“Mommy, why are you putting that brown stuff on your face?”
The question comes from Fruit Loop #2 as she sits on the counter of the bathroom, watching me get ready for an evening out with Hubby. I am applying foundation to the lines, wrinkles, and blemishes to my forty-year-old face. I am expertly coloring in and around the lines of a face that no longer looks as youthful as it used to.
I am applying foundation and concealer, contour bronzer and pressed powder, eye primer and shadow. I’m outlining my eyes and my lips and pinking my cheeks to a youthful glow. I’m lengthening my lashes, glossing my lips and adding sparkle and sheen to my forehead.
And all of the above happened after I’d cleansed and moisturized and plucked and waxed.
She is expectantly staring at me, waiting for an answer and I realize that I don’t know what to say.
Why exactly am I applying this make up like a painter to a canvas?
As I stand in my bathroom, struggling to come up with an answer that will preserve her burgeoning self esteem, I am reminded of an incident from two summers ago. My then seven-year-old attended a birthday party in what I like to call the Pink and Black Third Ring Of Hell. Others call it Sweet and Sassy. Potato/ potahto.
As I dropped her off at the party, the host parent told me that the Sassy Party Girls would be getting their hair done and spray sparkled. They’d be changing into fun clothing (pink boas and sunglasses, natch) and that “light makeup would be applied”. Not to worry, though, the application would be tasteful and age appropriate. And while I would argue that “makeup” and “age appropriate” do not mix with young faces, I was a good sport.
When I returned an hour and a half later, there was my little sassy girl, hairs all did and sparkly. She’d even been given a tiara to complete the look. And, true to the host parent’s word, she was wearing light makeup: blush, eye shadow, lip gloss and a sparkle face tattoo. She looked like a little porcelain doll and I had to admit, she looked very sassy.
When we arrived home, she bolted out of the car and ran to the bathroom to inspect in detail her sassification. She threw the light on, stood on the stool near the sink and looked at her appearance.
And she got very quiet.
After a minute, her lips began to quiver and she started to cry.
She turned to me and said, “Mommy, I don’t look like ME anymore. I want to take this stuff off!! It’s not on my face forever, right?”
I’m not going to lie: I did NOT see that coming.
As we gently scrubbed the makeup off her face, she told me that the makeup scared her, that it made her feel like she was trying to be someone else. She said that the makeup hid who she really was and that she wanted the world to see the real her.
Yes, she was only seven.
And so, as I stood in my bathroom, with my daughter looking at me, waiting for an explanation as to why I smeared my face with chemicals, powders and dyes, I felt sad.
When did I stop looking at myself with seven-year-old eyes? At what moment in my childhood did I look into the mirror and decide the world needed to see me behind the façade of concealer? When had I decided to hide the real me?
While I pondered these questions in my head, I was struck with another, more poignant one: when was that moment going to come for my daughter?
While I can’t remember the moment it happened for me, I know I will see the moment it happens for her. As I watch her grow, watch her body change and develop, I know that there is going to come a time when her bathroom will be littered with mascara tubes, blush palettes and lipsticks galore. We will battle about her leaving the house looking like a clown and I will yell at her for stealing my expensive, lip rejuvenating, rehydrating, age defying lipsticks.
But, in this moment in the bathroom, she is still my little girl who looks in the mirror and sees her true self, unmasked by makeup. She is beautiful, she is strong, she is unencumbered by the weight of what society says she should look like.
I look into her clear, freckled face and simply say, “I wear makeup because it tells the story of my face in color”.
And I hope my answer enough for now and I pray that she can’t see the lie through my makeup.
This post originally ran on LifetimeMoms in March 2015