Teaching Beauty

T and Me

I don’t have perfect skin. I am pale and blotchy. You can clearly see the veins on my eyelids and I have had dark circles every day of my life. I don’t wear makeup to be the prettiest woman in the room, I wear makeup because when I don’t people are constantly asking me if I am okay. I wear makeup because it’s an easy fix for potential social anxiety. I don’t seek a perfect complexion. I am simply shooting for normal. Some days concealer is enough, but I apply according to my comfort level.

Women with normal complexions say they understand, but they don’t. They only understand having imperfections. My Facebook news feed regularly reveals makeup-free selfies of women who put themselves on a pedestal for not being afraid to show their naked faces. Who can be the most beautiful without makeup? Come on, girls. Take it all off so we can compare….

I have listened to women complain about other women who wear makeup. They criticize them for being vain, but that is rarely true. They are usually either like me, or they are dealing with some critical self image problem. The vainest woman in the room is always the bare-faced one bragging about how she never wears any makeup. Bringing it up at all is the worst humble brag. Congratulations. It must be nice to wake up each morning and look typical without effort.

In spite of our sincerest desire to stand out, we also want to fall into an unspoken and loosely defined range of “normal” that for some reason contributes to social order. And we feel pride when we achieve it. Then we pass our pride on to our daughters.

When my daughter was born I was relieved to see she had her father’s skin. It was the one physical trait I wanted most for her. She looks just like my husband- except for those dark circles. But her skin tone hides them better. She can also spend long periods of time in the sun without blistering.

What does she think? Why does her mother act out this daily routine, but she does not? We cannot have a conversation about it. She watches me get ready for work in the morning with great interest. She likes to sit on my lap and look in the mirror. If I tell her she is beautiful, she smiles and buries her head into me. Does she know what I mean? What do I want her to learn about beauty? Sometimes I explain the things I do and why they are not necessary for her. For example, I do think she is lucky that she will always be able to walk out the door with wet hair and have it dry in an organized way. I have never known that luxury.

My own mother never wore makeup. In the beginning I learned everything I knew from Seventeen Magazine. I’m not sure that was ideal, but we didn’t really talk about it. And it didn’t take long until I felt I was the expert between us. Then again, I did not inherit my skin from my mother. I am certain that she never understood the role makeup played in my world. How could she?

A little girl once told me that I shouldn’t wear makeup. What beauty conversations were taking place in her house? I would never put makeup on my daughter or encourage her to wear it, but I would be horrified to think she was out shaming other women over this. So I know what not to say to my daughter.

I hate all these one-sided conversations (when I remember to have them). It’s easy to think that because my daughter doesn’t socially connect with others that these things are not part of her world. But they are. I don’t realize it until I catch her watching me apply mascara, and then it hits me again that she has a million questions about everything. Even this. I hope I can answer those questions to her satisfaction, but I may never be able to know for sure.


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