“Here they are!” I saw a woman coming up to us, clearly the person in charge. “I’m Silvia. We spoke on the phone,” she said as a means of introduction, then immediately went to work. “First things first. We need ‘before’ pictures. Come over here,” she commanded, pointing us to a chair in the corner in front of a backdrop. “Don’t mind the cameras, ladies. We’ll be doing a special on your makeovers, since every girl in Illéa’s going to want to look like you by the time we’re done today.”
Sure enough, teams of people with cameras were wandering around the room, zooming in on girls’ shoes, and interviewing them. Once the pictures were done, Silvia began shouting orders. “Take Lady Celeste to station four, Lady Ashley to five … and it looks like they just finished up at ten. Take Lady Marlee there, and Lady America to six.”
“So here’s the thing,” a short, dark-haired man said, pulling me over to a seat with a six on the back. “We need to talk about your image.” He was all business.
“My image?” Wasn’t I just me? Wasn’t that what got me here?
“How do we want to make you look? With that red hair, we can make you quite the temptress, but if you want to play that kind of thing down, we can work that out, too,” he said matter-of-factly.
“I’m not changing everything about me to cater to some guy I don’t even know.” Or like, I added in my head.
“Oh, my. Do we have an individual here?” he sang, as if I were a child.
“Aren’t we all?”
The man smiled at me. “Fine, then. We won’t change your image, we’ll just enhance it. I need to polish you up a bit, but your aversion to all things fake might just be your greatest asset here. Hold on to that, honey.” He patted me on the back and walked away, sending a group of women swarming my way.
I didn’t realize that when he said “polish,” he meant it literally. I had women scrub my body because I apparently couldn’t be trusted to do a good enough job on my own. Then every exposed bit of skin was covered with lotions and oils that left me smelling like vanilla, which according to the girl who applied them was one of Maxon’s favorite smells.
After they were done making me smooth and supple, attention was turned to my nails. They were trimmed and buffed and the tough little pieces of skin around them were miraculously smoothed away. I told them I’d prefer not to have my nails painted, but they looked so disappointed that I told them they could do my toes. The one girl picked a nice neutral shade, so it wasn’t too bad.
The team of people who worked on my nails left me for another girl, and I sat quietly in my chair, waiting for the next round of beautification. A camera crew came past, zooming in on my hands.
“Don’t move,” a woman ordered. She squinted at my hand. “Do you even have anything on your nails?”
She sighed, got her shot, and moved on.
I heaved a heavy sigh myself. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a jerking motion just to my right. I looked and saw a girl staring into nowhere while her leg bounced up and down under a large cape they’d draped over her.
“You okay?” I asked.
My voice shocked her out of her trance. She sighed. “They want to dye my hair blond. They said it would look better with my skin tone. I’m just nervous, I guess.”
She gave me a tight smile, and I returned it. “You’re Sosie, right?”
“Yeah.” She smiled in earnest then. “And you’re America?” I nodded. “I heard you came in with that Celeste girl. She’s terrible!”
I rolled my eyes. Since we’d arrived, every few minutes the entire room could hear Celeste yelling at some poor maid to bring her something or to get out of her way.
“You have no idea,” I muttered, and we both giggled. “Listen, I think your hair’s very pretty.” It was, too. Not too dark, not too light, and very full.
“If you don’t want to change it, you shouldn’t have to.”
Sosie smiled, but I could tell she wasn’t completely sure if I was trying to be friendly or hold her back. Before she could say anything, teams of people came to work on us, directing one another so loudly there was no way for us to finish talking.
My hair was washed, conditioned, hydrated, and smoothed. It was long and all one length when I came in—my mom usually cut it, and that was the best she could do—but by the time they were done, it was several inches shorter and had layers. I liked those; they made my hair catch the light in interesting ways. Some girls got things called highlights, and others, like Sosie, had the color changed completely. But my attendants and I all agreed that mine should go untouched in that department.
A very pretty-looking girl did my makeup. I instructed her to go light, and it was nice. Lots of the other girls looked a little older or younger or just nicer after the makeup. I still looked like me when I was done. Of course, so did Celeste, since she insisted upon piling it on.
I’d gone through most of this process in a robe, and once they were done fixing me up, I was led over to the racks of clothes. My name was hanging above a bar holding a week’s worth of dresses. I guessed princesses-in-training didn’t wear pants.
The one I ended up in was a cream color. It fell off my shoulders, fit snugly at my waist, and hit just at my knees. The girl helping me into it called it a day dress. She told me that my evening dresses were already in my room, and the rest of these would go up there as well. Then she placed a silver pin near the top of my dress. My name glittered across it. Finally she put me into shoes she called kitten heels and sent me back to the corner so I could take my “after” shot. From there I was ordered to one of four little stations lined up against the wall. Each had a chair with a backdrop and a camera sitting in front of it.
I sat down as instructed and waited. A woman came up with a clipboard of information in her hand and asked me to be patient while she found my papers.
“What’s this for?” I asked.
“The makeover special. We’ll be airing one about your arrivals tonight, the makeovers are on Wednesday, and then Friday you’ll do your first Report. People have seen your pictures and know a little bit about what was on your applications,” she said as she located her papers and placed them on the top of her clipboard. Then she laced her fingers together and continued. “But we want to make them really pull for you. And that won’t happen unless they can get to know you. So we’ll just do a little interview here, and you do your best on the Reports, and then don’t be shy when you see us around the palace. We aren’t here every day, but we’ll be around.”