquainted, and there's pretty much no limit to what will set me off, causing streaming tears or a silent smile to form on my face. These are understandable phenomenons to many people: We collectively grasp the emotional significance of art, and science even validates the emotionally triggering nature of smells.
In 2014, two books illuminated the possibility for one external thing to hold and trigger memories. The thing in question: Clothes. Sheila Heti, Heidi Julavits, and Leanne Shapton put together Women in Clothes, a diverse conversation about what clothes mean to us and how they shape our lives. And Emily Spivak published Worn Stories, which photographed people's beloved clothing items and shed light upon the memories those items held within them. I could identify with this power immediately, but in a different way. For me, it was beauty products that held the memories of my childhood, adolescence, and recent past as a young adult.
As a kid who wrestled with bullying, ADHD, and being an outsider in a small town classroom, I was always trying to become a grown up faster. To me, the lotions and glass bottles of serums and fragrances signaled adulthood — or at the very least some form of autonomy over myself. I devoured any magazine I could get my hands on, cutting out the DIYs and how-to's and pasting them on looseleaf in binders: The original Pinterest. I pasted my favorite ads on my wall and spent all of my allowance/birthday money/dog walking cash on lipsticks and bubble bath. When I moved away from my family to go to private school at 14, the makeup my mom bought for me when we saw each other on weekends was part of our bonding.
Beauty products marked the passing of time and the beginning and endings of different phases of my life. They are no less significant and formative to me than songs or films. They're the things that I used to try to use in order to "fix" whatever I thought was "wrong" with myself — the things that gave me control over my own appearance, and the things that soothed me. They helped me make friends with strangers and centered me during homesickness and crisis. These are the beauty products of my life:
1. NOXZEMA CREAM
This is the cream that my Grannie would apply liberally to her face and neck every night. She died when I was a teenager and the smell of her Noxzema cream (as well as watching her put it on) is one of the lasting memories that I have. A recollection that has been present for as long as I can remember. As a young girl, her regimented behavior and nightly ritual seemed glamorous and special to me. That's how I like to remember her now.
2. LOVE'S BABY SOFT PERFUME
I'm not sure how this ended up in our house, but I distinctly remember the soft plastic lid sticking out in the drawer of our bathroom dedicated to my mom's perfume and cosmetics. My sister and I would pull it out and sniff it before dousing ourselves in its wonders. This was the first perfume I'd ever gotten my hands on perfume, and even though I didn't love the scent, I felt like wearing it made me mature. Oh, the irony.
3. Bonne Bell Lip Smackers
The first sort-of-cosmetic that I was allowed to have, I collected and stashed these bad boys in my backpack purse. It was one of the things that I felt helped to define my identity in a small community where everyone generally had and did the same stuff. The flavors of Lip Smackers that I owned and used defined me. I'm pretty sure I was the only girl in my class who donned the watermelon one, and that felt important.
4. WET N' WILD LIPSTICK
There is a copper shade of Wet N' Wild lipstick that's an orange-y red with sparkles to match: This is the lipstick I wore to my first dance. With a half-back halter top and a knee-length pleather skirt, I definitely felt like the cutest girl in the room. Reality? Heavy bangs, oily pre-teen face, and poorly applied makeup. I poured over magazines for weeks in preparation for the dance — to find the perfect look, of course — then panicked in the drugstore and chose this color. I regret nothing.
5. SUN IN
Although I was very aware of my appearance as a pre-teen, the age when I started using Sun In was when I started feeling like there were things that were wrong with my appearance that I needed to change. I started to secretly diet. I started wearing makeup regularly. I stopped wearing bright woven shirts and teal pleather pants, instead adopting the tight low-rise jeans and zip up hoodies my peers wore. I added Sun In to my hair — not for natural highlights, but to bleach my hair. It ended up banana blonde instead of a golden hue, but to me it was better than brown.
6. L'OREAL VISUELLE FOUNDATION
This was the first foundation I was "allowed" to own. My mom didn't want me to feel like I needed to wear a full face of makeup all the time, so my access to certain products was limited. When I moved two hours away from my parents to live with my grandpa and go to private school, things changed a bit. My mom bought me this foundation, which marked a sense of independence and responsibility in my 13-year-old self.
7. MAC EYESHADOW
Going to an all-girls' high school, dances with the boys' school were a big freaking deal. My friend and I would shop with each other for the skimpiest clothes that we thought we could get away with, then go to MAC and convince the makeup artists to match our eyeshadow to our halter tops. These were some of my last memories of dressing for the validation of people whose romantic attentions I was interested in. They're also some of the first memories I have of girls encouraging each other and giving compliments so freely.
8. TANNING LOTION
I left my church and sort of moved in with a friend who was 10 years older than me. I was feeling lost while also drinking and smoking for the first time ever. My pseudo-roommate and I both managed tanning salons. And though I'd never tanned before, I was trying everything for the first time. There's even a license photo of me with a dark fake tan, blonde hair extensions, and eyelash extensions in existence. I thought I looked great and felt confident for the first time.
9. SATSUMA BODY WASH
I was still feeling lost, so I moved to the mountains. I didn't bring my extensions with me. But I started to love being outside and taking care of myself and being alone. I switched to "all-natural" products from The Body Shop and LUSH and became vegan, but I still dressed up to go out dancing. I kissed a lot of strangers and flirted with everyone. I was sexually assaulted by a co-worker. I cried in the shower to the scent of Satsuma. And I learned how strong I was.
Images: Author; Giphy; Twitter; Courtesy Brands