What My Makeup-Free Mom Taught Me About Beauty, Choice And Identity

I hoard beauty products like a future zombie apocalypse might put my mascara collection at risk, but I’ve never seen my mom wear makeup. Ever. I never thought much about how little time my mom spent getting ready in the morning until junior high, when my friends left me in the mid-90s with my Bonne Bell Lip Smackers and Wet ‘n Wild nail polish to experiment with black eyeliner and sparkly eyeshadow. Television and movies typically use the same romantic narrative to explain how all women first learn about makeup: A young, naive girl wanders into her mother’s bedroom, sits down at her vanity, and smears lipstick with a shaky hand all over her face. The mother always catches her in the act, wipes her face clean in that loving way only a mother (who's new tube of Siren Salsa was just ruined) can, and teaches her how to properly apply makeup without looking like Heath Ledger as the Joker. It’s a major mother-daughter bonding moment, and I never got to experience it.

At a time in my life when fitting in and being like the rest of the girls was so important (as proven by the hour I’d spend straightening my hair for most of junior high and high school), I resented my mom with the full force of my preteen angst for not helping me in an area of life that seemed crucial to my success as a woman and a human being. Why couldn’t she be glamorous like how the TV moms were, with a long line of makeup brushes perfectly placed upon her dresser next to a mason jar full of cotton balls? Why should I have to suffer the fate of numerous makeup-free yearbook photos because my mom's a weirdo?

I remember when I finally asked her why she didn’t wear any makeup; her answer was so simple in the most unsatisfying way. She didn’t have any timeless wisdom to offer about beauty coming from within, and she didn’t even opt for a damning screed of the beauty industry. Without a hint of apology, she explained, “I just never got into that stuff.” That stuff. My lack of expertise in that stuff was keeping me from being popular! It was making me look ugly! It was ruining my life! That’s how important makeup was to me when I was younger. I truly believed it could fix all my insecurities.

A lot of YouTube tutorial disasters and misguided foundation purchases could have been avoided if a seasoned makeup wearer had been in my corner, but now that I feel the most comfortable that I’ve ever felt with myself and my style, I’ve grown to appreciate being raised by a woman who abstained from cosmetics not on any profound principle, but just by making a simple choice — not unlike how I choose between liquid or pencil eyeliner. Given how divisive conversations about makeup can be (what it means if you wear too much makeup; what it says about you if you wear none) my mom’s attitude toward beauty taught me you could take or leave any bit of it that you choose. You can decide to wear lipstick every morning, or you go out wearing nothing but moisturizer. It can be that easy if you let it.

Unlike my mom, I do enjoy dusting my cheeks with blush and swiping on a few coats of eyeshadow before an evening out, but I don’t wear makeup every day, every week, or even every month. My barefacedness isn’t some bold political stance about beauty standards, and I definitely believe women shouldn’t have to defend their beauty routines to anyone. On my makeup-free days, I attempt to be more like the woman who taught me that I didn’t have any flaws — only beauty that could be made more beautiful when I want to be my own canvas. My mom may not have taught me how to do my eyeliner, but she did teach me that beauty is something every woman creates for herself by her choices and her bravery. 

Images: Author; Giphy

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