The Makeup Of My Childhood

Eunice Johnson died this past Sunday and public radio has had tributes to her throughout to week (most recently, here). In all of these tributes, there are references to the cosmetics company she founded, and I hear a name which had such huge significance to me as a child.

It came in pink packages and those pink containers filled my mother's makeup bag. Oh, there was an occasional eyeliner from Estee Lauder (clearly an impulse purchase when she was buying the Youth Dew), but the foundation, blush, eyeshadow, lipstick all was Fashion Fair.

I used to watch her putting her makeup on, and it always confused me how she could be prettier without it, but more glamorous with it. My mom would tell the story about her first makeover, how her best friend, Mary Beverly, dragged her to the makeup counter and had them make her over and how she walked out of Marshall Fields with her hands over her face saying, "Mary, I feel like a painted doll."

I didn't realize, until much later, how lucky my mom was to have the option of painting herself at all.

Fashion Fair was founded in 1973. 1973! When looking back from the vantage point of today, I find that unacceptable and unfathomable. How could cosmetics manufacturers have ignored all the potential customers for so long? But then I remember how my mom would try to buy other brands of makeup and would always come back to the pink compacts. I remember my own struggles to find a foundation that actually matched my skin tone (for some reason, in the eighties, makeup counter salespeople saw olive skin and thought that meant dark, possibly because they didn't make makeup for olive tones, which often meant I was sold foundation that was way too dark or which was way too pink. I remember how stunned I was to encounter Prescriptives when I was in college. I'm Y/O, in case you were wondering). I remember teaching a makeup class in 2004 and one of the participants, who was African American, came in with Cover Girl makeup that was way too light for her and she said, "But this is the darkest color they had!" And after remembering all of this, I find it unacceptable and unfathomable that so many cosmetic manufacturers continue to ignore potential customers.

While I have felt angry in the past for not having all the options as someone with blond hair, blue eyes, and pink skin, angry that definitions of beauty have taken a long time to evolve to this point where I may be included and courted, at this moment, I feel sad that I cannot wear Fashion Fair myself. Because even though my lighter skin offers me more makeup options than my mother had when she was my age, I feel the loss of the makeup I played with as a child.


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