Looking through this month’s INSTYLE Magazine my friend gave to me, a challenging periodical that I am too cheap and too unfashionable to purchase on my own, I spotted an advertisement for Clinique Acne Solutions Clearing Concealer. There was nothing eventful about the photograph, just that familiar Clinique light green colored tube with a small squirt of lotion coming out in an S-shape. It looked like a smudge of ogre sperm or possibly a smear of leprechaun snot. I suppose it could have been a tiny puddle of melted Pinkberry green tea frozen yogurt left behind on a sidewalk after a sewing circle of sorority girls suffered a midnight craving for something that would further enhance their ballooning butts. Or maybe it was just plain, old zit cream, a mint green substance promising to alleviate the markings of juvenile delinquent dermas.
Whatever the case, the ad left me with emotional nausea. After much reflection and an unusually strong iced tea, I realized the feeling did not come from the litany of disgusting visions that popped into my head. Nor had they arisen from the mere fact that zit cream, in itself, is always an unattractive product to purchase, a product that leaves one feeling out of control, ugly and dateless for the prom. Rather, it was a deep, down feeling of resentment that I had stored away twenty years before, toward a cosmetic company built on the fear, longing and desperation of 1980’s teenage girls, one of whom had too small an allowance and an oily T-zone.
All through high school every girl who mattered used Clinique’s famous skin care system, a trifecta of elitism and empty promises, guaranteed to make any female feel like they could get to third base with the high school quarterback while having the skin of a dewy newborn just after a springtime shower in a meadow of wildflowers and rainbows. The light green packaging had a chunky, silver font that was clearly a leftover from the cocaine fueled 70’s of sweat-stained Bianca Jagger pantsuits and light-hearted venereal wart swapping. The Clinique display at the local department store made you want to be in the cool crowd and wash your face with the same products used to remove anonymous sperm deposits on the likes of Liza Minnelli’s jazz hands and Andy Warhol’s tinted eye brows. If you bought the 3 in 1 cleansing trio you too, could gain entrance into a very elite group of wealthy, damaged and insane celebufreaks who gave hand jobs away like business cards.
The first product in the three-part system was the yellow, facial cleaning bar, a bar of soap as big as my unopened AP Social Studies textbook. It came with its own light green soap dish, which collected water and microbes faster than an open drainage ditch at a New Delhi sewage plant. No matter how hard you tried, the bar would always float in a puddle of its own excrement and dissolve before your eyes, forcing you to purchase yet another banana colored brick before any of the other products were used up.
Next, came the Clarifying Toner, a tall clear bottle with light pink liquid that promised to turn back time and remove, not only your black heads and unseen facial dirt, but all your social snafus related to the upcoming winter formal and who may or may not be included in the unchaperoned, pre-party at Becky’s house.
Finally, you were instructed to end your cleansing regimen with a slathering of the Dramatically Different Moisturizing Lotion, the closer in this facial Deal-A-Meal program. The square, glass bottle held 4.2 ounces of canary yellow goop guaranteeing you the supple, glowing skin of a toddler pageant winner and a life filled with witty banter and balmy island vacations spent with tipsy sycophants hanging on your every word.
The only time I used these elixirs occurred during a sleepover with a friend whose mother preached the gospel of aerobics and abstinence while hoarding Faragamo flats as skillfully as Imelda Marcos on an Italian vacation. I would go into the well-appointed kids bathroom to brush my teeth and spit in one of a pair of enviable “his and hers” sinks. There, beside the Rembrandt toothpaste and brand name Advil, a product I had only seen on television, sat the Clinique triumvirate, those three bottles I coveted but could not afford. I methodically went through every step, cleaning, lathering, toning and slathering, sure that the next morning I would wake up with the face of a soured Helmut Newton model and a life of a loose and boozy heiress.
Inevitably, the morning came and my mug was no different than before, an average mix of blotchy Anglo-Saxton peasant stock and puffy-eyed, Catholic Brazilian zookeeper lineage. Perhaps I clarified a bit too much or cleansed too lightly. Whatever the case, I remained solidly average and bumpy; two qualities not exclusively sold anywhere. I was convinced that the high-end girls were the only ones that benefited from this fancy feast of facial bliss. I vowed to never again try to be someone I was not, a rich girl with monogrammed guest towels, a sister named Boodles and pores as minute as a neutron.
I went home and scrubbed my combination skin with St. Ives Apricot Facial Scrub, a two-dollar tub of abrasive orange pudding that could remove blood from a sidewalk and made me look like I had just run a six-minute mile face down. As much as I tried to convince myself that my way was far superior, I wanted nothing more than to own Clinique’s three wise men of beauty. Seeing that the cost was close to that of a week’s worth of groceries, my mother refused on the grounds of practicality and prudence. I, in turn, wondered why I should spend my easily earned money on creams and potions that no one would see, as opposed to buying a neon, button down blouse with skyscraper shoulder pads or discounted, melon colored ankle boots at T.J. Maxx.
So, I quietly stuffed my desire deep down into the recesses of my colon and tried not to twist into a jealous, bitter Crazy Straw every time I spotted the 3 in 1 in a pal’s fancy, marble commode. Seriously, I think I did my best not to combust with rage when I walked by the Clinique counter on my way to purchase Gold Toe socks for elderly relatives at Christmastime. And God damn it, I succeeded until three days ago, when I saw the familiar Clinique logo and my heart turned to fireplace ash and forced me to confront my decades old beauty demons.
With my forty year old skin and a few extra Washingtons I refuse to spend on fashionable clothing that may make me look like a used industrial mop, I have decided to stroll over to my local mall and splurge on my face. For $50.50 plus tax, I will come home with the Clinique 3-Step Kit for combination to oily skin and a hand full of free samples. Unless of course, the teenaged twit at the counter tells me that I have crossed over into the dry to overly dry and aged skin arena. If that happens, I will be forced to jump over the glass display case, grab her by her youthful yet over processed hair and beat her into a two-day nap with the log-sized bar of soap I always wanted to befriend. Then we will see who is gorgeous.