A lot of people have been wondering how I ended up clad in a $500 plush velvet Snow White Costume in the overlooked borough of Staten Island last Thursday.
Before I get into this story, I feel it's important to note that while I feel like I've made some serious personal/professional gains in the past few months, I've also had this very strange, underlying sadness sifting beneath the surface of my skin that just won't go away.
It's almost worse than a full-blown depressive episode because it's so subtle that it's hard to treat. I mean, what do you do with boring, low-grade depression?
Do you up the meds? Do you run an extra mile on the treadmill in hopes of boosting the lack of serotonin in your brain? Do you cut your hair off and dye it pastel pink? Do you buy a $300 rose gold vibrator and orgasm every time you feel consumed by the sadness? Do you have a one-night stand?
How do you snap out of a funk (message me)? And why do we get into these funks when there's NOTHING WRONG?
Well, I didn't have a one-night stand (feeling too vulnerable for that sh*t right now), but I did up my dosage of Wellbutrin (from 150 mg to 300 mg), and I am considering a dramatic hair change.
And the treadmill? The treadmill turns my low-grade depression into a full-blast, manic meltdown. What's more depressing than running for miles and miles and miles on a MACHINE and staying in the same place? It feels like a dark metaphor for my life.
Truth be told, nothing was snapping me out of it.
I was stewing in my own paralyzing sadness early last week, staring into the static screen of my laptop when, for some reason, my boss Emily started discussing "Glamour Shots."
Oh, GLAM SHOTZ. If you've been living under a rock (or in Manhattan. They aren't popular in Manhattan.) and don't know what Glamour Shots is, it's my honor to explain it to YOU.
Glamour Shots is a chain of little stores (usually inside of suburban malls or small-town strip malls) where they do your hair and makeup (in a very Texas-pageant-girl-meets-fab-drag-queen-style), provide you with flamboyant props (boas, jewels, crowns GALORE) and take very airbrushed, very calculated and posed pictures -- very popular in the 12-and-under crowd (and in the '90s).
When I was a prepubescent kid, all I EVER desired were some GLAMOUR SHOTS of my own.
I was a very, very flamboyant child. I begged my mother to let me do pageants. I was forever met with a firm "NO" from my sophisticated, edgy, "cool" mother, who wouldn't be caught dead back-combing my hair backstage in some Long Island chain hotel.
I gave up on the pageant dreams when I realized I couldn't dance, but I still longed for GLAMOUR SHOTS.
I will never forget the cold day my elementary school nemesis waltzed into Social Studies handing out little wallet-sized pictures of her Glamour Shots session to the entire class. It was the winter of fourth grade, right at the start of the "Mean Girl" rise, and I was steaming with jealousy. S-t-e-a-m-i-n-g.
She looked perfect in those glamour shots. She was all glittery eyes, pink lips, large pink feather boas wrapped around bare shoulders. She was so airbrushed that she looked like a watercolor painting. I wanted to look like a watercolor painting.
"Mom, PLEASE!" I begged when I came home from school the next day.
"No darling, we are going to do a very edgy family shoot instead," she replied. I gave her a classic 10-year-old eye-roll and ran upstairs to stew in angst. I knew what our shoot would be like: Manhattan family dressed in all black doing something weird, like standing on top of a table.
But I wanted GLITTER and GOLD and BIG TEXAS HAIR. I wanted to be unabashedly SHOWGIRL fabulous, not New York fabulous, which meant black Doc Martens. I wanted hot pink pumps.
So when Emily mentioned Glamour Shots, I immediately thought to myself, "You know what, Zara Ann Barrie? You need to fulfill your childhood dream and get glamour shots. F*CK IT."
So I booked my glam shots online and told Emily I wouldn't be at work on Thursday. I would be in Staten Island getting glamour shots. She fully supported me and my glamour shot dreams, which were what my therapist would call "reparative" experiences, as Emily is somewhat of a nurturing, maternal figure to me, and her validation and support of me getting glamour shots helped to heal the wound of my actual mother's strict disapproval.
A day after booking my appointment online, a nice lady with a soft Staten Island accent (I love that accent) called me on my cell to let me know I needed to arrive with "clean hair, no makeup" (Honey, this isn't my first rodeo. Of course I know that.) and that I could choose two different looks.
I spent the following night agonizing over my wardrobe before deciding on my two different looks. Kiddos, if I was going to do this, I was going to do this right. When would I get to glam again?
Once I figured out my wardrobe, I began to agonize over how the f*ck I was going to get to STATEN F*CKING ISLAND. I'm a born and bred New Yorker, yet I've never been to Staten Island.
Everyone told me to take the bus. But alas, I was getting glamour shots, and I wanted to arrive as glamorous as humanly possible.
OK that's a bold face lie; I suffer from anxiety (yawn, who doesn't?) and lately haven't been able to take public transportation without popping half a Xanax -- a habit I'm currently trying to meditate my way out of.
Also, I'm super lazy (must be the depression) these days, so the thought of lugging around a suitcase with three f*cking outfit changes sounded far too taxing. So I took Uber (shocker).
The moment the driver pulled into the strip mall, where the glamour shots "studio" was (right next to MALIBU TANZ), I felt so elated that I almost kissed the Uber driver on the lips (who had let me sync my music to Halsey for the whole 1.5-hour drive! What a doll!).
I rolled in with my oversized, beat-up luggage and tattered leopard coat and was met by two gorgeous girls ready to paint my naked face pretty. These girls were to become my best friends for the day.
There was Cara, a gorgeous blonde-haired makeup artist and industry veteran who knew her sh*t. Her flaxen hair was up in a high ponytail, and her foundation was expertly applied. And Heather, a rare type of beauty, was the hair guru. She had the hot tongs to prove it, Babe.
"What do you want?" Cara asked, spinning me around in the salon chair. I felt like a princess and was loving every second of it .
"I want to be as dramatic-looking as possible," I firmly instructed her, gazing at my reflection.
"OK, girl, I got you."
Oh, I knew she "got" me. It takes a glamour-puss to know a glamour-puss, and Cara knew I wasn't f*cking around. I wanted contour, lashes and lips for days.
As the hair and makeup process began, we talked about relationships. Dating. Living in New York. Beauty products we love. Beauty products we hate. The sudden death of Staten Island native, Big Ang.
For the first time in weeks, I felt my shoulders relax. I wasn't staring at a static screen. I wasn't teeming with insecurity about where I fit in world and whether or not I really have anything profound to say. I was present.
And you know what I realized in that stone-cold-sober moment? I so rarely have human-to-human contact anymore. I love my job as a writer more than anything in the world, but it can be really f*cking lonely sometimes. Staring at a screen, stewing in your own feelings just does something to you after awhile.
But here I was at Glamour Shots, talking to real, down-ass chicks about life, love, makeup and hair.
As they touched my face and tousled my hair, I began to realize how infrequently I'm ever TOUCHED. When you're single, you can go days -- or weeks, even -- without being hugged. It's not about sexual touch, but just human touch that's so vital. I began to feel connected to the world again.
Of course they asked me about dating life, which I found myself keeping ~gender neutral~. I didn't out myself as a lesbian to them, which makes me sad, in hindsight. I'm sure they would have been totally, totally cool about it, but I just didn't want to risk the good vibe changing.
Sometimes it just feels easier to hide. Though it definitely chips away at your self-esteem, every single time. I'm ashamed I did this. But. I just wanted to be a regular girl getting her glamour shots you know? Not the weirdo lipstick lezzie for once. Sh*t is deep-rooted. I know.
Anyway, once my hair and makeup was done, they dramatically swung me around toward the gilded mirror for the ~great reveal~. And you know what? I was terrified I would hate it, but it was FIRE.
Is it the way I do my makeup? No, not at all. But come on! I didn't trek all the way to Staten Island to do what I've always done, did I now?
I had two looks; I had to embody all sides of my personality in TWO LOOKS.
Look ONE: A silver cocktail dress (Valentino and bought on sale in Florida, where the clientele is too old to "get" the dress -- great sales on designer garb in Florida) with black stockings, six-inch Mary Jane platform shoes.
I added strands of fake pearls, a faux fur jacket and a bit of tulle they had for the top of the head. I looked like a 29-year-old pop princess who skipped her crazy pills that morning:
The camera experience was like no camera experience I've ever had. As a former film actress (with a brief stab at modeling in the bloom of my eating-disordered youth), I'm used to being on camera. I'm used to emoting and moving my body with each click.
But that's not how it happens at Glamour Shots, dears. The photographer, Alissa, gave me the most specific direction: "Left hand on chin. Look to your left. Kick right leg up in air."
At first, I resisted her direction. But I told my inner creative control freak to be quiet. Zara, calm down, you're getting glamour shots, and the dramatic, over-the-top poses are part of the experience. You didn't come all the way to a strip mall in Staten Island to direct your own f*cking photoshoot.
Once I gave in, it felt great. I felt safe. Like a pretty doll who didn't have to carry the heavy emotional weight of making CHOICES.
Look TWO: SNOW WHITE.
I'm obsessed with Snow White. She was the only movie character I identified with growing up, as a pale, raven-haired little kid in a family of honey blondes. If I was going to play out my childhood glamour shots fantasy, I was going to do it dressed as my childhood icon.
Once the shoot was over, I felt weirdly empowered, and even a little, dare I say, happy. Because you know what? It was FUN. It was fun to get all glammed up and be totally out of context in Staten Island with a team of FUN girls who made me feel gorgeous.
The best part of the whole experience was the epic ending. Close your eyes, and VISUALIZE THIS:
The entire beauty team sits next to you and plays a slideshow of all your pictures on a giant monitor, as a song plays out with lyrics saying "She's so beautiful" or something.
Cringe-worthy, cliche and embarrassing to the cynic, BUT NOT TO ME. I loved it. When else can you look at over-the-top glamorous, hyper-airbrushed pictures of yourself set to affirming music shamelessly? It was the perfect ending to a perfect day.
I hugged everyone goodbye and didn't want to leave and go back to reality. I felt like I had entered another world, a beautifully surreal world where pictures of Snooki and her kids were a shrine. A world of JWoww's glamour shots plastered against stark white walls. A world where people didn't f*cking try so hard to be "effortless" and "cool," but rather embraced THE MOTHER F*CKING GLAM.
"Why do I feel so much happier?" I asked myself on the $85 Uber ride back to the Upper East Side. The sun was softly setting over the Manhattan bridge, and the city was cloaked in that warm, glow. "Magic hour," they call it.
I was happy because I felt connected again. Not just a digital connection. It reminded me how big the world is and how many different lifestyles there are out there, even just here in New York City.
So girls, get out of the f*cking office. Take a personal day. Go to Staten Island. Glam yourself to death, and spend the day bonding with hair and makeup people.
I think all of us should get glamour shots. Together.