By the time I was 12 years old, the important women in my life had died, disappeared or run away. I was raised by my Dad, and during my teenage years I learned how to fist fight, shoot tequila, and memorize the odds on roulette — but I had no idea how to apply makeup.
I was surrounded by so many men in my life that I was taking on their mannerisms. If there weren’t a mirror in our house, I would have thought I was one of them. When I hit 14, my body started changing and I became aware of being a woman. I wanted to embrace my femininity, but I had no one to turn to and no one to ask.
But there was a television in my home.
I tried to walk like Pamela Anderson did on old episodes of “Baywatch.” I got a cheap mail-order corset in an attempt to look like Snow White. Reruns of “The Golden Girls” taught me that a lady sticks her pinky out when she drinks tea. And when I was around the boys, it kind of worked — but when I was around girls, I felt like a fraud.
Back then, my makeup collection consisted of a single Wet ‘N Wild black eyeliner pencil that I would heat up with a lighter and swipe underneath my eyes. I rocked the raccoon look. It was my daytime AND my nighttime look. A burned black stub of eyeliner pencil was my sole entry point to beauty and womanhood, until a minimum wage job at a historic movie theater opened my eyes to something different.
I was lured in by the long-dead actresses projected on the silver screen. Marlene Dietrich and Lauren Bacall flicked a badass attitude while winking with smoky false lashes. These ghosts became my surrogate mothers. I wanted to emulate them more than anything but I didn’t have enough skill or bravery to attempt their looks on my own, I wouldn’t have even known where to begin.