Illustrated by Anna Sudit.
UPDATE: This post was originally published on May 26.
I still remember walking through the halls of my high school, glancing around at all the perfectly polished and put-together girls, and wondering: “How come all these other girls look like CoverGirls and I just look like...a girl?”
Those girls looked like more-than-just-girls because they knew how to do their makeup. And hair. They knew how to pick jeans that made their butts look Kardashian-level awesome. They knew exactly which trends to follow to ensure they always looked effortlessly cool; and, perhaps even more valuable, they knew exactly which trends were looked stupid. I knew how to do exactly none of these things. I marveled that they did. I wonder if they had older sisters at home who marched into their bedrooms every morning and drill-sergeant-screamed at them up their eyeliner game. I was the oldest sister; my brother was in middle school and my sister in elementary, so they weren’t going to be any help at all. I also wondered if these girls had mothers who served as their own personal fairy-godmothers, Cinderella-ing them for the ball every morning before school. I did have a mother, but she wasn’t about to help me with straightening my hair and walking in heels anytime soon. She was (and is) the kind of mother who insisted I was my most beautiful at my most awkward. She didn’t want to change a hair on my head. Meanwhile I wanted to change all of them.
My mother came of age in the 1960s, or, as us TV-lovers know it better, Mad Men era. This is fitting because my mother was absolutely the Sally Draper to my grandmother’s Betty Draper. My grandmother was perfectly polished and put-together. She could draw the most enviable cat-eye — and she put too high a premium on image. Outer beauty was her life. But, my mom didn’t want outer beauty to be her top and only priority — and she didn’t want it to be mine.
So, my mom didn’t teach me how to do my makeup or my hair. She didn’t tell me that black was slimming or that A-line skirts look good on all body types. Instead, my mother taught me that hard work is more valuable than talent or luck. She taught me that being nice is different from being kind and given the choice one should always choose to be kind. She taught me that asking for help is not a sign of weakness, but an indication of strength. My mom refused to help me straighten my hair. Instead, she straightened out my soul.
Eventually, I figured out how to wear foundation and powder that didn’t make me look orange or like a ghost (or, in my darkest hour, like an orange ghost). I figured out what jeans made my butt look, if not Kardashian-level awesome, then at least regularly awesome. Eyeliner is very hit-or-miss for me; sometimes I look like a reincarnation of Cleopatra and sometimes I look like my mom didn’t teach me how to do eyeliner — but I’m fine with that. My mom emphasized having an enviable mind over a conventionally pretty face, and what your parents say usually sticks. I’m glad for what my mom taught me, and even more for what she didn’t teach me.