I got Spritzed with Rosewater at the Glossier Store

As a teenager, I cried a lot in the mall. Nowhere that sold clothes was safe.

The teen in front of me in line for the Glossier flagship store in lower Manhattan is visiting New York with her family. Whatever their itinerary, she seems to have abandoned it to come here instead. She tells her grandmother, who seems generally confused about why they’re here, that she’s mainly interested in the face wash (Milky Jelly, $18), but she wants to test some other products as well.

The Milky Jelly, like all of Glossier’s products, is a minimalist cosmetic in minimalist packaging. Everything is sheer and glowy and dewy, to be applied with the fingers in a way that is both casual and luxurious. Glossier models are so fresh-faced that they practically look wet. I, new to Glossier, do not look this way. I am burning to a crisp in the block-long line outside their showroom.

Store employees, wearing kinda-dystopian-but-god-do-I-want-one millennial pink jumpsuits, work the crowd. Some offer umbrellas, which I reject (already burning, leaning into the experience). Another walks past and asks if anyone wants a spritz of rosewater — I do. By the time I’ve reached the front of the line, I am very excited about Buying Something.

As a teenager, I cried a lot in the mall. I also cried at the Kohls, and the Target, and the occasional thrift store. Nowhere that sold clothes was safe.

I’d go shopping with my friends and vow that this would finally be the weekend that I would successfully Purchase a Dress, so that I could Feel Pretty. When I said Feel Pretty, I really meant that I wanted to feel Small and Delicate and Feminine. I was none of those things, but insisted on trying to be anyways. Inevitably, I’d cry at the Macy’s.

Makeup, if I wore it, was minimal — a smudge of mid-to-late-2000s-style-black-eyeliner, some tinted moisturizer, and not much else. I had one eyeshadow palette, with shades named things like Mildew and Smog, and a tube of red lipstick that I’d put on for dances. I wanted to like putting on makeup, but it felt like an obligation that I didn’t quite know how to fulfill.

Feeling Pretty didn’t make me feel good, and that didn’t make any sense, so I’d hover in appearance limbo, never committing to anything in particular. I’d cut my hair short, then grow it out, then cut it again, waiting for something to feel right.

The teens in line for the Glossier flagship are small, and delicate, and feminine. I’m wearing baggy mustard shorts with boxer briefs sticking out the top, and a button-down that I’ve cropped myself. This, at this point, is what feels right. I’m also, in preparation for this experience, wearing makeup. I’ve amassed a small collection of it since starting my first Office Job last year.

Where Instagram Makeup is so thick it’s practically everyday drag, Glossier is sheer on purpose. They’ve got sheer lipstick (Generation G, $18), sheer blush (Cloud Paint, $18), sheer eyeshadow (Lidstar, also $18). You can put on a full face of Glossier and still see your whole regular face right through it. Beauty influencers reviewed it and asked, what’s the point? And for that reason, I liked it.

Because I knew there was something that rubbed me the wrong way about the alternative — the world of BeauTube where FaceTune was feminist, something done to spite men who joked about taking women swimming on the first date. Our eyeliner is sharp enough to kill them now. The fuller the coverage, the higher our agency. It was empowering to be pretty online. It was internalized misogyny to question it.

I didn’t dislike the makeup itself, or the people who wore a lot of it. I did dislike that I felt obligated to participate — that products were needs, a holy grail something-or-other to fix a problem I didn’t even know I had. To opt out was to be written off as a NoT LiKe OtHeR GiRLs Girl. But that’s the thing — I wanted to be like Other Girls, or at least, I wanted to be a girl in a way that people understood. Even in my deepest aversion to beauty, I still hoped I would grow into it one day. And I felt like everyone around me was waiting for me to do the same, that it would be a relief when I finally grew out my hair and let it stay that way.

At the entrance of the Glossier store, the jumpsuited employees wave people through in small groups. They ask how many I’m with — it’s just me. I enter with the Milky Jelly Teen and her disinterested grandmother, and we’re greeted by a grand pink staircase, softly lit from below. The whole store, from the flower displays to the wavy pink couch, is built to be Instagrammed. I deeply desire to be photographed there.

Glossier’s products are laid out in the showroom like a museum — the fun kind of museum, where you can touch stuff. The Teens are giving their parents a guided tour, touting the benefits of Solution (an exfoliant, $24), or Colorslide (eyeliner pencil, $15). Everyone already seems to know what all the products are, and what to do with them. I do too — I studied for this. But walking around the store, 6’ tall with a big backpack, I feel like I’m imposing. Like this bag is going to knock over the Vinylic Lip (shiny lip lacquer, $16) display, and I’ll be asked to leave empty-handed.

An employee, sensing my unease, helps me swatch a liquid highlighter (Nightshine, $20) on the back of my hand. When I decide on Platinum Rose, she whips out an iPad and swipes my card before guiding me to the front of the store, where a (sheer) pink bag will appear on a conveyor belt with my order. It all happens so fast. It’s equal parts thrilling and horrifying.

While I wait for my Nightshine and the inevitable handful of samples to materialize, I look through the Instagram account @glossierboyfriends, a collection of bored-looking men sitting on the pink couch. I wonder if they’re ever thought about bronzing, or drawing on new eyebrows. I wonder if they’ve thought about whether or not they’re pretty, or whether or not they want to be. I wonder if they’ve ever cried about it in a PacSun because they just weren’t sure.

I also wonder if being here at all is a betrayal — if getting a Grownup Job, and makeup to wear to it, is a choice I’ve made for myself, or if there was really only one option at all. Because sometimes it does feel like it’s on my terms, like this is a creative outlet that I’ve grown to enjoy. And sometimes it feels like something I’ve tricked myself into justifying, by muttering feminist excuses to myself when I’m in line with a tube of concealer at Rite Aid.

When I get home, I pull my Nightshine out of the sheer pink bag. It’s in a tiny bottle, rose gold and potion-like. And it’s Pretty, in a hypnotizing sort of way. As instructed, I dab it on my cheekbones and blend it in with my fingers. It’s not empowering or disempowering, pretty or ugly. Just shiny.

Because, really, I took a selfie in the store mirror that said, “YOU LOOK NICE!” I then bought something that implied that I do not. It doesn’t feel like it matters who I did it for.

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