Wearing make-up "seems like such a trivial thing to do," according to Janet. (Photo from iStock.com)

Wearing make-up “seems like such a trivial thing to do,” according to Janet. (Photo from iStock.com)

by Janet Gilmore

I have always been on intimate terms with department stores’ beauty counters, and I’ve always thought there was something pretty suspicious about women who weren’t … Who in their right mind wouldn’t swoon at the little sable brushes, lovely eye colors in dinky little pots, scented creams, tingly astringents? Who would say ‘no thanks’ when given the option of making their eyes twice their actual size?” — from “My Life on a Plate,” by India Knight

I had a date years ago with a man who took me to dinner at the now-defunct Bookbinder’s Restaurant. The conversation was less than sparkling, but he did manage to tell me, “You know, you’d be much more attractive if you’d wear make-up.”

Years later, I still regret not answering, “And you’d be much more attractive if you’d keep your mouth shut.”

And as golden as my mother was, she was not perfect. Sometimes she would look at me, shake her head sadly and say, “Jan, you’re so beautiful; why don’t you wear make-up? It might help your self-esteem.”

“I AM wearing make-up, Mom; this IS make-up.”

“Let’s see; who could you talk to?” she went on. “Maybe you could talk to cousin Debby. Debby always looks so pretty.”

When you’re right, you’re right.

You have to know cousin Debby. She is tiny, beautiful. She never hangs around her apartment chewing gum in ill-fitting sweats, waiting for something to happen. Debby is a downtown girl. She always looks gorgeous. She uses bronzer, combs her hair, wears lipstick and goes to tons of INTERESTING EVENTS in Center City, where she lives. She is always talking about the latest concert, gallery opening or lecture she attended.

I couldn’t live her life any more than she could live mine, but she’s a good make-up role model for me, I guess.

“Are we making New Year’s Resolutions this year?” my husband Hugh asked me last week.

“I never make real resolutions,” I said. “You know that.”

But I thought that after 29 years of marriage, maybe I could resolve to be a little less bland, at least enough so Hugh could tell whether I was home or not.

I e-mailed Debby.

“Hi, Deb, I need advice on how to apply make-up. Can you help?”

“I’d love to.”

Now, I like make-up, at least the idea of make-up. The early morning reality, though, is I sort of brush my hair and hurry downstairs to eat breakfast, read the depressing newspaper and check e-mails. I don’t spend a lot of time on personal grooming before breakfast. Then the day begins, and I forget how I look.

Remember the girls in junior high school who had make-up skills? Who were perfectly made up with great hair at age 12? I wasn’t one of them. I have no clue how to enhance. I throw stuff on my face sometimes and think I look good until I see cousin Debby or someone asks why I don’t wear make-up.

When we got together, Debby brought two very large bags of make-up that she no longer wore.

Dozens of items, from the sublime to the drugstore.

I brought everything home, and waited for a good time to go through the bags. Hugh was out one afternoon, and I used that time to dump the contents of the bags on our bed and go through everything to see if anything would help me.

“Hello?” at the door.

He was home.

“You cleaning?”

Yeah, right.

I hate to be caught looking at make-up. It seems like such a trivial thing to do.

Luckily, THE GAME was on, and Hugh hardly noticed what else was going on in the house. He was in his chair in front of the TV for several hours; I could rummage unimpeded.

I sat on the bed among the cosmetics, like Queen Midas counting her gold — all the products Debby had rejected. I sorted them into piles of eyes, cheeks and lips. So many ways to fool people. So many hundreds of dollars spent on unloved cosmetics, now donated to me.

I held several containers of things that had different names: Chocolate Froth, Pale Starlet, La La Love, Midnight Hubba-Hubba, but they all looked exactly alike to me. I’d never get the hang of this make-up biz. So I gave up.

My husband still wants to hold my hand and go out to dinner with me. I’ll settle for that and forget about being fascinating.

I returned her make-up to cousin Debby in the two big bags and continued looking the same. I did keep one little highlighter, and I sent Debby a replacement one.

When I told her about the replacement, she e-mailed back, “Thanks. Sorry you returned the bags. You really need to wear some make-up.”