Beauty is a delicate thing to talk about, especially as a mom raising girls. I want my girls to feel great about themselves no matter what; but I can’t deny that beauty is a part of our society — whether you define that as simply putting yourself together like you made some effort, knowing how to look appropriate in various social settings, remembering to brush your hair before school (how come that one never sticks?), or just thinking twice before lining the inside of your eyelids with fat, sparkly turquoise eye pencils in 8th grade.
Okay, so that last one was me.
I’ve been talking to my girls about self-esteem, and inner beauty, and carrying themselves with confidence since they were young. But as they start to near tweendom, I see myself drawing more lines, figuring out how to express boundaries, and explaining things like why they can wear lip balm but not gloss to school.
Mostly, I’m trying to impact their values about beauty as their mom, before some scantily-clad teen pop idol gets to them.
From the “My Parents Were Awesome” files: My mom at 22
I still remember my mom describing how she was told she was “fat” as a teen, and how it affected her self-esteem for decades. Meanwhile, I look back at her high school photos and she was stunning. Tall, and beautiful. I can’t even imagine where that “fat” notion came from, and I think of how painful that must have been for her. I never want to do that to my own kids.
But as my nearly ten-year-old nears adolescence (eep!) and becomes ever so slightly more beauty conscious I find myself having to think even harder about how I talk to her about her looks, her body, and society’s ideals about beauty in general. And so much of my own values and tips, I realize, comes from the women in my own life and their own stories and advice
Not that I’ve taken every single word of wisdom at face value.
(Sorry Aunt Fredda: I know when I was 13 you told me, “one day soon you’ll see that makeup is for the birds,” but I just haven’t gotten to that point yet.)
So on a personal level, I’m really happy to be working with our sponsor Dove, and sharing my own #BeautyStory (we all speak in hashtags now, right?) from the important women in my own life. In fact, mother-daughter conversations are how so much advice about beauty habits are passed down. And since Dove discovered that 84% of women trust the women in their lives more than celebrities for beauty tips and advice (phew!) it’s a perfect opportunity to talk to your own daughters, whatever their ages.
Here are some of the words of beauty wisdom I still remember from my own mom, my stepmother, and even my grandmother. All of them beautiful, inside and out.
Me and Momsie. She would have been 97 yesterday, which made writing this a little more emotional than I had expected this week. It’s comforting knowing her wisdom is being passed on to a third generation.
“When you become a mother, don’t forget to take care of yourself first.”
Like the beauty advice version of “put your own oxygen mask on first,” my grandmother, Momsie, always cautioned me not to be the mom with the beautifully-dressed children in the stroller while you’re pushing them around looking like you just rolled out of bed, with 6-inch long roots in your hair. (So now you can see where my anti-yoga-pants-as-clothing stance here comes from.) Momsie was somehow always put together, even on casual days, but never in a showy or audacious way. It may have been as small a gesture as putting on a little lipstick to answer the front door, or making sure her leather shoes were polished. I’ll just say that at 90, she looked younger than the 80-somethings at the birthday party we threw her; she was young at heart until the very end, and always beautiful to me.
To this day, when I’m starting to feel mom burn-out, I sometimes splurge on a new lipstick, remember to put on earrings just to run to the corner deli, and channel her wisdom. WWMD?
This was advice my grandmother instilled in my mother, who was always taller than the other girls her age. Despite my own mom’s body perceptions (or misperceptions), she was told to be proud of her height and stand up straight. I did not inherit my mother’s height — and my tiny girls are not on that path either, or so it seems — but it’s still terrific advice. You just look more confident when you stand up straight. Or sit up at the table. Or uh, sit up at the table without your knees bumping against your plate. That one is for my fourth-grader.
“Never let anyone cut your cuticles.”
My mother wasn’t a big hair and makeup person; she’s gone gray wildly gracefully and it cracks us up when people ask her where she gets her gorgeous silver color done. (The occasional pink streak comes from a bottle, which she freely admits.) However she has always been very particular about her nails, and she did drill it into me that once you let someone cut your cuticles, you have to continue it forever. Just tell the manicurist, “push back only” and it turns out she will know just what it means. Evidently, my mom isn’t the only one doling out this advice.
“The second your nail polish chips, take it off.”
The idea that chipped polish looks trashy is so ingrained in me, that I pretty much never wear nail polish on my fingers. After all, typing on a computer all day for work means it chips in about a nanosecond. Instead, I might get my nails buffed so they look polished — but not actually polished. Toenails however: Color me up! At least, until they chip. Then they make me nuts and I have to fix it that very day. It’s taking me longer to get this beauty tip into my girls’ heads, but I’m working on it.
With my stepmother, now my friend. Always beautiful, right down to the hibiscus.
“Your eyebrows define your entire face”
My stepmother Amye, a former wardrobe stylist who has been my cosmetics guru since adolescence, helped me understand this beauty trick in my early twenties; a period in my life also known as the big, bushy eyebrows era. I still remember the time she took me to a fancy cosmetics counter to meet an artist she loved (I felt so grownup!) and they talked to me about using brow powder and shaping your eyebrows and wow, what a difference a little thing like that makes. To this day, even if I go outside without another drop of makeup, I still try to tame my eyebrows into mild submission using a little shadow applied with a good, angled cosmetics brush. (Having a good waxer or threader helps a whole lot too. And yeah, sometimes I let that go a little too long. But I try.)
“Chewing gum makes you look like a cow”
Ooh, I hated this advice from my grandmother so much when I was a kid. But you know how sometimes you open your mouth and out comes your mother or grandmother? Well, that’s me now. D’oh. And I’m sure my kids hate when I echo the sentiment (in slightly less direct language), though they don’t complain quite as much when I give them mints or sucking candies instead.
“When you’re married, don’t dress like you’re married.”
I still remember years ago, when Amye told me that getting dressed nicely every day is one way to help keep a relationship healthy. To be honest, it was an idea that bothered me when I was younger — shouldn’t a guy like me for who I am? But later I realized, it was less some 50’s-era “put on lipstick for your husband, dear, he’s had a hard day at work” kind of advice. More like,” if you pull yourself together, you’ll feel better about yourself, and that has a direct impact on the relationship.” It’s actually a lot of what my grandmother was saying too.
I think we’re all guilty of going one too many days without a shower from time to time (ahem), or wearing sweats to bed instead of cute nightgowns. (What? They’re comfy!) I’d like to do that less often. And you know? That goes for the menfolk too. Holey boxer shorts and stained undershirts = not sexy.
“It’s more important to be beautiful on the inside.”
This to me, stands out more than any other beauty story or advice in my own family narrative. I can remember these words coming from my mom since I was old enough to toddle around the house, and it’s probably the reason that Dove’s own message has always resonated with me so profoundly.
When I was little, if strangers came up and said, “what a pretty little girl,” however benign and innocent, my mother always responded with, “yes…and she’s beautiful on the inside too, and that’s what matters more.”
Admittedly, it was kind of horrifying to me.
But I later realized she wasn’t rejecting a compliment from a well-meaning stranger, she was teaching me in no uncertain terms that looks should not be not the single most important source of pride for a girl.
Similarly, she’s taught me that we as a culture tend to default to telling little girls, “well…don’t you look pretty!” especially when we meet them the first time. Do you do it? I know I have. So I try to work on to saying things like, “I bet those shoes make you run really fast.” And “I hear you are a great artist!”
The interesting thing is, those kinds of compliments don’t make young girls feel any less special and confident than hearing about how they look. And they will probably take them further in life as far as their own self-worth.
“Eating the bread crust makes your cheeks rosy”
Oh, grandmas. You’re so cute.
Me and my mom and my first-born: Windblow beach hair, no makeup. Just happy.
Thanks to our sponsor Dove for celebrating real women this Mother’s Day and well, everyday. Also for allowing me to share my personal stories. Be sure to watch the Dove Beauty Stories: Four Generations film (have the tissues nearby – it’s fantastic), then share your own #BeautyStory with @Dove on Facebook and Twitter, to help celebrate and honor the women in your life who inspired it.