Some of my most vivid childhood memories involve me standing in the hallway outside the bathroom doorway, looking up at my mom as she did her makeup every day. It was the 80s, so the colors she used were bright; I distinctly remember fuschia and royal blue. I associate a lot about appearances with my mom. She has a very low self-esteem (I recently told her I liked her hair as it was growing longer, and she responded by saying she felt like a cow), was worried about how we made her look as kids, and threatened (probably not 100% seriously) to not let me walk in her wedding when I had a big zit when I was 11. I remember how deeply humiliating it was for her and her friend to spend so long fussing over it trying to pop it and make it go away. I didn’t think it should matter, I mean was it REALLY that big a deal? I’m your own family, Mom! But whether consciously or because she was just unknowingly perpetuating the pressures she felt growing up herself, one of the lessons she worked hard to teach me was that looks were Very Important.
School didn’t help either. I wore hand-me-downs and got made fun of constantly. I didn’t agree with their judgments honestly, I think I was probably mentally healthier as a kid than I am now, but I was sick and tired of it enough that before 7th grade rolled around I was trying very hard to choose clothes that they couldn’t tease me for, and the All Black Era was ushered in. Then the teenage angst kicked in, and I specifically recall that unlike being an adult and sighing wistfully at a magazine ad thinking how nice it would be to look like that model, you wouldn’t just like to look that way, you think you NEED to look that way. These women are *everything* and you are *nothing.* Everything is a bigger deal when you’re younger.
But what happens when you grow up? You don’t take it quite as seriously – you at least become aware on a logical level that perfection isn’t even a thing, if not on an emotional one. But old habits die hard, especially when we’re surrounded by the same pressures we always were. And it’s that divide between logical and emotional that often needs to be addressed. I believe in taking pride in yourself and not being just gratuitously gross, but what’s all that gross about a natural face on an ordinary day? This sort of cultural assumption that it is is a big problem.
So I think it would be fantastic if every so often we could take a break from makeup to just plain get over ourselves. On days I’ve worn little enough that people at least thought I wasn’t wearing any, nobody died, or even insulted me. One day I even got a very nice and deliberate compliment from a coworker. Of course, I was not literally without makeup, I’m not there yet. But part of the reason for that is that I don’t like my skin, and one way to get better skin is to stop putting so much shit all over it. So stepping out of my comfort zone could have multiple benefits.
I think makeup is one really great method of artistic expression and some women really enjoy it. Sometimes I’m one of them. But when it becomes more of a chore than a joy, a feeling of obligation more than enhancement, then we need to take a step back a bit and put makeup in its place. We own it, it doesn’t own us. And the more we’re willing to let go the easier it will be for us to realize it.
And if anyone has any advice on helping my mom with her self-esteem, that would be great too.