A Beautiful Life - Page 2

By Taylor Ellsworth 08/05/12
Connecting with other women over nail polish and lipstick may seem shallow. But this kind of beauty bonding isn't just skin-deep.
Nailing it Photo via

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The longer I stayed sober, the more important it became to take care of myself—to treat myself, even. Seemingly basic components of self-care which had always eluded me in the past, like washing my face before bed or applying lotion to my legs after shaving them, became mandatory while frivolous things like applying red lipstick or weaving a side braid no longer felt like embarrassing cues of my need to be accepted. When someone complimented my hairstyle or shade of eye shadow—particularly if it was a woman—something was different. I actually believed them. As an active alcoholic, makeup had been a tool for crafting my image and getting what I wanted. In sobriety, it was an intrinsic part of growing up and becoming a woman. And, even more importantly, it was a way to bond with other women rather than compete with them for more free drinks or slurred compliments or cute Facebook pictures or whatever. For any woman struggling to meet other women in the rooms, I seriously suggest wearing some bright lipstick, crazy nail art, or fake lashes. (Funny Face, a bright purplish-pink satin made by Nars, is my favorite conversation-starting lipstick.)

When my boyfriend spent a term abroad, instead of being devastated at being forced to sleep alone and cook for one and rely on myself for reassurance that I do, in fact, look cute in that weird flowery-denim dress I bought on impulse at Forever 21, I used the extra free time to take up nail art. Not to attract random dudes, though; men tend to be as completely blind to details like nail polish as they are to new highlights, especially self-obsessed alcoholic men sitting in the basements of churches. At meetings, the women would ask about how I made the polka dots on my ring finer so tiny, or how the lines were so precise, and then I would explain my technique in detail. No, we weren’t bonding over our similar experiences with alcoholic parents or snorting Adderall but we do that enough in the rooms. It can be easy to forget what it’s like to relate to another person in a non-alcoholic capacity when so much of your time in meetings is spent trying to share in a way that helps the newcomer relate. Of course, being able to relate deeply to another person and share experiences I once thought I would take to the grave is wonderful and cathartic but to share a part of myself that I have chosen to cultivate—my interest and expertise in beauty, shallow as it may seem—rather than the deeply flawed part that I have been forced to live with, is also incredibly freeing. To actually want to help other women feel beautiful, after having seen them for years only as competitors for all that was sacred (free drinks and male attention), is simply profound.

When I was a teenager, I lost myself in Burnett’s vodka and stimulants and when I got sober, I lost myself in meetings, fellowship and flirtation. I had no idea I would eventually find myself, and my connection to other women, inside of Sephora; just like I had so many years ago, inside of the kitchen, whipping up honey-oatmeal masks.

Taylor Ellsworth writes from Portland, Oregon. She also wrote about getting fired by a sponsee and managing her eating disorder, among many other topics, for The Fix. Follow her on Twitter here.

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