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Putting My Face On

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Almost all my life, people have been telling me, “You look just like your mother.” Of course, like any other girl, I cringe when I hear this. It isn’t because my mother has a wart on her nose, that I always thought resembled a witch. It isn’t because she has a scar between her lip and her nose from when she almost got run over by a car as a child. It isn’t even because she’s always had a short haircut that I never liked. Actually, my mom is, and always was, pretty well made up. And that is precisely the problem. Make-up.


Growing up, I rarely saw my mom without make-up. She was no glamour queen. She didn’t resemble Tammy Faye Baker or anything like that, but she had more than her fair share of rouge, eye shadow, mascara, base make-up, powder, and lipstick in every shade of red you can imagine––all shoved into neat stacks in her medicine cabinet, and tucked into small, square plastic baskets under her sink.


She never went out of the house without engaging in the ritual she referred to as “putting her face on.” It started with a small triangular sponge spotted with light brown liquid foundation applied all over her face, followed by a dusting of powder, followed by a dot of rouge on each cheek, followed by a smear of eye shadow on each eye, followed by mascara, followed by a line around the lips, followed by a full lap around the lips with some shade of red. Most weekends she wore an abbreviated version of this, sans eye shadow, around the house while she cleaned or sewed or attended to other motherly duties. You would never, ever, without a doubt, catch her at Sunday church without a full face.


I knew about what time she would adjourn to her bathroom in the morning to start the ritual, and I would always find a reason to be in her bathroom so that I could watch her application techniques. I loved and hated the process of putting on all her make-up. She took incredible pains to make the line around her lips symmetrical, and the two dots of rouge on each cheek absolutely balanced. It was like watching the old masters paint a person’s likeness.


I wondered why she didn’t like her unpainted face. I quite liked it. Without all her make-up, she looked more like a mom, and less like a magazine ad for cosmetics.


When we went on vacation, my sisters and I dreaded waiting for our mom to pack her bags. This would inevitably be after the rest of the family was done packing and waiting anxiously to leave for wherever it was we were going. My mom would meticulously lay out all her outfits, and then she would match her make-up to each outfit. If she was taking her brown sweater, then the suede eye shadow trio would definitely have to come, as would the Tawny Taupe lipstick. A pink top meant a few options, because she couldn’t predict whether she would be feeling Fabulously Fuschia or Blushing Blossom. We watched her mix and match cosmetic colors with outfits for the better part of an hour, confused, annoyed, and angry.


Well, I have now become my mother. I put a face on.


It never used to be this way. My vanity has crept up on me. In the past, I thought women shouldn’t submit to false ideas of beauty. I thought we should be proud of our natural skin, blemishes and all. Then I turned twenty-five, and my skin changed. I saw red blotches, and uneven color. So, a little powder here, a dab of cheek stain there. Just a bit of help to accentuate my naturally lovely features.


Then I turned thirty. Now, I need even more help. It’s a full face. Unless I’m walking to get the mail, get coffee, or get an emergency bottle of wine at the store, I’m made up. I’m talking under-eye cream, eyelid redness minimizing cream, powder, bronzer, eyeliner, eye shadow, mascara, lip gloss, another dusting of powder to make certain it remains fresh-looking all day. Granted, I use an organic line of fantastic mineral-based make-up that enhances my features rather than hides them, and I don’t plaster on make-up like an old Master, but who am I kidding? It’s make-up, and it’s a ritual. African tribes spend less time painting their ceremonial masks.


What’s worse, just like my mother, I find myself mentally coordinating my outfits with what I’m about to put in my cosmetics bag when I’m packing for a trip. I carry around a small cosmetics bag with the essentials––lip liner, lip gloss, powder, a vile of perfume, and an alternate lip gloss in case the first one doesn’t match my outfit and I need an emergency lip pick-me-up. I may be worse than my mother.


I like it though. I like how I look after I’ve taken a little time on my face. It isn’t drastic. I try to keep it somewhat “natural.” It doesn’t scream made-up face like my mom’s does. I don’t look like the woman from page 35 of the Mary Kay catalog. I look like me, only better.


So, is that why my mom did it––to look like herself, only better? Or was she a product of the late ’80s? Did she enjoy the process of putting on a face? Did she watch her mother go through the same ritual? These are questions I don’t know the answers to, and maybe I don’t need to know. If I have a daughter one day, she may study my “putting my face on” ritual and question it. She may even take the time to write her observations down. I just hope she mentions that my lipstick complements my outfit!

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