There Are No Universal Salves

My children and I were visiting New York City’s most important landmarks, so naturally we began our journey at the Glossier flagship store in SoHo.

This store isn’t a store so much as a national monument built to honor the brave few who fought to bring Futuredew oil serum hybrid and Cloud Paint seamless cheek color to the pale and dehydrated masses. Ever since 2014, those loyal to dewiness and glossiness have sought a consecrated place to pay homage to Balm Dotcom universal salve and Boy Brow grooming pomade. These and about 20 other small items luxuriate in roughly 3200 square feet of minimalist white space bathed in soft pink light, embodying the higher purpose at the heart of the Glossier mission:

At Glossier, we make products inspired by real life. We believe beauty is about having fun, celebrating freedom, and being present, because no matter where you are in your beauty journey — YOU LOOK GOOD.

The mirror in the Glossier flagship store would like a word.

Although my children led me here to celebrate freedom, my personal beauty journey appears to have stalled out in some back alley where unsightly red splotches and desiccated lips have replaced plant-based, buttery moisture. I elbow my way through a hoard of teenagers to test Ultralip in Coupe, described as “a blood orange red.” The Glossier website claims that wearing this lipstick feels just like “pulling on buttery-soft, well-loved cashmere sweatpants.” But applying it with a Q-Tip under these late-pandemic conditions feels more like eating from a buffet table set up in a biological weapons lab.

I expect to be miraculously transformed into a fresh-faced teenager, but in the mirror I discover a creased old crone with inexplicably neon-orange lips.

“Oh Christ,” I mutter. One of my eyebrows is very long — we’re talking Ernest Borgnine long. Now I’m chuckling maniacally. Dewy children close in around me on all sides, impatient for their turn at the mirror.

Forget that the entire Glossier product line could fit easily into one small tote bag. Forget that most of these kids have already purchased these items several times online. The point is to see the products in their native habitat, christened in soft pink light, patrolled by ladies in light pink jumpsuits with tablets in their hands, each ready to help us have more fun and be more present.

I pick up a tube of Balm Dotcom in Birthday. There’s a little sticker on the side of it with the words OUT OF STOCK written on it. I pick up another tube. OUT OF STOCK.

Many of the 20 or so products present are OUT OF STOCK.

This shortage has the effect of bestowing the few remaining in stock items with an air of preciousness and necessity. My older daughter selects a tube of lavender Balm Dotcom, the only scent currently available. We marvel at how very lavender it smells. Its lavenderness starts to feel almost miraculous, like stumbling on an old canister of Glade rug and room deodorizer spray from 1987 and huffing it into your lungs until you’re hammered on the fumes.

I fish for my phone and pull up the Glossier store online. Every item is in stock. At the Sephora down the block later that day, the entire Glossier line is available. This supply chain crisis seems limited to the exact 3200 square feet of prime Soho real estate dedicated to celebrating these products and their sublime contributions to the human endeavor.

We’ve unknowingly stumbled into the center of an emollient void, a serum desert. Products that were a click away a few minutes earlier are now unreachable. The realization spreads from one young face to another: There are no universal salves! Life is short and brutal and sheer, shimmering veils of blendable eye color are few and far between!

Now what once glowed with a rosy flush of youthful optimism has assumed the pale pink of a fading heart unable to go on, knowing that undetectable, flexible coverage could be ripped out of one’s grasp in a single, fleeting moment.

Perhaps the national Glossier monument was cleverly designed for this very purpose — to incite sensations of panic and loss in all who enter. Drawn in by this shimmering lodestar of freedom, visitors are soon forced to reckon with an archaic world where parched skin and chapped elbows were daily realities. With each mounting OUT OF STOCK sticker, young hearts must grapple with the harsh truth: Beauty was not about fun during the Middle Ages. Staying dewy during the Crusades mostly meant scavenging tubers out of a neighbor’s muddy field without getting mauled by his bloodthirsty hounds. Being present was a major challenge during the Irish potato famine of 1845. For several centuries before industrialization, your beauty journey mostly included soaking gout-ridden feet in a cold stream, dragging a rough stone over calloused elbows, or rubbing pig fat into prematurely graying temples. And if you somehow managed to LOOK GOOD, that only got you married off to the wealthy old butcher 20 years your senior who lived in a nearby village and spent his leisure hours throwing axes at the wall. Life was neither energizing nor cruelty-free!

In stark contrast to this overheated age of never ending glow-ups, human existence has long been marked by sacrifice and drought, scrounging and suffering, unwanted body hair and uncontrollable hives!

“Let’s go to the Lego flagship store now,” my younger daughter says as we exit Glossier. “There might be a line outside, though.”

Heather Havrilesky writes the Ask Polly advice column on Substack and is the author of four books, most recently the memoir “Foreverland.”