There were three things that went into having the perfect prom night: the perfect date, the perfect dress, and the perfect look.
By the day of prom, I was already 0 for 3. I had rejected one of my childhood friends in the middle of my high school’s homecoming game, to wait on the mysterious boy in my math class that I knew was going to ask me out.
I was wrong, per usual.
My dress, albeit gorgeous, had a ton of flaws that I strived to work around because of the price point. The zipper was broken and jewels kept falling off the front of the gown. But, who could say that they got their prom dress for under sixty bucks at a local thrift store?
One thing that I wanted to control was my appearance. I wanted to be as beautiful as my seventeen-year-old self could possibly be.
Beautiful, for me, meant a flawless face. A flawless face meant trekking through an unknown world that I had only stepped foot into before that day: makeup.
I found a makeup artist at a hair salon inside of a local mall and decided to put all of my faith, and forty dollars, into her. The makeup artist, a.k.a She Who Must Not Be Named, stood in front of me with her arsenal of makeup wands and sorcery. I just knew that this makeup was going to take me out of childhood and drop kick me straight into the realm of womanhood.
Nobody was going to mistake me for a twelve-year-old anymore.
She sat me down in a cheaply made black chair, turned me opposite the mirror and began the transformation.
After hundreds of pats and a disgustingly painful eyebrow wax, it was done.
My mother and sister were waiting nearby. Just as this wonderful woman mentioned that the process was over, they scurried towards me. As they came closer their smiles became less and less vibrant.
I couldn’t see anything, but I felt the weight of a thousand Kim Kardashian contours on my face.
“You look beautiful love.” My mom said softly.
She never speaks softly. That’s when I knew something was off.
My sister just nodded in agreement.
The makeup artist then turned me around so I could face myself.
I had never done a slower turn in my life. My reflection crept into my eyesight at a snail’s pace.
My poor, poor face looked like it had been smeared with Nutella. The eyeshadow was just sprinkles of craft glitter and the eyeliner was thick like a Sharpie marker. My once thick eyebrows were stripped down into thin early 2000s rejects. Even Britney Spears couldn’t co-sign them.
I didn’t look any more womanly than I did thirty minutes before. I just looked like a kid that had gotten lost in her mother’s makeup.
What I had mastered at seventeen years old, was the beauty of lying. Keeping a smile on my face was painful. But, I kept it there long enough for me to pay her that forty bucks as I left.
During my walk of shame to the parking lot, anxiety replaced the excitement.
I thought, how was I going to fix this? How could I still become that butterfly I always wanted to be?
Once I got home my mom began to sew me into my dress. I don’t know if it was the smell of the cheap foundation or my deteriorating sense of self, but I began to silently cry. At least, I thought it was silent.
My mom, with her all-knowing motherly instinct, began to console me as she sewed.
“I just wanted to look not like a child, you know?” I said.
“Baby, you just on the cusp of adulthood. Always tryna’ grow up before you’re supposed to. Can’t you just ride the wave?” She asked, slowly sowing me into the dress.
“What do you mean, ‘ride the wave?’” I said.
“Just let life be. Makeup don’t turn nobody into a woman. And, I’m gonna make sure that you’re wrapped up into this dress tight like a bejeweled sausage. Relax babe, all that beauty you’re looking for is already in you.” She was almost at the top of the dress, sewing it multiple times to ensure its security.
Even after an awkward solo photo-op, my anxiety melted away once I met up with my friends at our impromptu IHOP pre-prom dinner. They didn’t really care that my face looked like a failed attempt at a Pinterest pastry. They were just happy I was there.
My mom had always been my Rosetta Stone when it came to the language of womanism. That day she put me on the path to understanding what that truly meant. Nutella-faced and all, I knew I’d become fluent eventually. I just had to wait on it.