By now we’ve all heard the tagline “everyone needs a skincare routine”. I’m here to tell you that’s not always the case.
Over a decade ago now, in my senior year of high school the hype of blogging and vlogging was at its peak. For the first time they gave everyone a voice. And if you didn’t have either, you were falling by the wayside and rolling dead onto the shores of leprosy like my friends and I were. But not all of us were so content with the life of an outcast. Megan Langford, who sat at our lunch table, was a longtime crush of mine. I suspected at one point she felt the same way, but I never had the guts to ask her out. One day she told us in an uncharacteristically enthusiastic tone, “I’m thinking of starting a vlogging account.”
“Really Megan?” Keith said. “Then you’ll be just like the rest of those kids: narcissistic creeps.”
“I think that’s a great idea,” I chimed in. I really shouldn’t have, but I’d have said or done anything to get her attention. “What would you vlog about?”
She pursed her lips in that cute way she used to. I could tell she’s considered the question before. “I was thinking I’d do baking, but I’m terrible at that. I could burn water if you gave me the chance. So instead, I want to do a skincare and makeup channel.”
I looked at her naturally beautiful, but unkempt features. She was the type to spend half the day inside playing Pokémon on her Gameboy and it showed in her pale complexion and the darkened bags beneath her eyes. I don’t think she’d ever even thought of makeup before her vlogging idea. But behind the results of those late-night gaming sessions was a set of beautiful hazel eyes, a perfect facial structure, and a dimpled smile to light up a room. I never was great at hiding how I felt. It was more obvious than the sky was blue. “That’s a great idea,” I said with a smitten stare. “You’d be amazing. Let me know when you go live. I’ll be sure to watch.”
Keith rolled his eyes at me, but Megan opened that contagious smile and I could feel the burn of poorly concealed passion breaking through my eyelids. “I’m posting one tonight,” she said.
And sure enough, she did. That night I eagerly waited at my computer to watch Megan Langford post her first skincare video. Of course, I probably wouldn’t follow even a shred of the advice she posted, but I’d never miss a chance to see her face. At around 8pm, she flicked the camera on and adjusted it, palming the lens. An icon of an eye next to the number 3 appeared in the bottom right corner: not a bad showing so early into her first video. She cleared her throat and began. “Hi e-everyone,” she stammered as her eyes moved back and forth across the screen. “Th-thanks for joining my bl-vlog. I…um…I’ll be doing skincare routines and testing different products. I…uh…I haven’t really done a lot of skincare before, but this will be a – a journey we can take on together.” I couldn’t help but smile. I thought it was in pride at the time, but deep down I loved her. She opened a bottle of some liquid and began applying it: the bottle that would launch her career, however brief.
The next day at lunch, it wasn’t only me who noticed her. Keith was unusually nice to her, and our friend Ari suddenly became Mr. Poetic. Her acne had somewhat faded, her eyes were brighter than usual, and her skin carried a liveliness I’d never seen before. “Wow,” Keith said. “You look incredible.”
“Thanks,” she shyly replied.
The fascination with Megan would soon spread like wildfire. It seemed to stem out from our lunch table and reach its branches of influence across the cafeteria. First, it was Tyler Peterson who came over to ask Megan if she wanted to sit at their table. She looked to us for approval and we let her leave our nest of outcasts. I was still proud of her, but a hint of jealousy began to form. Tyler wrapped his arm around Megan and enchanted her with the class-clown comedy he was known for. They went on a date or two, but I don’t think they ever ended up kissing.
As for her vlog, more and more people tuned in every night. That viewership jumped from 3 to 22 overnight. By the end of the week, Megan had hit 100 viewers. And her confidence was building: she wasn’t stammering anymore. She was sitting up straight, applying makeup like a seasoned veteran. Megan was the happiest I’d ever seen her. More guys flocked to her side for even a hint of attention from my celebrity friend. After each video she’d arrive to school more stunning than the one before. It wasn’t only Tyler she was going on dates with – she started to work her way into the graces of the upper echelons of high school social groups. First it was the soccer team, then the hockey team, and finally football. Every guy would do anything for a second with her.
I was happy for her, but the more the other guys clamored, the less she noticed me. I still watched her videos – one of the original three viewers – but Megan was quick to forget her humble roots. That shy demeanor that once sent me head over heels was fading, replaced by a superficial beauty that wasn’t nearly as attractive as her once bright intellect and sharp humor. I still loved her, but I was disappointed with who she was becoming.
At the end of the month, she had around 4,000 viewers a night. There were even rumors that she was getting calls for sponsorships from a few skin product companies. She was by all accounts an internet sensation, and by all accounts Keith was right: she’d become a narcissistic creep.
But nobody’s fame lasts forever. She topped out at around 7,000 views, which was around the time she dated our school’s starting quarterback, Danny Williams, for a few weeks. I continued to watch her videos as the view count dropped. I almost cheered it on. I know it was vindictive of me, but I missed her dearly. I just wanted the old Megan Langford back in my life. First she dropped to 6,500, then back to 5,000. By the time we graduated high school and she posted her sobbing farewell video, reminiscing about the supposed “best four years of her life”, her viewership was around 2,700.
That summer, we all moved onto the rest of our lives. Some kids started working with their parents, some worked the local shops, some petered out in a predictable fall from their best days, and a good amount of us went off to college. But as everyone’s lives changed and people began to lose contact, Megan still posted videos and I still watch them.
As the viewership continued to plummet and her desperation was obvious. Megan began by posting increasingly absurd titles to her videos. They would say things like “SHOCKING NEW TECHNIQUE” or “THREE SIMPLE WAYS TO CHANGE YOUR LIFE”. But none of it worked. She’d dropped to somewhere around 500 viewers and the sponsorships waned away. And when the clickbait titles didn’t do the trick, she began buying more and more makeup, dousing herself in whatever war paint she could pull off the shelf like a mask to the pain. I started to watch with concern as her skin deteriorated and even began to change colors. She would turn on the camera to images of her face done up like a wedding cake and would claim it was her natural look, then apply even more makeup. Beneath the layers of paint her hazel eyes began to blotch and redden, and the background of her videos turned into a pigsty of emptied makeup bottles, sheets draped over windows, and a bed that hadn’t been made in weeks.
By the end of the summer, the little number next to the eye icon in the bottom corner had dropped back to 3, and then eventually to one. Just her and me sitting on opposite ends of the computer screen and staring at each other – a uncomfortable version of the date I’d always wanted, only she didn’t know that one viewer was me. Megan sat in silence for a few minutes, praying someone else would log on to watch her. Her bloodshot eyes were fixated on the bottom of the screen and began to glisten with tears. I wanted to cry too. She was unrecognizable from the girl who sat at our lunch table all those months ago. She was a latter-day Picasso, her beauty falling away in tandem with her fame. Her skin was immensely darker, but I couldn’t quite tell why. It sagged over her faded jawline and flakes of skin protruded through the layers of makeup. Her acne was returning with force and her brown hair with streaks of blonde and red from her phase of hair dyes was disheveled and caked into her forehead and scalp with days of oily sweat. In the background was her unkempt bed and a Kesha poster hanging sideways from a single pin on the wall. Then I noticed the table lamp at her bedside was flickering and the shade was pulled off. She still wasn’t saying anything. She shook her head and watched that ‘1’ at the bottom of the screen, waiting for it to tick to a ‘2’. It never would.
Then the title of the video disappeared and she began typing. When she finished, she pounded on the ‘return’ key and a new title showed up above the video. My heart sunk and I blinked twice as I read the title over and over again. “ONE SHOCKING WAY TO CHANGE YOUR LOOK”. The viewer count didn’t change. A deep pity overcame me. Now I wanted someone to join me in watching her videos – anyone. And then she began that video – the last one I’d ever watch.
I feared for the worst. In her hour deepest desperation, there was no telling what she’d do. It didn’t start off too bad, but the stammering came back. “H-hi everyone. Tired of your old skin? Well – well today,” she sniffled. “Today we’re going to be going over my number one secret for changing your look as fast as – as fast as possible. With – with these…these easy steps,” she sighed. “You can look just like me.”
She began to scrape the makeup off her face. But as she rubbed, I leaned into the computer to get a closer look. Her looks weren’t changing – not nearly as much as they should have. I thought I’d finally get a chance to see the Megan I fell in love with all those years ago. But when she removed the makeup, her lips stayed plump and her eyelids stayed inflated. Her nose still had that weird flaring glow around the edges. Her skin kept its new darkened tint. My heart began to sink and my stomach churned as she wiped at her eyes. This couldn’t be her real face, right? There had to be more.
But then reality settled in. She dropped the makeup wipe from her eyes. That winged look she’d been experimenting with on her eyeliner – it wasn’t eyeliner at all. It was scars. The more she wiped, the more the scars showed. They were along her eyes, the sides of her nose, beneath her lips, and hashed across her forehead. When she was done wiping, she looked into the camera and sobbed. Megan was a patchwork of multi-colored scarred skin: a collage of a face that wasn’t hers. And then she finally opened her mouth. She held up a flappy patch of dark, dry material in one hand attached by a string to sewing needle in the other hand. I wanted it to be a fabric or silicone or leather or anything – anything but what it was. I couldn’t move. I sat in horror as I watched her stick the patch against her cheek and then pierce her skin with that needle. Tears streamed down her face and blood popped and seeped out of the small threaded holes she made. The patch grew tighter and tighter to her face with each stitch. She wheezed and shrieked in blood-curdling pain. But she didn’t cry as much as she should have – she was used to it by now. The wiry string hugged her other patches and soon formed to perfection around the last pale spot on her face.
When she finished, the needle fell out of her hand and dangled from her face. Blood dripped onto her keyboard from the hundred-odd little holes in her face as her eyelids fluttered and her eyes pale. She wheezed with pain into the camera. Snot grazed her upper lip and drool followed the blood’s path off her chin. Then her jaw began to wag and she moaned something indecipherable. She tried again. “Uh – and – and that’s all for today. Th – thanks for watching.” And then her viewership hit the number I pledged I’d never let it go to: zero. I shut my computer off and stared at the black screen for what felt like hours.