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How to Be a Girl 101: The Trip to Ulta

As I walked out of the house, I hollered, "K, bye, going to Sephora to get all my fancy lady supplies" and my husband called back, "I think it's Ulta you want. Sephora is just perfume." So I was off to a good start.

I've recently been trying to FEEL myself again-powerful, confident and sexy. It's been two years of COVID and kids and healing from a nasty boob surgery that was supposed to make all of my dreams come true but didn't. I'm not working in my usual profession and I moved somewhere where I know no one. I spend a lot of time alone in my head, which is a mixed bag. My identity is upside down. I look in the mirror and don't even recognize the furry, ancient, chubby woman covered in scars, looking back.

The last time I got fancy it took a professional

2 HOURS to make my face look like a better version of my face.

Some of this leaving myself alone to look however I look was deliberate. I was challenging social norms and bucking the oppressive systems telling me my only value is in how I look and there's only one (thin, young, hairless) way to look- so I went thick, old, and hairy. Plus, even at my "prime," I never really fit the ideal- I'm too tall, too big, so even when I'm making myself miserable to try to achieve the goal body, it's never really there (I think the secret is IT'S NEVER REALLY THERE FOR ANY OF US AND THAT'S THE WHOLE MALICIOUS BEAUTY STANDARD SHIT).

Over my whole adult life I've gone back and forth on whether I should be required to shave, whether I should be required to wear makeup. Whether I want to support the beauty industry- harming animals and ladies left and right. Living in the Pacific Northwest with all the hippies and very practical/conservative folks who've immigrated from all over the world in some ways makes it easier. Women aren't doing a lot to modify themselves here and they're running corporations and inventing spaceships and whatnot (I'm not totally clear on what's happening in the tall glass buildings in Silicon Valley). But sometimes I DO care. I'm doing all of this deep healing with my therapist who's telling me to trust my instincts and not second-guess myself all the time. As in, so what if the greater system is telling me I have to do something, if I want to do it, can't I honor that wish without investigating too deeply why I want it? This applies to wearing bikinis or other revealing clothes, how I choose to adorn and tattoo my body, what I want in bed, etc, etc. SO ANYWAY there I was at Ulta, having decided it was time to honor my desire to girl it up.

Oh. My. God. It was what I imagine an alien landing in a Walmart would feel like- "I totally want to pass as human, but do I really need all of this stuff to do it!? And those other shoppers- sweet Lord, is THAT the goal?!"

I assumed I'd look like this when I left, tree and all.


  • I had no idea how much I've been under-buffing myself- apparently you need to help the old skin off so that new baby skin can show up and glow.

  • There are polishes for EVERYTHING- like upper eyelash mascara and UNDER eyelash mascara. Because they're....different?

  • If you're putting on fewer than seven layers of faux skin face stuff, what are you even doing.

  • Contouring is out, which is cool because wtf is contouring.

  • Bushy eyebrows are in which is also cool because hello, less pain.

  • On the subject of pain- there have been a LOT of advancements in hair removal technology. There are fads for pubic hair and eyebrow shaping and I just am wondering if there's a newsletter or something? How does everyone know? Is Cosmo a cult?

  • I've been told the employees will help you select what you need to become your best self, so I asked one how I can stop self-loathing and she pointed me to butt polish.

  • Just kidding- no one approached me to help. I went in without any makeup, with messed-up post-yoga hair, and a sloppy sweatshirt over mom jeans. No one even saw me. I was a ghost.

  • Eventually I made my way to the clearance shelf because I'm midwestern in my core and SALES, I get. Plus, the stuff there is old and no one wants and I felt bad for it.

  • For a while I was hunching over my phone researching every product I picked up to see if it was animal-friendly and environmentally sound, but when I almost stepped on one of the tiny perfect people, I stopped. I can't be responsible for that. I was seeing nature videos of water buffaloes stampeding dainty birds at the watering hole.

  • The bright lights made me sweat and I wasn't sure if we were allowed to sweat there, so I just started grabbing at things in a frenzy and sprinting toward where I thought I remember the exit being.

  • Sometimes while I frantically tossed things toward my basket, I noticed a price tag and had a small stroke- I no longer think the Kardashians make enough money. If they have to polish, plump, refine, and define every single inch of their bodies every single day, they NEED billions. At least.

So, the whole experience left me overwhelmed, underwhelmed, and whelmed. I hate the idea that anyone thinks they have to dip themselves in poisons to be good enough for public skin is kind of glowing and I don't HATE the way my hair smells.. and if you open up a credit card you get double points toward your next Hello, my name is Sarah and at forty-one I'm joining the cult. I know, I know, I have to stand in the back and do the dishes. It's fine.


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