When I became pregnant with my first son, I was not shy about showing off my belly. My growing womb was something I presented to the world with pride. I couldn’t wait to flaunt it in stomach-clinging shirts and tight dresses. And when I became a mother, I shrugged my blouse off my shoulders easily at my baby’s hungry cries, not even bothering with the nursing cover. It was almost with an exhibitionist’s glee that I would unbutton my shirt or pull up my dress anywhere from the local coffee shop to the tearoom at the Plaza. So why was it so difficult for me, after everything, with the pregnancies and the births and the breastfeeding, to bare my makeup-free face to the world? Why was this last reveal the hardest?
I come from a long line of women who take very good care of their appearances – almost to a fault. There is a famous story in our family that pretty much captures the value that the women in my life place on aesthetics: My late grandmother, after hearing about a tragic teen who had committed suicide in the library of a local university asked me as if trying to puzzle out a simple explanation, “But was she ugly?” From the tender age of eleven, I was taught never to leave the house without lipstick. I thought it was completely normal for a woman to do her makeup in the morning before leaving the house, and then to come home at noon, wash her face, and do it again before eating her lunch while watching an episode of Dynasty. I remember once, when my mom was in the hospital for a minor surgery, that her twin sister came and applied all of her makeup so that she could look presentable for the doctors. When I was pregnant with my first son, I agonized over the possibility of being in the hospital and receiving visitors without having the ability to have first put on a little makeup. The prospect of being barefaced, and therefore, looking ugly, was terrifying.
This is not to say that up until that day, I had never ventured out into the world without makeup. It happened once before, and I was tricked into it. Years ago, pre children, the man who would later become my husband and I were on a vacation in the Loire Valley, and he had woken me up with the promise of a quick drive to get coffee and croissants, but instead, kidnapped me for a day trip to the countryside. I remember initially feeling such rage about it, when I first realized that I had been duped, like he had made me parade around the town square in the nude. “I don’t even have my powder compact with me!” I remember yelling at him. Of course, it ended up being one of the most memorable days we’ve ever had together. We drove through country roads flanked by fields of lavender and drank lots of wine and ate fantastic tomato and cheese salads and strolled hand in hand through cobble stoned streets. In the pictures he took of me that day (to great protest), nearly nine years ago, I look lovely and in love. No makeup, glasses and all.
For the birth of my first son, I had packed makeup with me in my hospital bag, but I never got to wear it in all the five days of my hospital stay. Between nursing the wounds of my c-section, nursing my newborn baby, fighting the oncoming first waves of postpartum depression, and greeting the countless family members that came to visit, there just wasn’t time for mascara. Even the lure of the professional baby photo shoot in the hospital room couldn’t get me to muster up the energy for a dab of concealer.
Once I was settled at home, however, I somehow conjured back my makeup mojo. My firstborn was a colicky child. He needed to be held nonstop. I hadn’t ascribed to any particular ideology of parenting, but looking back, I guess I was an Attachment Parent by default, namely because my baby was always attached to me since if I tried to put him down he would scream. I discovered that the path of least resistance was to hold him in one arm at all times. I became very skilled at applying BB cream, concealer, blush, and brow pencil with just one hand, often while bouncing.
When I got pregnant with my second, I prided myself on making sure I was a Pretty Pregnant Person – one who thoughtfully dressed around her pregnant belly, put a curling wand to her hair, and yes, did her makeup. Of course, this was all very exhausting with a toddler running circles around me, but at the time, I convinced myself it was all worth it because it was for my SELF ESTEEM. If I didn’t feel good about myself, then what kind of energy would I be projecting for my son, and my baby? It is amazing the kinds of inner narratives we can spin to help justify less than helpful behaviors.
And then . . . the second born arrived. And he was needy as all get out, and on top of that, his older brother needed me even more. And between both my hands being full of children and the fact that I hadn’t yet learned how to apply makeup with my toes, putting on a full brow and eyeliner just wasn’t physically possible. And I think there must have been one day when I was just so tired that I must have looked at my makeup drawer, sighed, and decided to venture outside with a bare face. And you know what? Nothing happened. The sky did not fall down. The Earth did not shake. A house did not land on my head. I had a normal day and I didn’t scare off any small children with how hideous I looked. So the next day, when presented with the choice between taking the time to put on my makeup or enjoying a cup of coffee in the five minutes that my baby wasn’t nursing, and my three year old wasn’t asking me to build something with Magnatiles while he sat on my lap, again I ignored the call of my makeup bag. And then day after day went by and still, no makeup, unless it was a special day where I had something important to do or somewhere cool to go (which was not very often, as anyone with a newborn and a toddler knows). And like anything that you do enough times in a row, it became my new normal, and suddenly, I became a person who does not wear makeup on the regular. Years and years of conditioning reversed, just like that.
Motherhood forces upon you so many changes and shifts in identity. It brings with it a rawness and honesty you can’t escape from even if you try. At first it was hard when I caught my reflection in a mirror. I couldn’t believe that this was the face that I was allowing the world to see. Eventually, I got used to this new face – a face that my grandmother, were she alive today, would strongly discourage showing off in public except in extreme case of emergency. Another gift that motherhood bestowed upon me: I no longer have the time nor the desire to linger in front of the mirror and mess around with what I see. But when I do catch a glimpse, I like what is there. Without makeup, I can see my freckles. I’m not chasing after imaginary shine with a powder puff like I’d done for so many years, and instead I’m letting my skin be a little shiny sometimes which actually, can pass for a “glow” on the days when I’m being kind to myself. If I have an extra minute, I’ll put on mascara before heading out but most of the times I just say whatever, and skip it. Sometimes people tell me I look tired and I know it might have something to do with the fact that I’m not wearing makeup (in addition to the fact that yes, I am really tired) but I try not to let that get to me. This is how motherhood looks on my face, and on most days, I think I wear it well.