Saturday, November 13, 2010

Powder & Paint

I'm not sure what made this story come to mind as the first thing for me to post, but I guess it's as good a way to start as any.  When I was a kid, my grandmother and I didn't always see eye to eye (as an adult, we don't see each other at all, but that's another story for another day).  Anyway, I'm not here to speak ill of her, just to talk about a particular battle we once had, that has always stayed with me.

Though I grew up idolizing Madonna in the 80s, I was never a Material Girl.  I didn't care about designer labels, fancy clothes, expensive jewelry ... and I still don't.  Over the years, my hair has been long, short, curly, straight, and a bunch of different colors ... but it always had to be easy.  And I've had a love/hate relationship with makeup that has fluctuated as much as my weight ... and my self esteem.

I don't remember how old I was (must've been around 13-15), but my grandmother used to tell me I should wear more makeup.  I don't think I was specifically opposed to the idea, but I guess I just didn't want to bother with it every day.  But then she said something that was meant to encourage me to take her advice; at the time it really pissed me off (and it still does 20+ years later), but at varying points in my life, I realize I listened.

What she said was, "powder and paint makes a lady what she ain't."  

The multitude of messages ingrained in that simple sentence can be so damaging to a young girl.  Even if the words weren't original, their meaning cut deep.  This materialistic and superficial woman was telling me that I wasn't good enough as is, and that I needed to appear to be something else ... someone else ... someone who was better than me.  What would make me "better" was not doing good deeds, studying hard, being honest, loyal, or reliable.  No.  According to her, my worth would be determined by how I looked, not who I was.

At the time, my response was "but I don't want to be 'what I ain't' ... I want to be me."  Looking back, that was pretty profound.  I can't imagine how much easier life would have been if I'd actually maintained that confidence through my adolescence.

Hell, how much easier would life be if we could have that level of confidence as adults?

**Note - to those who know her, this is obviously not Gram.  No question which side of the family I take after!

If you like what you read, tell a friend!  Actually, tell me too - post a comment below!!  If not, well ... I'm all for honesty, but please be gentle!


  1. I never got into makeup as you well know, but never sure I told you really why. It wasn't allowed by my parents and doubly wasn't allowed in catholic elementary school. My mother never showed me how to apply correctly or otherwise saying "nice girls" (read virgins) did not wear any of that stuff. But the most jarring memory of this edict was watching a nun scrub a girl's face with those rough chalkboard rags from the chalkboard water bucket to "get the makeup" off her face. It was extremely disturbing and made the idea of makeup at all a fearful thing. Nice set up for an all girl high school where the fashionistas had yet another reason to pick on "tubby". I always wondered if a little foundation and maybe even some of that lovely blue eye shadow would have turned that noise down just a tad. Never met the grandmother that tried to pass on this "advice" to you, but I suspect she thought she was telling you the right thing. Public image minded people like her and my mom always seem to think they are.

  2. Wow ... just picturing that makes my face hurt! It's amazing how much damage can be done by people who think they are telling you the right thing.

  3. I am a few generations between your grandmother and you, Kerry. I don't feel make-up makes me what "I ain't", but through the (many) years of adulthood, have been grateful to "enhance' the "good" and 'cover" some flaws. I can easily get so very lost in the make-up aisle, because of the artistry of the colors; and 'oh the possibilities". The women they select for make-up ads are air-brushed to perfection, yet as always with the carrot & the stick, remain "inspiring'. I still (at 59yrs old) catch myself admiring the latest Halle Berry commercial, wondering if "that' make-up should be purchased? And then, reality-snap, saying to myself "oh really...c'mon woman..get REAL!".
    Women have always been plagued with the misery of our appearance not being the most recent 'whatever" measure of perfection. Let's not even get started on the 'thin' thing. I remain perplexed that in EVERY other species, the female is the plain one...the male is the 'peacock" with feathers; mane; stripes; vibrance; and something inherantly designed to attract the female. How we had to become the 'peacocks" astounds me. It puzzles me more and more as I attempt to accept 'aging" in America.

  4. I think no matter the generation, there's always the mystique of the airbrushed ad (even before there was airbrushing, I'm sure there was some way of "modifying reality" ... but that's exactly the point - it's designed to make us feel LESS THAN, so we'll buy more and more of the products. And we keep buying into it!

    Now, don't get me wrong - I am not completely against the idea of wearing makeup. The problem comes (as most do) in the extreme. It shouldn't be forced ... it shouldn't be forbidden (well, I guess that depends on how young we're talking about). I admit, I wear a bit to work, and when I'm going out. I feel like a bit of mascara makes my eyes pop, and that makes me smile. But it should be OUR choice, and for OUR reasons, not what anyone else (parents, grandparents, or the media) dictate to us.

    Btw - very interesting revelation about the peacocks!

  5. Hello my SUPER, fabolous. I don’t know the first thing about blogging. Yours is the first I’ve ever read. I love your story, and I totally agree. How much better we all would be if we kept to our child-ideals of ourselves.

  6. Well said Kerry! Share your thoughts away, as there is power in sharing:-) Very proud of you.