The year is 2006, and I’m spending my weeknight the way most 14-year-old girls with a healthy fashion and beauty obsession do — flipping through the pages of my favorite magazines on my bedroom floor, otherwise known as my pile of clothing. I grew up just about 15 miles west of New York. I was close enough for the city’s trends to breeze by me on the faces and bodies of working women, but far enough to feel like I was missing out on the excitement. Whenever I did venture into the city, I was blown away by how effortlessly chic all of the women appeared.
Magazines felt like my window into their impossibly stylish world, so I would scour them from cover to cover, looking for inspiration, hoping that they would create a path for me to one day attain that aura of sophistication for myself.
As a teen on the search for her personal style, I lacked the power of an adult woman’s self esteem and good judgment.
Trends were changing fast, and I obviously couldn’t overhaul my wardrobe with every swing of the styles, so I was drawn to the beauty editorials I saw in the magazines. These were trends I could adopt on a small budget, and often emulate with the few products I already owned.
Beautiful women like Jennifer Aniston and Lauren Conrad frequently graced the covers of the magazines I cherished. Although — to be fair — there was some diversity captured on the pages, the women presented to me were overwhelmingly blonde, tanned with a hearty dose of bronzer, and straight haired with thin brows.
As a girl with very dark, thick, wavy hair that is truly a challenge to tame, fair skin that reddens in the sun but never tans, and two brows that lean way closer to Cara Delevingne than Kate Moss on the eyebrow spectrum, I was brutally aware of how difficult it would be for me to create these looks on myself.
But this was the definition of beauty as I knew it, handed down to me from the editors I dreamed of becoming and the society that surrounded me.
So, I took it upon myself to experiment with the trends that were coming at me from every direction.
At first I dabbled in makeup — the least risky and easiest change a girl could make — but my beauty experiments quickly grew bolder. Before I knew it, my hair had transformed to a box golden blonde. A good hair day was a straight hair day, and a lot of effort went into achieving one of those. I managed to test out enough self-tanners to find one that left my fair skin a lightly bronzed shade and faded evenly. And, of course, my brows were tweezed into two thin, polished arches I’d proudly perfected by working through the steps of countless of tutorials.
With every new beauty trend I went for, the compliments rolled in from my peers. Still, something felt wrong to me.
When I looked at the girls in the magazines with the same physical features I’d learned to recreate, they all looked incredibly beautiful. But when I looked in the mirror, I didn’t recognize the girl I was seeing.
Despite the occasional comments from my mother, it never occurred to me to ask myself the most important question:
“Is this look right for me?”
It took years of experimentation before I reached that point — but all those years of walking around with someone else’s face allowed me to actually discover my personal style and my relationship with beauty.
And, on a more practical level, it also taught me everything I know today about skincare and makeup. Maybe it’s a phase we all need to go through to really find ourselves, as cheesy as that might sound.
As a 24 year old woman, I’ve finally developed a pretty foolproof method of filtering out the trends that are just better left to someone else — and it’s all about how they make me feel, rather than how they make me look.
It still comes down to trial and error, and I’m definitely not one of those gurus who can spot the perfect lipstick shade with their eyes closed. But if I slap on a new product and I feel anything less than confident, or anything other than authentic, then I know it’s not for me.
After all, if a trend doesn’t make you feel beautiful, what’s the point of wearing it?