autobiographical

Mother’s Makeup

She would not leave the house without her makeup.

Whether to work or the bank or the 7-11 to buy cigarettes, makeup was not optional. My brother and I would question her and prod her about this, being impatient as children often are. She never really gave a reason why but never wavered in her need to hide herself until the makeup was applied.

She wore frosted pink lipstick, cream blush in a peachy shade, brown or green eye shadow, mascara.  All of this on top of foundation intended to disguise her freckled complexion. There was no shortcut, it all had to be in place.

My grandmother, her mother, was demanding and judgmental about female beauty and thinness. There was no pleasing her. By the time I was old enough to be developing my own self image, I had already inferred from the two of them that everything about us all was inherently wrong and shameful.  Whether it was the thigh that was too thick, the hair that was unruly, the unfashionable or classless choice of clothing, nothing was ever good enough. I never expected to like the way I looked, and I didn’t.

My mother berated herself as a rule. One day I realized her mother’s voice spoke through her even as she spoke to herself and to me. My mother rarely spoke negatively to me of my own appearance, but when she did it was framed in terms such as “grandma would not approve.” I sometimes wondered what my great grandmother must have said to her daughter.

I threw away all my makeup years ago. I will not allow my grandmother will not speak through me.

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