I know my mom doesn’t think she taught me much of anything about beauty, but she did. I think of her to this day, so glamorous to me, sitting in front of the mirror and putting on her makeup, getting ready to go out. She was a MAC woman before anyone ever even invented the concept. She can make up an eye like nobody’s business. I remember when I was twelve or thirteen, a Chanel representative came to our West Texas town for a trunk show. This was the early 80s, and the economy was booming. Our town was an oil town, so that meant lots and lots of money. I imagine all the oil men’s wives turned out for this guy, because to get anywhere close to the likes of someone like him you had to go to Dallas. My mom and my grandma went to see him, too.
The way I picture it, he’s thin, wearing a black turtleneck, and has a pencil-thin mustache (yep, kind of cliché, I guess). He speaks with a heavy French accent. (For all I know he could have been from Houston and wearing cowboy boots.) I can imagine him working over these West Texas women with their coral lipstick and blue eye shadow, exasperated, wondering when he can go smoke--or, even better, when he can leave this godforsaken smelly town--when he gets to my mom. My mom! Because Mr. Chanel took one look at her, and what did he have to say?
Don’t change anything. Your makeup is perfect. Perfect! The. Guy. From. Chanel.
She was so thrilled when she came home, so excited, I can still remember it. And I can remember the beautiful eye shadow she got, lovely pink and copper and teal, and the dome-shaped lilac powder, and all those elegant black cases…
But because it was the early 80s, a big, big trend was being preppy. Let’s see a raise of hands for all of you out there who remember The Preppy Handbook. One of the things it explained very, very clearly was that preppy girls did not wear makeup. Preppy girls wore lip gloss, maybe. For a dance or special occasion, maybe a little mascara and pink lipstick. And I wanted to be a Preppy. Which meant very little makeup.
And so began the fight that would rage on for decades, known to most mother-daughter historians as the “Aren’t You Going to Wear Any Makeup?” War.
Don’t get me wrong. I tried. I remember one time we raided the Elizabeth Arden counter when I was fifteen or sixteen. I got all new stuff, and she showed me how to put it on, and I kept it up for a few days, and then…back to preppy.
I remember we’d go to this place called Drug Emporium and buy all kinds of drugstore makeup and take it home and try everything on. She’d do me eyes and fix me up and I couldn’t believe what I would see in the mirror. Glamorous, just like my mom! But then, back to preppy.
I remember when she gave me the Chanel eye shadow quad. (Why did she still have it? Why hadn’t she used it all? I wonder now if it just seemed too special to use. But then why give it to me, who can barely make up an eye to save her life?) I wish so much that I still had it, just because.
My mom always thought (probably still thinks) that I didn’t wear much makeup because I didn’t want to be like her. But that’s not the case, really. I just didn’t know how. To me, she was glamorous, and I was plain. When I put on a bunch of makeup, I just felt silly, like a clown. (A feeling I believe I channeled to almost every SA who tried to make me over at a department store because I always ended up in purple eye shadow and coral lipstick, and indeed, looked like a clown.) And also, I lacked her confidence. I worked hard at being invisible.
Now, in my late-mid thirties (again, yes, it‘s a real age bracket…you‘ll see when you get here), I’ve been wanting out of my preppy rut. I don’t want to be invisible anymore. I read fashion magazines and cruise the beauty blogs, and I bring home new makeup, and I start applying it, and virtually every attempt ends with this: I WANT MY MOMMY! Because the best makeovers I’ve ever gotten, I’ve gotten from her. Because she knows how to do all this stuff and I don’t and I need her help! And it’s nothing trivial, because I am trying to be somebody new, trying to change, and I can’t do it by myself.
Mom, I love you! You are having a pretty rough time right now, I know, and a lot of the things that are broken, I can’t fix. But you tried hard to give the gift of beauty to me--and it IS a gift, not just because of all the pretty colors and packages and scents, but because of the way it binds us together--and so, I would like to give the gift of beauty to you. Every month, I will send you a beauty treat. (except this month, when I will just carry it to Dallas in my suitcase) I will send you something that will hopefully remind you of how glamorous and strong you really are, to me.