The Sephora perfume shelves have beckoned to hordes of young girls since my own middle school days, when ones choice of perfume began to connote something more than just simply what they reeked of. The MVP of those years was definitely Pink Sugar Eau de Toilette, with its just-out-of-the-oven sugar cookie smell and its simple-with-a-tinge-of-girly clear bottle encircled by a pink stripe. It was in itself a metaphor for that apex of pubescence, with one foot still in childhood and the other stretching forward into the intoxicating maturity of the future.
The local mall being the mecca that it was in those days, my friends and I spent ample time spraying ourselves with various scents and hoarding perfume tester strips that would build up at the bottom of our cheaply made purses. A detritus of aspiration if you will—for the seemingly glamorous womanhood that was just out of our grasp. A few of my friends took the plunge and spoiled themselves, via mommy’s wallet, with one or more of these overpriced perfumes, but it took me a bit longer to justify such a purchase. There were so many other frivolities to waste money on, after all, like the entire BP department at Nordstrom and the cupcakes that my body relied—almost exclusively—on for fuel.
Eventually, though, the allure of the scent as signifier of legitimate maturation was too strong to deny. I convinced my mother of this, in slightly less eloquent words I’m sure, and she contributed to my purchase of DKNY Be Delicious. I chose it because, first and foremost, it smelled like the perfect green apple (one that was decidedly less good for you and certainly heavier on unnatural sugars), and because it’s container appealed to my outlier sensibilities. It appeared like an apple of the future, designed by a strange-yet-minimalist hand. It had its shit together and looked self-assured, which stirred up envy and longing deep inside my insecure core. As with most purchases, I knew my life would be infinitely better—I would be infinitely better—once I had it in my grasp.
Prior to this, I had only dabbled in scent, acquiring a J. Lo Glow body lotion (because it was cheaper than the spray) after a more-cosseted friend dubbed it the perfume to have. I can still remember its scent today, and though it wasn’t as cloyingly pungent as one might expect from a Jenny-when-she-was-still-from-the-block creation, it certainly wasn’t me…whoever that was, exactly.
See, sifting through the perfume aisle was so appealing because it was—in the case of Sephora testers, at least—open to all, and allowed us to try out different identities covertly, and without much effort. You could buy and try, as a spray to the wrist would easily last throughout the day, and always go back for more if need be.
As I hint above, they didn’t all sit right with everyone—in a sense, they did discriminate (especially in the case of their perplexing dollar worth). But it wasn’t just in that regard. Glow, for instance, was for the girl who easily grinded with boys at the middle school dance and didn’t feel dirty afterwards. She was far more in touch with a sense of her sexuality, be it warped or not, than I was at that age. She probably liked hot weather and days spent on the beach—the temperature for her, even at this early stage, was always turned up.
Pink Sugar was for the girl who wasn’t yet willing to think too far outside the box—who knew popularity in a bottle when she saw it. I certainly picked up on this, and was no less enticed by visions of conformity and the affirmations of the crowd. But, alas, the little thread in me always yearning to be different felt a stronger pull towards the bulb of perfume that was Be Delicious. And it was produced by Donna Karan, after all—she buttered the freaking bread of New York! And I was on a mission to exude New York in every way possible.
I still have that same bottle of perfume sitting on a shelf in my bedroom at home, unable to part with it…though I’m sure it’s turned into something toxic and rank by now. It’s been replaced with less aggressive scents over time, as I would move towards those perfumes that had stronger notes of musk, sandalwood, patchouli, and the like. You know, things that connote the carefree spirit I’ll never really be.
But playing pretend hasn’t lost its appeal over time, and perfume is a boundless pool of opportunity for such charades. When I put on one or more of the various, nondescript scents I’m partial to now (including those by Byredo and CB I Hate Perfume) I still feel elevated, more WOMAN than I was before. Which is not to say that the ability to give birth requires that you swath yourself in artificial scents—do you, always—but that for some, and for me especially, perfume has always had an empowering quality, and the distinct ability to help self-actualize amidst the chaos of existential questions that lounge around endlessly in my brain.