54: How Bad Skin Made Me a Better Maid of Honor

54: How Bad Skin Made Me a Better Maid of Honor

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Here Comes the Bride

How Bad Skin Made Me a Better Maid of Honor

A woman seldom asks advice before she has bought her wedding clothes.

~Joseph Addison

Two months before my big sister’s wedding day, I checked myself out in the bathroom mirror and spotted a giant zit. I opened a compact and covered it up. It felt poetic. I’d been covering my feelings in much the same way.

It wasn’t any of the usual sibling-getting-married discontent — worrying that you’ll never find your own true love; being forced to use your Beijing vacation fund for a Rhode Island wedding; wearing a bridesmaid dress that would make an Olsen twin look fat. Those kinds of complaints are just byproducts of the fact that weddings can throw a well-honed sibling dynamic out of whack like nothing else can.

Jill, who was thirty-one and marrying a great guy, never competed with me for parental attention in a significant way because, besides having parents who are diplomatic to the point of obsession (even now, we’re each given the exact same number of Christmas gifts), our personalities were always opposite — appealing to parts of our parents’ psyches that the other hadn’t made a bid for. We differentiated, and it worked.

Jill was the tomboy, and I was the cheerleading, clothes-obsessed girly-girl. This fundamental distinction allowed us to be more amused than aggressive toward each other, even though she was just three years older than me. Plus, it was nice to have an expert to consult when I learned to whack a field hockey ball, or she got dressed for a date.

But with the wedding, she was being temporarily pushed onto my turf. Sure, I expected her to put a toe over the line — she did have to throw a big, dressy party — but I also expected her to leave much of the planning to me.

Besides not being sufficiently ladylike, she was engaged at Christmas, moved from Virginia to Colorado for her fiancé’s job a few weeks later, and would be married in our childhood vacation town of Sea Isle City, New Jersey, in September. This conveniently left me with a lot of legwork back on the east coast.

I took the bus from my place in Brooklyn to Jersey, met my mom and aunts, who drove up from our home in Philly, and found a beachfront location. I asked one New York friend to hand-assemble invitations while another agreed to take photos. Frantic to prove myself indispensable, I went around calling Jill the anti-Bridezilla — a blasé bride-to-be. Thank God she had poor, organized, wedding-loving me.

But by May, Jill had settled into her new house and job, and took hold of the planning reins. She found a florist and made a creative, casual seating plan. Then she bought a dress without consulting me.

She called me at the magazine where I worked with the news. I took a deep breath and asked, “Are you at Macy’s? Bloomingdale’s?”

“I’m at Ross,” she chirped.

I cupped my palm over the receiver in case a co-worker walked by.

“Ross?” I hissed. “Like ‘I got it at Ross,’ the discount store?”

“Yes!” she yelled back. She had purchased a shin-length (“tea-length,” I corrected) white sundress for twenty dollars.

“As a backup?” I asked.

“No!” she laughed. “You know I hate shopping. This is it.”

I made my final bid for power a few days later.

We were on the phone going over the budget. The only things left to plan were hair and make-up. Hair was too risky a job for an amateur, but make-up… Jill wouldn’t recognize herself if we hired a professional, but if we left it to her she’d bring a tube of ChapStick and call it a day.

I was desperate for a new title, so I volunteered. All hail the make-up artist!

I basked in the new arrangement for a few weeks, telling everyone that I was doing my sister’s make-up for her wedding, but made zero preparations. This is when my pimple rose up like a gross red oracle. After that first morning, it prospered, founding a colony of Petri dish-grade acne.

It ruined my imaginary credentials. In real life, no one would hire a make-up artist with bad skin. Worse, I’d soon be standing in front of lots of people with a face full of blemishes.

I went to see a dermatologist.

“Stress and hormones both play a part,” she said. Great, I’m regressing, I thought.

“Is there a type of make-up you recommend?” I sighed. “The wedding’s only a few weeks away.”

After filling a prescription for antibiotics, I went straight to Sephora to find Laura Mercier’s “Secret Camouflage” concealer.

I was having trouble choosing a shade for myself when I thought of Jill, who’s a darker complexion than me with glossy brown hair, a contrast to my dirty blond.

What shade would I put on her? And why don’t I know this already?

For the next three weeks, I took my antibiotics and studied my new tome — Bobbi Brown Makeup Manual — learning the difference between corrector and concealer, and that the right shade of each, blended properly, can cover all manner of sins.

By Jill’s wedding day, my face was almost back to normal, and my focus was where it should be. I had a foolproof plan for her flawless, natural look.

She called my kit of brushes and pro-grade compacts crazy, then rolled her eyes but obeyed as I asked her to look this way and that while applying eye shadow. When she puckered so I could sweep bronzer below her cheekbones, her two best friends and bridesmaids, who were watching, hooted with loud laughter.

None of us had witnessed my sister making such an unselfconsciously dainty gesture in our lives. Without a word, their infectious giggles rolled over both of us until we were crying. I tried to stifle it and to scold Jill so she wouldn’t smudge anything, but she grinned and stuck her tongue out at me, like she’d been doing forever.

Suddenly, I felt sure that my status with Jill was solid. All my bossiness with this wedding wasn’t quite because I was jealous, or even feeling left out. I just wanted to make sure she still needed me.

And she did. Who else would she make that face at? When I looked back up at her, whether it was the make-up or my state of mind, she had transformed into the perfect bride.

I was changed as well, stepping into a sincerely supportive role and staring awe-struck while my sister welcomed everyone we know into her new life. As guest after guest told her how beautiful she looked, I completely forgot to take credit.

~Wendy Toth

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