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That time I wanted to pass myself off as Joyce Carol Oates #TBT

I submitted my first piece of writing when I was seventeen, a story about my first job, working at the employee cafeteria at General Telephone where my mother was a dispatcher. Rolling the 20# white bond backed by a sheet of thin blue carbon paper into my Smith Corona, I typed it out slowly, carefully, on a piece of erasable paper—and mailed it off to Cosmopolitan along with a cover letter. Not just to any editor at Cosmo, by the way, I sent it directly to Helen Gurley Brown. 

The piece itself, meant to be comical, was full of clumsy attempts at self-effacing humor.  I strived for a similar tone in the cover letter I addressed to Brown, completely clueless that the high powered editor in chief wasn’t the one reading unsolicited manuscripts. After I signed off I added the following PS. I could have said I was Joyce Carol Oates. What I thought that would accomplish I can’t imagine. That an unsatisfactory submission would get published because of a lame joke? 

No surprise, in the SASE I’d …

I Was a Cosmetic Copy writer

I was a copywriter at Max Factor for about five years back in the eighties. I came up with shade names, wrote package copy and created names for products too.
Here, a piece inspired by that work.
Maybe you’ve never heard of me but I’m the one you listen to in your heart of hearts. I’m the one who tells you how to be.
I’m the cosmetic copy writer. Maybe I named your lipstick or told you exactly how to apply your blush. Maybe it was a little thing like putting on your mascara. Now you remember. “For big, fat lashes that last and last. Smudgeproof. Smearproof. Even kissproof.” Yes! That was me.
I’m the one you run to when your mirror makes you moan. It’s me you turn to when Johnny Angel picks Carol Ann -- not you -- to take to the Senior Prom. Let’s face it. Without me you’re nothing. No one will ever love you. You’ll never have a boyfriend. You’re ugly. A pale, pimply, lipless, lashless, small-eyed, big-nosed, mousy-haired gnome. You are the walrus! Koo koo kachoo.
I’m the cosmetic copy writer, your fairy godmother on the back of the make-up pack. And I promise, Cinder-not-so-bella, that with a swish of my magic mascara wand, I’ll take those skimpy lashes to new lengths. What to do with that nothing little mouth of yours? It’s back to the drawing board. First we’ll erase it. Then with a lip liner pencil we’ll retrace it but this time do it bigger, fuller, fatter, better.
And you’d better get used to the new, improved you because after I’ve had my way with you, you’ll feel naked without your lipstick. You won’t be able to go to the market without your mascara. You’ll dash to the mall in baseball cap and sunglasses, praying you don’t see anybody you know.
Just when you’re so addicted that you can’t even go to the laundry room without eyeliner, the supply will be gone. (Don’t blame me. I’m just the middle woman.) Your favorite, perfect shade has vanished. You look everywhere. In every cosmetic department around. From Bullocks to Rite Aid. Nobody knows where it went , the promise of the perfect lipstick, eyeliner nail polish, mascara or makeup base. The blush took a powder.
“Sorry. Discontinued.” Some cooly coiffed cosmetic representative will say. “Try this one. It’s just the same.” It’s not. You know it’s not. But you’ve got to have something so you pay too much and you take it home. And it’s not the same. It doesn’t go on smooth enough or last as long or looks so fresh and natural. It globs or cakes or runs or simply fades away. It doesn’t bring out your eyes. It doesn’t play up your mouth. It just looks like you. With makeup on.
It’s okay. Dump it in the drawer with all the other makeup that didn’t make it. But watch out if you dare to go bare, your mother will shriek “Put a little blush on. And comb your hair.”
Your friends will shake their heads sadly, “It’s too bad she let herself go.”
“I always knew she was a lesbian.”
Go on. Make up your mind. Toss it. I won’t tell a soul. I kee p all your little beauty secrets, don’t I? Honest, it wasn’t’ me who told Carol Ann that a little blue liner at the outside corner of the eyes would make them look bigger and brighter. Would I do that to you?
I’m the cosmetic copywriter. No. You don’t know me. But trust me, I know you.


  1. Anonymous1:59 PM

    Very scary. Very well written, too.
    I'm giving this to my teen daughter.

    In what seems like minutes, she's gone from makeup in Target to makeup in Sephora and Mac.

    I'm a copywriter, too. But I never did tobacco or cosmetic advertising.(Though if want to join the US Navy, I'm your guy.)

    1. Oh, the money she'll spend:) Thanks for the sweet comment; made my day.

  2. beauty tips9:51 PM

    Well done on a nice blog sc. I was looking for information on eye makeup tips and came across your post I Was a Cosmetic Copy writer - not precisely what I was looking for related to eye makeup tips but an interesting read all the same!

  3. Well done on a nice blog sc. I was searching for information on beauty tips and ran across your post I Was a Cosmetic Copy writer - not exactly what I was looking for related to beauty tips but a very interesting read all the same!


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