Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Middle School Nightmares -- Revisited

Once upon a time, there was a gangly 7th grader named Heavenly Sarah. She was oh-so-skinny and oh-so-shy. Her mousy hair framed her face in easily tangled ropes, and she had grand plans for one day being a great beauty.

Step one would be to grow up. Because grown-ups are infused with confidence and beauty, right? But in the meantime, she had to find a way to accentuate her positives. The problem was, she wasn't aware of her positives. It would be a good 5 years before her positives became obvious, but she didn't know it yet. She assumed she'd have to make a part of herself positive.

She considered amping up her wardrobe to reflect the current trends of platform wedges, plaid shirts, and chokers, but upon realizing her mother would never buy those things for her, Heavenly 7th grade Sarah moved towards a different path: her body.

Knowing her family tree like she did (Heavenly Sarah had brains, oh yes she did), this skinny 7th grader thought it was a long shot that she might have something close to curves on her body. And since no matter what quantities of food she ate, she struggled to gain weight, she decided against altering her body in any way. Years would be the only solution there, she reasoned.

Besides body shape and clothing, the only possibility young Heavenly Sarah could think of to improve her appearance was makeup. And not just any makeup: makeup that was cheap enough to buy with her leftover birthday money.

She bravely walked the makeup aisles at whatever grocery store her mom was frequenting back then, trying to decide what would give her the most bang for her buck. In a clear plastic zippered pouch back home, Heavenly Sarah had already begun collecting a stash of makeup -- loans from friends, almost empty containers pilfered from her mom's bathroom, gifts from older cousins -- so she was only looking for the one thing that would make her gorgeous. She had plenty of pale, peach, pressed powder. Plenty of black-as-night mascara. Plenty of frosty mauve lipstick. Plenty of eyeshadow in a two-dozen-colored keypad of sorts.

What she needed -- her high-octane, beauty enhancer -- was eyeliner. None of those lousy pencils, either. She wanted her eyes to be impossibly stunning. Unnaturally gorgeous. Heavenly 7th grade Sarah purchased Black Black liquid eyeliner. And some Lip Smackers lip balm in strawberry, just because it was cool: it came in a giant, over sized tube that nicely filled out her almost-empty purse.

Our innocent protagonist planned her next move carefully. TODAY was the day she'd walk around school with confidence and beauty. She wore her favorite outfit: a short-sleeved, maroon, lycra-ish t-shirt over a pair of hand-me-down Pepe jeans. And her white cardigan sweater to cover up the fact that the lycra-ish shirt didn't exactly hide her pre-pubescent sweatiness. (Oh, the shame.)

As soon as she knew her mom was otherwise occupied, little Sarah began carefully applying her liquid eyeliner. First to the top eyelid: thick, black marks from inside to outside, not differentiating thickness or angle from one corner to the other. Next, the bottom eyelid: again, a single, black line, thick all the way across. She went back and filled in spots that showed skin between the line and her lashes -- lining eyes was tricky business -- thus making her already thick lines, thicker. Bumpier.

Sarah was proud of the effect, and went on to apply the rest of her makeup with joy. She left the house for the bus-stop with barely a word to her mother, hoping to avoid scrutiny towards her obviously over done makeup.

At school, she dashed to the restroom immediately, nervous that she'd somehow smudged her masterpiece. She stood in front of the mirrors, trying to summon her earlier confidence, but instead, she became more and more anxious for people to see her transformation. Here, in the industrial lighting of the middle school, sweet Heavenly Sarah's eyes looked...startlingly black. Especially when paired with her over-zealous application of pale powder to her cheeks, and the imperfect smudge of strawberry-flavored lip-balm.

But there was nothing she could do about it now, Skinny Sarah thought. She'd looked fantastic when she left the house that morning; the school just seemed like a scarier venue in which to reveal herself, that's all.

Down the hall she walked, and it seemed (quite dramatically) that the sea of pre-teens was parting around her. Staring at her with...not admiration...but confusion.

At the door of her classroom, little Sarah the Heavenly slowed down to squeeze past a girl who was blocking the entrance. But this girl was no ordinary girl. (Cue scary music.) She was the popular girl. The prettiest girl in school, around whom all the middle school girls gauged their collective worth.

The startlingly developed Miss Popular turned to unblock the doorway, and was immediately confronted with little Sarah's black, black eyes.

"Oh!" the Blonde Bombshell exclaimed before squinting her eyes at the Heavenly Dweeb. "Oh. I see. You're trying to wear makeup!"

At which point Sweet, Heavenly Sarah melted into a puddle of her own hot embarrassment, and oozed to her desk, hiding dark, downcast eyes.

She snuck to the bathroom as soon as the bell rang for the end of class, and scrubbed her eyes with the thin, brown paper towels boasted by schools and gas stations alike. Emerging from the bathroom well after her next class began, her eyes were red from the washing, but clear and honest. She was a different girl from the one who'd excitedly readied herself for the day.

Sarah the Heavenly 7th Grader was happy. Happy with herself, happy with her naked eyes, and happy with the knowledge that she still had a lot of growing up to do.

To this day, Sarah the Heavenly wears barely a scrap of makeup on her pink cheeks and blue eyes.

And she is still happy.


  1. Awww, so cute! I remember wanting to cut my hair at that age and asking my dad what he thought a short hair cut would look like on me, and he replied honestly that he thought it would make my face look fat! I still haven't cut my hair very short. Its funny how things that happened so long ago can make such an impact.

  2. What a great story! I never wear eyeliner, but I do wear other makeup. I'm not talented enough for eyeliner.

  3. Man, does everyone have to have an encounter with an early - developed, stunning, popular girl in middle school that makes them want to crawl under a rock and die?? It must be some kind of adolescent rite of passage or something!

    Mine involved jeans with a broken zipper, cleverly (but apparently noticeably) fixed with a paper clip, and the snotty observation "I can't IMAGINE wearing BROKEN clothes. WHY wouldn't anyone just THROW them OUT?"

    Apparently, she couldn't imagine having a very limited clothing budget, either.

  4. A natural beauty. Inside and out.
    Such a well-written memoir. I could feel for little 7th-grade Sarah. I bet she and little 7th-grade Hyacynth would have been friends.

  5. I adore this piece... and feel a kinship with you on many levels because of it :)

  6. Oh Sarah...I am laughing and crying at this at the same time! I so remember those days in middle school...trying to determine where I belonged! I so wish that I had the confindence then that I do now. Middle school was tough on me as well. But it looks like we both came out of all pretty for sure, me: we're working on it! But, you know, every once in a while I will still put on some proverbial "black liquid eyeliner"...perhaps trying to be more like Miss Popular...only to find out that I'm much happier being like Heavenly Sarah! Big hugs to you!

  7. Aww, what a great story! Well told. I don't wear very much makeup either. It's better for your skin and there's a lot to be said for natural beauty. :)

  8. Ugh, 7th grade! I wish I could delete that grade from my memories. I was painfully nerdy in the completely stereotypical way: braces, glasses, terrible fashion... the whole enchilada. I was sitting (alone, of course) during lunch one day when an IT-girl led her posse over to my table and announced, "Let's sit with the nerds!" Ouch.

    For what it's worth, I think Present-Day Sarah is just lovely, with or without makeup :) And I wish we'd gone to the same junior high so we could have banded together!

  9. What a beautifully-told recount. Love it! You ARE beautiful... :)

  10. Oh, sad. Seventh grade was the worst.

    It was just about a month ago that I attempted liquid eyeliner for the first time ever. It's HARD. I quickly opted back to pencil.


Hmm...And how did that make you FEEL?