Sunday Sanctuary: Lessons in Cosmetics


“Stipple, stipple, stipple!” the lovely young woman in front of me chants as she demonstrates the proper way to put foundation on my face.

I’ve been wearing foundation for thirty-five years and am wondering how many of those years I’ve been doing it “wrong”.

Like many southern women of my age, my first exploration in the world of cosmetics was the Avon catalog and tiny white lipsticks the Avon Lady would leave with my mother. I still recall those little white tubes and mourned the day they changed their sampling to little plastic bubbles.


My first introduction on being instructed how to properly wear makeup was a Mary Kay demonstration, given by my 6th grade Sunday School teacher. She decided that as young ladies with maturing bodies, learning about etiquette and ladylike things – including the proper way to wear make-up without looking over done – was part of her Christian Duty. She wouldn’t sell us the Mary Kay, but she did give us a list of three women in our church who sold it.

My mother allowed me to try a little eye shadow, which we ordered from my cousin Susan, and a fresh package of Bonnie Bell Lip Smackers (in Dr. Pepper!) instead of the foundation I believed I needed. She promised she’d take me when I was a little older. That next summer, my mother hustled me to the local Merle Norman, where, after much deliberation, I was rewarded with the proper pancake foundation and translucent powder.

Oh, wearing cosmetics made me feel all grown up, like I had finally been inducted into the secret world of women.


Over the years, I experimented with different brands of make-up, but I never felt like I was all together without some sort of heavy foundation finished with powder. Always applied with a sponge and a little powder puff.

I would go to those cosmetic stores with one of my daughters or walk through the make-up department at a department store and cringe at the thought of spending $50 on any kind of cosmetic, except my favorite perfume.

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve become more comfortable in all the stages of myself. I’m confident enough to run to the grocery store without my “full face” on (something my Mother never did) and my daily routine, even for dressy occasions, means getting out of the bathroom in under half an hour. Well, unless I need to deal with my hair.

Being comfortable without make-up has also translated into being comfortable with bolder make-up, too. Heavy, smoky eyes and a bold lipstick!

While killing some time waiting for a lunch date in DC this summer, I wandered into a Sephora and fell in love with a urban-decay-vice-lipstick-rock-steadylipstick, and God help me, it was from that Urban Decay brand. It was the perfect red, and though I didn’t buy it that day , that perfect blue red kept coming to mind time and again.

I made the decision that indulging in a $17 lipstick wasn’t crazy. I’m a grown up woman and besides, is there an Avon Lady around anymore?

So, here I was in the middle of Sephora and I was smack dab in the middle of my own midlife crisis: not only did I need the RED LIPS; I needed to find something to cover those spots on my face that may look like freckles, but were big enough to be called – gasp – AGE SPOTS.

I gave myself over to the sweet and beautiful blonde young woman and let her make me over.

She not only made me over, she educated me on better ways to apply make-up. And let me tell you, cosmetics have come a long way since the late 70’s!

Rather than swipe a heavy foundation over my face with a sponge, she reduced my skin back to its alabaster color with that “stipple” action, liquid foundation, and a brush. Translucent powder made its way into the routine, but instead of a little velour powder puff, she produced yet another brush.

The she introduced me to the big guns: the world of “Bobbi Brown” and something called a bronzer.

I left with a little bag of (expensive) goodies. And no, I didn’t forget the red lipstick, that beautiful perfect red: Rock Steady.

I’m thrust back in time to other make-up memories.

My first dance recital, and in addition to ballet pink tights, I am wearing lipstick from Avon and a swipe of blush, Clinique Extra Clover, my dance mate Becky’s.

I’m on the Drill Team and am applying the prescribed combination of cosmetics: blue eye shadow and a Maybelline red lipstick, combined with L’eggs Suntan Pantyhose.

I’m in the high school musical, L’il Abner, applying Ben Nye cosmetics and using a “stipple” action to age a fellow classmate.

I’m in college and applying my beloved Ben Nye foundation with lots of pink rouge as I prepare to play a maiden in the Pirates of Penance.

And you may be wondering what THIS has to do with living a creative life. And you may be wondering how I connect my theme of “keeping house” with this exploration into the modern world of cosmetics. And, honey, let me tell you, that just as I need to tend my home so that it is a sanctuary, aren’t I also supposed to tend myself?

We must be willing to invest in ourselves, be it time or money, in order to tend ourselves and our creative lives.


As creative beings, we must also be willing to evolve.

How can we continue to evolve our art, if we, as humans, aren’t willing to shift and evolve the pieces of every day living?

And evolve, I have.

I’ve used my new foundation since July, and each day I still hear the reminder to “stipple” and “layer” over swiping. And, though I confess it took extra time in the beginning, I can still be done with my make-up routine lickety-split.

Each morning as I prepare to face the world, or just feel pretty for myself over an average Tuesday dinner with John, the use of all the brushes and cosmetics reminds me that I am a creative being. Though my words are my art in most cases and I can’t draw my way out of a paper bag, I can play with brushes and colors and create the visage I present to the world.

Enhancing the vision of myself, looking back in the mirror at me. It’s a part of the way I tend myself and nourish my creative life: the permission to expand how I see and use cosmetics.

Yet it goes beyond the foundation, bronzer, and lipstick. It’s also about the approach to living: to be willing to not just evolve, but take a risk. To do my make-up differently invites me to try to new spices in the kitchen and experiment with a different kind of writing.

To create new things – to evolve creatively – means we must think differently in order to create differently. Changing things up in cosmetics gives me permission to play with words in different ways.

Ways which are unfamiliar now, yet with practice will emerge from me. Lickety-split.

About the Author: Debra Smouse

debra_Smouse_mclDebra Smouse is a self-admitted Tarnished Southern Belle, life coach, and author of Clearing Brain Clutter: Discovering Your Heart’s Desire. She resides in Dayton, Ohio where she practices the art of living with the Man of Her Dreams. When she’s not vacuuming her couch, you’ll find her reading or plotting when she can play her next round of golf. She’s the Editor in Chief here at Modern Creative Life. Connect with her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.