• Mama PhD

    Mothers attempting to balance parenthood and academics.


I Enjoy Being a 61-Year-Old Girl, Sort of

Discovering the world of makeup....

May 5, 2013

My mother seldom left home without applying lipstick and powdering her nose. Except for the most formal occasions, though, that was the extent of her beauty regime. She believed that wearing eye makeup in the daytime was cheap. She eschewed beauty parlor visits, preferring to wear her hair in a neat chignon of her own designing. She washed her face with whatever soap was in the shower stall, and I never saw her apply moisturizer.

I am vastly different from her in many ways, but not so much in this one. I don't think about my appearance a lot. It isn't that I'm anti-makeup — as a feminist I sometimes think I ought to be, but I enjoy the way other women take care with their appearance — but that there aren't enough hours in the day, and organization is not my strong point. I don't understand how other women have time to get mani-pedis, highlights, waxing, etc., and to style their hair and apply makeup every single morning, and still accomplish anything of significance. I know they do this, but I don't get it. And not having grown up with a role model for "feminine" maintenance routines, none of this comes naturally to me.

Periodically over the years, starting in junior high, friends have staged makeover interventions. I always emerge agreeing that, yes, I look much more glamorous, but if you expect me to put in this kind of work every day, you're nuts.

But now, as recorded here, I am getting acting work that requires me to show up camera-ready. This was not an issue when I did this before, in my twenties, because in theatrical plays there are usually people available to do your makeup, and I was basically background in the few films I acted in.

Things have flipped over the years, and now it is much cheaper to make a film than to produce a play — so much of the work I am getting is before a camera.

As recorded here, I showed up for a commercial with a basically bare face, and was surrounded by women who looked like models. Then, earlier this week, I reported for a short film I had been cast in. I was an extra in the commercial, but I am one of 4 main characters in the film. The other 3 actresses came with makeup kits that looked like doctors' bags, and gave themselves elaborate touch-ups during breaks. I arrived, as usual, with my Burt's Bees tinted lip gloss. I felt like a gawky 12-year-old at a teenagers' party. And I realized that the camera was likely to wash me out.

"Help," I texted my friend D, who worked her way through graduate school modeling. "Sephora emergency!" She agreed to meet me for a remedial makeup session a few days later.

We ended up spending hours at the store, both because there were so many tints of everything to choose from and because I needed lessons in even the most basic application skills ("Tap it on lightly! You're not spackling your bathroom!").

I knew she had done a great job, because a) when I showed up at my practice group that afternoon, my fellow performers whistled and clapped even before I told them what I had done; and b) at home that night, neither Bill nor Ben noticed any difference.

You might think that this protracted lack of attention to appearances suggests an admirable focus on higher things. That is certainly how I have always presented it to myself.

But as I practice with my nemesis, the mascara wand, I realize that it is more complicated than that. There is a certain amount of vanity involved in the assumption that you look great the way you are.

My mother was tall and aristocratic looking. Her natural elegance was well served by the simplicity of her style. I am smaller and less impressive, but in my youth I had a wholesome, girl-next-door freshness that others found engaging and attractive. Even now, I don't color my hair, because it would be too messy and time consuming — but lately I wonder whether I would have found the time and energy if I didn't actually like its soft silver color.

This new/old career is calling into question a lot of assumptions I have had about myself for years—another reason I am glad to be following this path.


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