It was 7 pm on a Sunday night when Matt, C.J. and I arrived at the closed shopping mall. We made our way to a door we knew would be unlocked. Having the entire mall to himself, C.J. wanted to run, dance, sing and yell, but we stopped him because guests and shoppers were supposed to be long gone.
We passed empty store after empty store. Doors were locked. Lights were off. We walked swiftly and quietly to C.J.’s favorite store. He pulled on the doors, but they didn’t budge.
“Hey! It’s locked!” he said turning to me.
When he turned back around, the doors to Sephora flung open and five of his favorite Sephora team members shouted “Happy Birthday, C.J.! Come in!”
* * *
In the beginning of February, we learned that our 11-year-old, gender creative, LGBTQ son was being bullied at school. It wasn’t just teasing. It wasn’t just “kids being kids.” It was physical and verbal harassment.
C.J.’s former group of girl friends had turned on him. They said they couldn’t hang out with him because he was gay. They stabbed him with pens. They pushed him, kicked him and pinched him. They stole his lunch and smeared their sandwiches on him. They told him he was invisible and nobody would notice if he was gone. It went on for months.
Matt and I had never seen our child in so much pain. He sobbed in our laps when he got home from school and couldn’t fall asleep at night. He (rightfully so) dreaded weekdays.
We needed to counterbalance the dread of going to school with the anticipation of going somewhere amazing. Where did our son love going? Where would he go every day if he could? Sephora.
Off we went, two or three times at week, to the Sephora in the Shops at Mission Viejo. Seeing that he was serious about makeup and appreciative of tips, our Sephora team encouraged him to attend their free makeup classes. Highlighting and Contouring. Brow Shaping. False Lashes. Age-Defying Skincare. No Makeup Makeup. Smokey Eye. He’s completed them all.
He bonded with his instructors, Miss Brina, Miss Jenny and Miss Jewel. He looks up to store director Miss Gladys, store manager Miss Kristen and the store’s social media maven Miss Marissa. He started talking about them at home. They were his new Sephora friends who helped him forget about (even if temporarily) his former school friends.
Unbeknownst to C.J., the Sephora team was following his bullying story. When they read that the bullying intensified around his birthday (February 1) and he felt like it “ruined his Birthday Month,” they decided to do to something about it.
Once the school’s investigation into the bullying was closed, consequences had been issued and it seemed that better days were ahead, our Sephora team stayed long after their shifts had ended to throw C.J. an after-hours, invite-only, festival-makeup-themed belated birthday party. It was the birthday makeover our son desperately needed.
The Sephora team had decorated lighted-mirror workstations for C.J. and his five best girlfriends (none of whom go to his school). When the kids saw that a makeup bag full of swag and samples were awaiting each of them, they squealed and took their seats.
The Sephora team gave C.J. and his girl friends a custom class on teen makeup inspired by festival season. Which means there was a lot of shimmery pastels, glitter and highlighter. (So. Much. Highlighter.) Then, a special guest of honor, Donovan from Nudestix, gave the group a demo using the brand’s new magnetic eye shadow.
When every square inch of their cute little faces was covered in makeup, the group snacked on edible glitter-covered vegan cupcakes prepared and delivered by Miss Dre, a Sephora team member from another store.
High on sugar and shimmer, the group had the store themselves. They wandered the aisles carrying little shopping baskets on their arms like designer handbags. They giggled and called each other over to look at colorful products.
Before we left, the Sephora team gave C.J. a birthday card filled with sweet and supportive handwritten notes. When we got home, C.J. sat it by his bed. That’s where it remains, to be read regularly.
Sephora helped save my son. They took his worst birthday and made it over into his best birthday. After some of his darkest days, Sephora gave him a bright night and taught him that fearless is the new flawless.
The next day, C.J. went to school with flecks of glitter in his hair and a hint of liner on his eyes.
“I bet the mean girls at school have never been to an after-hours Sephora party,” he said as we got near his campus.
“I bet you’re right.”
“They are the ones missing out. If they had been nice to me I totally would have invited them,” he said, looking out the window.
After school, he made a “thank you poster” and wrote a thank you note to the Sephora team.
“Thank you so much for having that after-hours makeup party for me and my friends! I’ve been having a rough time at school and the party made me feel way better. Some kids make fun of me for liking makeup and ‘girl stuff,’ but all of you make me feel very comfortable…Maybe one day I can work at Sephora with all of you!”
The next time C.J. saw Miss Gladys (store director) she told him that she would love to have him on her team when he’s a little bit older. Now, when he has a bad day at school because his peers tease him for liking makeup, C.J. focuses on his future and his spot on the Sephora team.