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Youth Voices: Martine Gaetan

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Martine Gaetan is a graduate of the School Without Walls who will attend the University of Maryland.
Lisa McCarty
Martine Gaetan is a graduate of the School Without Walls who will attend the University of Maryland.

Some people pursue so-called "ideals of beauty" -- but at what price? Commentator Martine Gaetan recalls the struggle she had coming face-to-face with her self-image and accepting what she saw in the mirror.

August 27, 2008 was a dark day for me. I was leaving Romania, my home of eight years, to return to the United States. I sobbed throughout the taxi ride to the airport, but not because I was leaving my school, my friends or my home.

That morning, my dad found my makeup bag and threw it away. I was crying over my unmade-up face.

It all began in the summer just before I was to attend high school. My best friend, Eliana, and I were craving change.

We went to the only big shopping mall in Bucharest, got our ears pierced, and then decided to experiment with some makeup. My first purchase was a tube of black liquid eyeliner.

That afternoon, I locked myself in the bathroom, perched myself on the sink, and shakily outlined the top of my eyelid with the gooey liquid. The next day, I locked myself in the bathroom again, determined to master this strange, new art.

It didn't take long to fully explore its magic. I now had the power to highlight, alter, or even hide features. Suddenly, a laundry list of perceived flaws appeared in the mirror. A red nose, oily skin, thin eyelashes. I quadrupled my make-up purchases in the following weeks.

A rainbow of eyeliner colors, voluminous mascaras, silver eye shadow, blush of all shades, foundation of many tints. I could look "beautiful" all the time, if I had the right tools.

In the morning when I awoke, I couldn't stand the sight of my naked face. I was disgusted by it. I preferred the dramatic facades I could create each day.

I couldn't leave the house, or even stay home, without first applying a full face of make-up. "Just a little" was never enough.

Everywhere I went, I stashed makeup in my pocket or bag. I couldn't live without it.

That is, until that morning when my dad threw it all away.

I hadn't realized that the tools I thought empowered me, had actually taken control over me.

Weaning myself off cosmetics didn't happen overnight. It took years. The desire to remake myself was powerful. It even produced a self-destructive way of thinking.

I believed I was worthless without makeup. My best friend, Eliana, believed she was chubby and needed to restrict her daily diet to one Coke Zero and one piece of bubble gum.

It's been a long and difficult experience, but now I understand what my dad was trying to get me to realize. I now know my strength doesn't come from disguising my "flaws." It comes from revealing myself exactly the way I am.

Martine participates in WAMU's summer Youth Voices program in partnership with Youth Radio and Washington's Latin American Youth Center. She's a recent graduate of the School Without Walls.

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