How Growing Up Poor Shaped My View of the Beauty Industry

by Sam Milam

As a young child, I used to follow my mother around, even when that meant sitting beside the tub during her cherished bath time. I would watch her slather her legs up in a bouquet of shaving gel, the white foam covering every inch of her slender limbs. Then, methodically, carefully, she would pull the razor up in straight strokes, removing row after row of froth and stubble. I wanted to do that. I wanted to be grown-up and shave and wear makeup and use all of those cool products that only adults get to use.

“This gel is expensive, so please don’t play with it,” she would tell me. As I got a little older, I stayed at home alone after school; I was a latchkey kid. I would sit in the tub and slather my legs up in that thick, creamy shave gel. “Wait as long as you can before you shave. After you do it once, you’ll have to do it for the rest of your life,” I’d heard, the words now echoing in my mind. I reached past the razor and grabbed my go-to rinse cup and dragged it up my soapy legs, pretending that I was shaving. The razor would have to wait until another day.

I walked into the gym on my first day of seventh grade. It was the first year that I was required to change into gym clothes in front of a bunch of other girls. I was hitting my teenage years, albeit the very first ones, and all of the girls around me were shaving their legs, wearing makeup, and growing up—and out—faster than I had anticipated. It was immediately noticeable how different I looked from many of the girls; I was still stuck in my childhood of wearing striped tank tops and shorts, running barefoot around my neighborhood, and avoiding any form of intimate situations with boys and girls.

I looked to my left and right and saw young women applying powder and lipstick to their faces, giggling about the boys who would share this class period with them, and doing a little shimmy to make their breasts look perkier. I didn’t own a single piece of makeup, but in that moment, I realized that I needed to if I was going to fit in.

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