Tuesday, April 6, 2010
BEAUTY FROM WITHIN
Okay, I've finally hit bottom and now I have to admit: I'm powerless over my addiction to beauty products. I buy them compulsively, use them frequently, and, like many other women, I hoard them. But the real problem is that I eat them. You name a product; it's a pretty safe bet that I've tasted it. I’ve eaten everything from Clinique's Turnaround Cream to Tiger Balm, Vicks Vap-O-Rub to Coppertone's Cocoa Tanning Butter - which I wouldn't recommend, it left my tongue numb for over an hour. In the '70s, I would literally drink Love's Roll-On Kissing Gloss by popping the rolling ball out of the glass tube and sucking out the gloppy gloss. To me, it was better than ambrosia!
I've tried every flavor, I mean, scent, of Victoria's Secret Luxurious Hand and Body Cream, my favorite being that divinely edible Pear Glace. I use that one up so fast that I've actually cut open the tubes with a scissors so I can lick out the hard-to-get remnants when the container is virtually empty. Once, at a raging party in Austin, Texas, during the South By Southwest Music Festival, I became instantaneously infamous for eating an entire package of jalapeno potato chips using Noxzema as a dip. Frantic revelers tried to stop me, erroneously thinking I'd crossed the line of sanity (not to mention socially acceptable behavior) and was doing something I'd surely regret, if not in the morning, then when I'd sobered up. WRONG! What those good Samaritans failed to realize was that I knew exactly what I was doing, and the fact is a jar of Noxzema is the perfect foil for jalapeno potato chips. It’s cool, refreshing minty taste was just what those hotter-then-hell morsels needed!
Of course, like most glamour queens, I've made jokes about the ridiculous amount of make-ups, lotions, masques, exfoliating scrubs, and other treatments I use on a regular basis. I used tell people I got my signature look by mainlining liquid eyeliner.
But I really don't know anyone else who eats the stuff, and though I wouldn't recommend this unique and highly personal habit - maybe I should say fetish - to others, I can honestly say that it hasn't hurt me in the slightest.
This was always a dark, shameful skeleton in my closet...er, medicine chest... the fact that I was so focused on beauty products that even the mention of them sends my pulse racing. I mean, my favorite line in the film Silence of the Lambs is when the serial killer bellows,
"It puts the lotion in the basket!"
Recently, I had to admit that I was powerless over my addiction, the first step towards healing. I wanted to come clean, get it out in the open, and decided to put my cards on the (vanity) table and be upfront about everything.
The man in my life uses a Japanese hair pomade stick called Tancho, with an utterly intoxicating lavender scent. Not only am I obsessed with him, the smell of his hair drives me bonkers. In moments of high passion, I'd take a quick sniff behind his ear and be driven into a frenzy of desire. Soon, having located the source of my pleasure in his bathroom, I'd lock myself in, grab the Tancho, and hold it under my nose, inhaling its heavenly aroma. A few days of that and it just wasn't enough. I began actually wiping it on the end of my nose so I could smell it all day. In a dizzy downwards spiral, it was just a matter of time until I began eating Tancho, furtively scraping the waxy substance off the top of the stick, taking great care and making sure to smooth the surface so my boyfriend wouldn't catch on to the fact that I was devouring his hair pomade.
Alas, one day, I was caught in the act. Incredulous, he demanded to know what I was doing. In a scenario almost identical to the one at the party in Austin, I tried to explain that for ages I'd been eating all manner of beauty products, but he looked at me dubiously, with a mixture of pity and suspicion, the way you'd regard any common street junkie.
Trying to sound rational yet no doubt appearing completely insane, I gave him the history of my cosmetic consuming obsession, which dates back to early childhood… I guess it all started when I was about eleven years old.
My family lived in New England, where the winters are brutal and chapped lips are a problem. Ever vigilant, my mother armed us all with Chapstick. What she didn't realize, however, was that Chapstick freezes in your pocket when you're out all day sledding and making snow forts. The paraffin becomes so cold and stiff it actually does nothing to prevent your lips from becoming more chapped and cracked. At that point, I hadn't realized that either. So one day, when I lost my Chapstick and told my mom, she replaced it with Sea & Ski Lip Balm, in Orange Mint. Now, Chapstick, in those days, wasn't flavored, so not only was theSea & Ski Orange Mint a pleasant novelty, but it also had a different, softer, slicker formula - it didn't freeze. It remained soft, even in sub-zero weather.
I'd slather the delectable stuff on my lips, all satiny smooth, and it would smell and taste so good, I'd eat it right off. It got to the point that I'd be caking in on really thick just to taste it, then scraping it off my lips with my teeth, actually eating it.
Needless to say, the condition of my chapped lips wasn't improving. If anything, it was getting worse. One day, I just cut to the chase, rolled the entire contents up and began sucking on it like a lollipop. This was so unbearably satisfying, that unable to contain myself, I took a bite. In a matter of euphoric seconds, I'd gobbled up the entire thing. Of course, I needed more. That night at dinner, I blatantly lied to my mother and told her I'd lost my Sea & Ski. On her next trip to the grocery store, she replaced it....with Chapstick!
"But M-o-o-o-o-m," I wailed, my disappointment barely concealed, my uncontrollable urges starting to surface,
"I need Sea & Ski!"
Clueless to my by-now burgeoning addiction, she replied with the practicality only a mother can muster,
"They're all the same."
End of subject.
Ever crafty, I waited what I thought was a decent number of days, jonesing the whole time, until I thought the incident would be forgotten. I once again told my mother I'd lost my Chapstick, pointedly asking for Sea & Ski. Still oblivious to my growing needs, she replaced my "lost" lip balm with- shudder to think - more flavorless, hard, dull, boring, ugly old Chapstick.
Realizing that to argue would be utterly pointless, I asked for an advance on my allowance, which was the pricey sum of a quarter a week. I figured, quite rationally, that I'd just buy the Sea & Ski myself. What I didn't realize until I stopped at the pharmacy on my way home from school was that Sea & Ski was twenty-nine cents a tube, a full four cents more than my weekly allowance. Confronted with the horrible reality of the situation, up against a wall, I made the split-second decision to take the Sea & Ski, my first foray into shoplifting. Well, I got away with my petty crime, and got an adrenaline rush from the danger in the act of stealing. Like most junkies, I entered the world of larceny to feed my habit. I stole all the Sea & Ski that the pharmacy had in stock, then began accompanying my mother on her weekly trips to the Grand Union or Stop'N'Shop to steal more.
Clearly, I was enslaved to my habit, eating the stuff in the bed at night, slipping into the girl's room at school to take a discreet bite between my fifth grade classes. I was out of control, but the sheer magnitude of the situation didn't hit me until, in one colossal embarrassing incident, I hit bottom. My mother had sent me and my two little sisters (twins, four years younger) to the Palace Theater to see Franco Zeffirelli's Romeo and Juliet. Barely twelve, I nevertheless had a handle about what was going on in the movie, but my sisters had no idea. They'd been disrupting everyone around us by asking multiple questions in rather loud voices. It was getting towards the movie's dramatic climax, when Juliet comes back to life inside the Capulet tomb and sees her beloved Romeo dead, lying on the floor. The entire theater was weeping in unison.
"WHY IS EVERYONE CRYING?" my sister Meghan practically yelled, as half the theater turned to glare at us in annoyance.
"Because it's sad," I hissed. "Now, shut up!"
"WHAT'S JULIET DOING WITH THAT KNIFE?" Meghan asked urgently, her voice rising with hysteria, desperate to know what was going on.
"Just be quiet!" I said, through gritted teeth. "I'll tell you later!"
Convinced (and rightly so) that most of the patrons were about to band together to lynch us, I decided to de-stress by getting a calming fix of Sea & Ski. Alas, my container was nearly empty. I could see from the flickering light of the movie screen that there was a little bit left down at the bottom, and tried to wedge my pinky down into the tube to scrape it out, but my finger wouldn't fit. Hit with a moment of inspiration, I took a bobby pin from my hair and proceeded to use it as a tool to get the rest out. Since she couldn't understand the movie, my sister took an instant interest in my furtive actions.
"WHAT ARE YOU DOING?"
"Nothing!" I stammered, horrified at being caught.
"WHAT IS THAT?" Meghan asked loudly, as nine more sobbing people turned look at us in outrage.
"It's Sea & Ski," I whispered, hoping beyond hope that my answer would placate her.
"OH........YOU EAT IT WITH A BOBBY PIN?!?" she screamed incredulously.
Mortified, I slunk as far down into my seat as I could go. To this day, I have no idea if she was astutely trying frame me, or if she really thought that was what you did with lip balm - eat it with a bobby pin while watching a sad movie! I was so awash in abject humiliation that I don't even remember leaving the theater that night, or if Meghan tattled on me. I do know that the Romeo and Juliet incident didn't even put a dent in my habit, it simply continued.
My boyfriend took this story in stride, and, in fact, I was under the mistaken impression that he'd forgotten all about it, until a year later. We were at a seafood restaurant with some friends and he was ordering oysters, trying to get me to indulge along with him.
"NO WAY!" I proclaimed, wrinkling my nose in distaste.
"Come on," he cajoled, "Oysters are an aphrodisiac!"
"Oysters are like snot!" I cried.
"The only reason they're considered an aphrodisiac is because if you eat them, you'd eat anything!"
For a moment, he regarded me harshly, then said,
"Oh yeah, you won't eat oysters, but you'll eat lip balm and hand lotion and hair wax!"
He went on to regale the entire table with a list of all the beauty products I've consumed. Needless to say, the burning shame I felt in the darkened movie theater visited itself upon me once again.
Well, by now, I guess you could say that I've come to terms with my addiction. I try not to eat every cream, massage oil, or facial emollient I come into contact with. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. But even if I try just a little dollop, I still don't wolf down the whole jar, and I don't beat myself up about it. I talk about my problem, it's no longer a dark secret I keep to myself.
I just take it one day at a time, you know?
Photo: Illustration for Harper's Bazaar, an early work by Andy Warhol
If you liked this story and would like to read more, you can order the short story collection, "Escape From Houdini Mountain"