I still remember walking through the halls of my high school, glancing around at all the perfectly polished and put-together girls, and wondering: “How come all these other girls look like CoverGirls and the people in Pantene Pro-V commercials and how come I just look like a girl?”
Those girls looked like more-than-just-girls because they knew how to do their makeup. And hair. They knew how to pick jeans that made their butts look Kardashian-awesome. They knew exactly which trends to follow in order to ensure they always looked effortlessly cool and exactly which trends were stupid-looking and didn’t even really look that good on people in Dawson’s Creek. I knew how to do exactly NONE of these things. I marveled that they did. I wonder if they had older sisters at home who marched into their bedrooms every morning and drill-sergeant-screamed at them to do their eyeliner better. I was the oldest sister, my brother was in middle school, my sister in elementary, they weren’t going to be any help at all. I also wondered if these girls had mothers who served as their own personal fairy-godmothers, Cinderella-ing them for the ball every morning before school. I did have a mother, but she wasn’t about to help me with straightening my hair and walking in heels anytime soon. She was (and is) the kind of mother who insisted I was my most beautiful at my most awkward. She didn’t want to change a hair on my head. Meanwhile I wanted to change ALL of them.
My mother came of age in the late-1960’s/early-1970’s, or, as us TV-lovers know it better, Mad Men era. This is fitting because my mother was absolutely the Sally Draper to my grandmother’s Betty Draper. My grandmother was perfectly polished and put-together. I look back at pictures of her and am in awe of her perfect cat eye. My grandmother was glamorous as all get out, but she put too high a premium on image, she made it too important. My grandmother was an interior designer. Outer beauty was her life. But my mom didn’t want outer beauty to be her top and only priority and she didn’t want it to be mine.
So my mom didn’t teach me how to do my makeup or my hair. She didn’t tell me that black was slimming or that A-line skirts look good on all body types. Instead my mother taught me that hard work is more valuable than talent or luck. She taught me that being nice is different from being kind and given the choice one should always choose to be kind. She taught me that asking for help is not a sign of weakness, but an indication of strength. My mom refused to help me straighten my hair. Instead she straightened out my soul.
Eventually I figured out how to wear foundation and powder that didn’t make me look orange or like a ghost (or, in my darkest hour, like an orange ghost). I figured out what jeans made my butt look, if not Kardashian-awesome, then at least regular-awesome. Eyeliner is very hit or miss for me, sometimes I look like a reincarnation of Cleopatra and sometimes I look like my mom didn’t teach me how to do eyeliner. But I’m fine with that. My mom emphasized having a gorgeous brain and soul over a conventionally pretty face every step of the way growing up. Your parents are important. What they say sticks. I’m glad for what my mom taught me, and even for what she didn’t teach me.