Learning to Paint

I was up to my elbows in mud, patting out bricks and baking them in the sun for a clubhouse. I was chasing my brother through the woods, leaves tangled in my wild hair. I was picking puffs of dandelion seeds and blowing them through the yard. I was harvesting seeds from the grass that grew to my waist in the backyard, piling them into a bucket, storing for winter.

But sometimes mom would give her old bag of makeup to me and a friend. We’d attack ourselves with color. Smearing red across our mouths, powdering our eyelids dark purple and blue, painting our eyelashes blue with mascara, staining our cheeks fever red. We would pull dress-up gowns over our bodies, or find my old dance costumes, or borrow last year’s Christmas skirts and dresses from the closet.

We’d run to the bathroom to model ourselves in the mirror, puffing out our lips in a juicy frown, making our eyes wide, blinking slowly, tilting our faces left and right, stretching out our necks, sucking in our bellies. We’d brush our hair out with one hundred strokes, since I’d read about princesses who did every night. Out would come the camera, and we’d perform our best poses.

We didn’t see the clumps of blue mascara gumming the corners of our eyes, the flakes of sparkly eyeshadow on our eyelashes, the uneven blobs of blush, the lipstick on our teeth and our fingers and our chins. We saw women, this is how grown up women did it, they wore make up and they were beautiful.

I wasn’t allowed to wear makeup except in play, so when I turned 13 I started to push the fringes. (Dad, lipgloss isn’t make-up. Dad, glitter isn’t make-up. Dad, perfume is definitely not make-up.). I wanted to become a woman. And I wanted to be a woman all the time, not just in my house or in dance or drama performances.

Fourteen, a box from Mom and Dad was coming in the mail. The contents were a secret, but one way or another I smelled the change on the air, and I was thrilled. Finally, the box was on the dining room table and I was opening it with a kitchen knife and finally, finally, Make-up.

I was only allowed to wear it “on special occasions,” but that barely lasted a month. Soon I was wearing it every morning. I was jubilant, I was soaring, and my enthusiasm was beautiful because it was wearing mascara and eyeshadow.

I went to stay with a friend, Jen, for a week. Jen is like an aunt to me, and during the week she bought me my very first foundation and eyeliner and make-up bag. I got the darkest I could, because I wanted it to be real make-up. But I was terrified of the eyeliner, and only lightly lined the corners of my eyes for weeks. But soon I learned to be confident.

I’m sixteen now. I still use the bag Jen bought me, although my make-up as changed, as well as the way I wear it.  I feel naked if I walk outside without make-up. Sometimes I do anyway, just to prove to myself that make-up flatters my face, doesn’t make it.

I thought when I wore mascara every day, I’d be a woman, transformed into someone bigger than just Bekah. But I think maybe there isn’t ever some huge transformation, not from make-up or a driver’s license or a college diploma.  Maybe you’re always just you, only you’ve learned a few things and grown a few feet, gained or lost a few inches.

Maybe something like wearing make-up won’t change me into someone else. Maybe it doesn’t need to. Maybe just Bekah is just wonderful. Maybe we all need to learn something from the little girls who dream of make-up making them something else, and from the moment we realized it doesn’t. There are other things we look ahead to, thinking they will make us real.

I was up to my elbows in mud, patting out bricks and baking them in the sun for a clubhouse. Today I run inside a sunrise, sit at a computer creating worlds, try Tae Kwon Do for the first time and do terrible at it and just have fun anyway. What I do has changed, and I have changed, but I am still Bekah.

Maybe I will learn to be content with that.

– Rebekah Burcham

this article first posted on her blog: prettybowerbird.blogspot.com



  1. Rebecca Pletscher said,

    December 19, 2010 at 6:39 pm

    Hey! I love this, it is so cool what you are doing and love the idea behind it. keep up the awesome job!
    — Ci-ci

  2. Elizabeth Wagner said,

    December 19, 2010 at 7:44 pm

    Bekah, this is beautiful-just like you!! You are such a precious, lovely young woman, and I am so proud to be your friend!! Keep up the good work, never be afraid to speak truth! Much love, Liz

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