I went to a Christian summer camp one year when I was about 12. It was, overall, a hideous experience. There was peer pressure to become a “born again Christian,” for instance, which wasn’t exactly what I was looking for in a summer camp. When people talk about loving sleep away camp, I assume they went to camps that looked a lot different than this.
This camp also had a pool filled with swamp-like water that had leeches in it. Needless to say, I’m in no rush to send my kids to sleep away camp.
But there is one other memory that sticks with me. A good one, even. A memory that informs my concepts of beauty and desirability.
There was this girl. I think her name was Jenny, but I’m not sure if I just think that because it was the ‘80s, and every third girls’ name seemed to be Jenny.
She was beautiful. She had blondish wavy hair and was tall and just seemed older. My memory is that all the boys fancied her, but I don’t know if I just think that now because I, personally, thought she was otherworldly and fabulous. Chances are I wasn’t super well-connected to what the boys around me were thinking.
Anyway, she wore this amazing lip gloss that was pale pink with tiny rainbow glitter flecks in it. I coveted that lip gloss. It seemed like the holy grail that would transform me into Jenny. One swipe of that lip gloss would instantly convert me from a gawky, curly haired and bespectacled nerd to this heavenly creature that seemed to float above the trivial concerns that bogged down my twelve year old thoughts.
I really thought that lip gloss held all the answers. Trapped at a sleep away camp in the woods of New Hampshire without any access to a store of any kind meant that that lip gloss could not yet solve all my preteen problems. The answers would remain at arms’ length. That pale pink liquid gold could not yet be mine. So I spent all my time coveting it and generally trying to figure out what Jenny’s other secrets might be (while trying to block out the other realities of this camp that made no sense to me).
I don’t remember how long after I got back home I found a lip gloss similar to Jenny’s. Chances are it wasn’t long at all. But there was an unexpected twist. Even after I found the coveted gloss, I discovered that it looked totally different— and, frankly, bad— on me.
The pink glitter gloss didn’t transform me into Jenny (or any other replica of an older, attractive teenager). Instead, it made my full lips look enormous, my braces more prominent; and the glitter didn’t look cool. It looked all wrong.
It was the first lesson I would get in someone else’s look not working on me (a lesson I relive every time I try to replicate the look of a supermodel or a boy-shaped actress).
But I still have a weird affinity for pale pink glitter-flecked lip gloss. I am still drawn to it, even though it still doesn’t look good on me (though, mercifully, my braces are gone). It was my entree into a world where I noticed beauty and a world where it could transform a situation I’d rather not be in.
There were so many lessons in that pink lip gloss. And somehow my twelve year old self just knew it.