“Why do you wear so much makeup?”
I stopped applying eye shadow, shocked.
My daughter was in the bathroom with me, brushing her teeth and getting ready for school.
“Why do you think it’s too much?” I asked curiously.
“I like you without makeup,” she said.
“Yes!” She giggled.
It was the first time I’d ever heard my pro-makeup daughter complain about my makeup.
She’d defended her right to wear red lipstick to Grandma (who’s a touch old-fashioned about these things). She wore glitter eye shadow on special occasions. We’d even done a full face of makeup for her ballet performance.
But now she was a grade-schooler. Every time I came to school to pick her up, she noticed how I looked compared to the sea of other mothers. Clearly, I wasn’t measuring up.
“I have to wear makeup if I want any eyebrows,” I reminded her.
“I already have eyebrows,” she said, peering at herself in the mirror.
“You do. Don’t let them fall out like mine did.”
Vanity or Self-Care?
I knew exactly when makeup became part of my daily routine. It was when I started losing my hair.
My hair began to thin at the exact same time crow’s feet started to appear around my eyes. My lips were pale. I didn’t look like myself.
Makeup came to the rescue. It helped me look like I remember myself looking.
I thought I was a decent hand at the no-makeup makeup look, but my daughter apparently didn’t think so.
I thought girls were supposed to watch their mothers apply makeup with misty eyes, dreaming of the day they’d take part in that feminine ritual themselves.
Of course, not all mothers want their daughters dreaming of the day they’ll be grown up enough to apply makeup. Others worry that their daughters will grow up too soon. Lipstick is a stepping stone to miniskirts and pink hair.
But I wonder if we’re throwing the baby out with the bathwater.
There’s something so quintessentially feminine about beauty rituals. Looking after your looks is part of being a woman. It’s a form of self-care.
What is she learning?
Is she learning that the way she looks isn’t good enough?
Or is she learning that there’s a mysterious world of primping and pampering that will be hers to enjoy one day, once she becomes a woman?
What We Learn from Our Mothers
I grew up with a mother who didn’t need to dress up each day to go to work. She stayed home to tend her home and family.
I don’t remember seeing her engage in any elaborate beauty rituals, aside from perming her hair and throwing on lipstick. Beauty didn’t have any value in our world.
But we watched the Miss America pageant each year. I was in awe of those tall, slender ladies who glided so gracefully on stage. I thought they belonged to another species. Women like us could never become women like them.
It hurt, that yearning to be beautiful. The despair that I’d never “look right.” I resigned myself to honing my other talents instead. Smart girls didn’t have to be pretty.
Would things have been different if my mother had taught me the secrets of beauty?
If she’d allowed me to wear some makeup.
If she’d showed me that I could have cheekbones with contouring.
If she’d listened to me admiring a classmate’s sun-streaked hair and mentioned that highlights would create the same effect.
Then I would have realized that beauty is as much art as luck.
You can’t help the genes you were born with. But you can create magic with a little technique and the right products.
The Magic of Makeup
Today, we celebrate a woman’s natural beauty. It’s a valuable course-correction for a Kardashian-obsessed generation.
But let’s not leave the makeup tutorials to YouTube and teenagers. Mothers have handed down beauty secrets to their daughters since time immemorial.
My daughter doesn’t want me to look like anything but her mother. Plain, ordinary, and reliable.
But she loves the magic of transformation for herself. She plays with filters on Snapchat. Instead of admiring pageant queens on stage, she’s admiring herself on the screen. She’s learning what I didn’t know back then—that she’s not stuck with the way she looks.
I’m not stuck with how I look, either.
I’m surprised how pleased I am with my face in the mirror these days. I’ve upped my cosmetic game, and it’s paid off. I’m not going to apologize for being the only woman who shows up for the school run in mascara and red lipstick.
We don’t have to be ashamed of our love of beauty. We’re women. It’s our birthright. And we owe it to our daughters to pass down the mysteries of feminine self-care.