When I was in 7th grade, I was asked to participate in a thing called TIP, or the Talent Identification Program. Basically, they took “academically gifted” kids (I was in the state program for that) and made us take tests that were far beyond us to see what would happen. I was asked to take the SAT, and we had to take it at the same time as the high school kids, just in a different classroom. Nothing could have been more demoralizing to a high school senior than watching a middle schooler take the same test that they’re sweating over.
I did abysmally in the math section but did pretty well in the verbal section- I think I scored an 890 total, which would not get me into any colleges, but did entitle me to an award from TIP for “exceptional achievement”.
The ceremony was to take place in Wake Chapel on the Wake Forest campus, and I was going to be getting AN AWARD in front of A LOT OF PEOPLE, so all of my preadolescent insecurities kicked in. I started dieting pretty hardcore, begged my Mom to let me get my hair done (she said no), and I had convinced myself that I had a mustache that had to be taken care of immediately. In actuality, my friend Beth had a mustache that she was surprisingly candid about for a 12 year old, and I just knew that there were mortifying hairs on my upper lip, just waiting to break the surface and ruin my BIG MOMENT.
So I did what any child would do: the day before the ceremony, I rummaged through our bathroom cabinets until I found someone’s Nair for bikini lines, and I slapped that shit on my face.
A note about Nair: it’s some pretty harsh chemical stuff. They make the “bikini line” Nair even stronger because it is supposed to dissolve pubic hair, an item that is not known for being weak. It actually specifically requests that you not use it on your face.
Despite the burning, I left the Nair on my upper lip for the required ten minutes, and upon rinsing it off, noticed the odd, leathery feeling the skin on my upper lip had taken on. “It’s just because the water was so warm” I told myself when I noticed the dark red, Fred Flintstone-like patch of skin on my face. It’ll look better in a minute.
Ten minutes later, I was freaking out in the bathroom, digging through cabinets looking for a miracle product called “Did You Burn Your Face?”, sweating and crying. The only thing worse than a mustache would be the evidence that you had a mustache and attempted to get rid of it. After applying lotion after lotion to my face for an hour, I realized I’d have to call in the big guns and went to my Mom.
“Mom”, I lied, “I washed my face with Phisoderm and now I have this rash!”
I’m still not sure, to this day, if my Mom realized what I’d actually done. Clearly, no face wash would have given me 2nd degree burns, and even if it had, it would have probably done so all over my face and not just my upper lip. But if she knew, she never let on, and threw out the Phisoderm in front of me, cursing its evil name. I still refuse to use Phisoderm in order to corroborate a 20 year old lie.
She coated my upper lip in Vaseline and made me continue to reapply for the entire time leading up to the ceremony, and on the day of, she did her best to spackle heavy foundation on my cracking, peeling skin. Since it didn’t exactly match my face, she just gave me a full face of thick Estee Lauder stuff, two shades darker than my own skin. I looked like Magda in There’s Something About Mary.
This was an award I was getting for being smart, if you’ll recall.
Finally we arrived at Wake Chapel, and I’m decided to put my face behind me and instead speculate on whether or not I’d be asked to make a speech. That’s when I noticed that how many kids were packed into the chapel. I considered telling the stranger next to me that if I was sweating, it was because I was nervous about accepting an award and not because I had a clay mask on my burnt face, but, showing intelligence for the first time, I hesitated. When the time came to accept my award, I merely had to walk across the stage, take a piece of paper, and walk back to my pew, along with the 45 other kids who had won the same award. My parents didn’t even have time to take a picture, which was for the best.
Boy was my face red.