By Arden Edelcup (aka: The Beauty Babe)

“The most beautiful makeup of a woman is passion. But cosmetics are easier to buy.”   – Yves Saint-Laurent

Last month as I performed my monthly ritual of pawing eagerly through my favorite beauty magazines a strange thing happened to me. I found myself getting a bit annoyed at some of the articles that used to fascinate me with their glossy wisdom. Ever since Seventeen magazine promised me clear skin in TWO days when I was 13 years old, I was hooked. Every single month since those teen years, I have trotted out to my mailbox searching eagerly for my Vogues and Marie Claires with a bounce in my step. Yet for reasons that have eluded me, these “trusted friends” became the college roommate who was starting to get on my nerves.

I admit quite begrudgingly that I actually may be in the throws of a Middle-Aged Beauty Crisis.

Upon scanning mindlessly through a recent copy of Marie Claire, I stumbled upon my deliciously favorite part: “25 Beauty Products That Will Change Your Life.” I tore them out with my usual frenzied glee, and then all of a sudden, an irritating little Buzz Kill whispered into my ear: “PA-lease — and you really believe that??”

When my 401K tumbles back into the financial toilet threatening my kids’ college fund, will my Clarisonic Beauty Brush scoop down and pay that college bill?

Will that Fekkai 3-Day Hair Transformation turn my moody teenager into the witty little character on Modern Family? Sure, all of those glossy products can add shimmer and shine, and literally NOTHING feels more satisfying than finding the perfect mascara — BUT isn’t it all a bit of hype?

I asked myself: Am I a beauty fraud who has spent the last 30 years of my life under the delusional misguided notion that the “perfect pink lipgloss” has mystical powers to change my life? As someone who meticulously studies every Anti-Aging “breakthrough” from human growth factors to organic pumpkin scrubs, I began to spiral into self-doubt: What can Moroccan Oil Smoothing Shampoo really do for me?

You can say I was suddenly, inexplicably enlightened. And, I felt compelled to share this new Beauty Skepticism with customers who bestowed their trust in my expertise. One day, a beautiful woman in her early 30s sashayed into my store. She had silky butt-length golden locks, and asked my opinion of a bottle of $100 shampoo.

I put my arm around her shoulder and said, ‘Look, you have beautiful hair. What do you really expect a $100 bottle of shampoo will do for you?’

While I expected my “newfound” practical wisdom to resonate with a bonding hug of gratitude, I was dead wrong. She huffed: “Well, I really don’t care what you think. My friend is in the hospital and this is her favorite shampoo. I think it is money well spent because it will make her smile when she otherwise feels really lousy and depressed. Can you gift-wrap it for me, please.”

While I was a bit confused by her reaction to my advice, I shuffled off undeterred to my next trusting beauty-challenged customer. This woman was looking for the Perfect Red Lipstick. After a 30-minute search and an arm stained in red stripes of every hue of red, I gave up. Each color was either too bright, too bluish, to dull, too creamy, or too dry. Throughout the unsuccessful red lipstick sale, I found out that this customer and I went to the same college, our daughters were camp besties, and we loved the same books. After texting each other our must-read book lists, I glumly apologized that I couldn’t find her the right color of red.

She tossed her arms around me and winked, “Oh who cares? Let’s have coffee one day. I didn’t really even need a lipstick. My husband and I were in a stupid fight and I just needed to have some fun. I promise to come back. This is my fave new cosmetics store.”

So for the next few days I quieted this skeptical little voice and tried to simply tap into my Inner Zen and observe the women who were seeking my beauty wisdom. And then, I would take it one step further and examine what they were REALLY looking for.

I was pleasantly surprised at what I discovered. From the girls who were going to their first dance giddily picking out their Maybelline mascaras to stressed-out sleep deprived New Moms just needing a cream for dark circles — they were all participating in one of life’s great female pleasures.

Who am I to be the Beauty Scrooge?

So what is the lesson that I gleaned from my awkward attempts at self-reflection? When someone is searching for the Next Great Miracle Cream, what she really may be seeking is for someone to listen to her complain about her annoying PMS pimple. Sure, as a student proficient in the study of beauty and cosmetics, we all want to look and feel our best. And I really do believe that years of research have led to amazing developments in skincare and cosmetics.

And yes while the annoying little skeptic in me is a bit weary of the recycled hype that seduces me from the Internet to the magazine covers, I still am passionately intoxicated by the yummy smell of a vanilla body lotion, and I really DO see a difference in my angry furrows when I so lovingly smooth on the newest miracle cream.

I’ve also realized as women these beauty products have become part of our shared girlie history on the pimply-faced and frizzy-haired road to adulthood.

Who among us did not go to a slumber party and slather our faces in mud masks or spray Sun-In to become the perfect bleached blonde?

Here’s the epiphany in a nutshell: IT’S NOT ABOUT THE COSMETICS — IT’S ABOUT THE BONDING.

The Middle-Aged Beauty Crisis I was having truly had nothing to do with sulfate-free shampoos or face-cleaning machines, rather it was my own attempt to reconcile feelings of aging with grace and what that really meant. Like everything else in life, it’s not really about the lipstick or the shampoo or the perfect bronzer — it’s how these beauty “friends” make us feel through all of life’s challenges and milestones.

At the end of the day (AND first thing in the morning) … isn’t that what’s it all about?

Lisa Barr, Editor of GIRLilla Warfare: Arden Edelcup is a Mom of three “Indiana Hoosiers” and owner, with her hubby Earl Edelcup, of Ross’s in Highland Park, Illinois. 

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