When I was little, I used to go to
the makeup counter with my mother. Early on in her marriage, when the money was
good and her body was slim, mom loved fashion. She was a size 6 in Christian
Dior, and she even has one of the line’s famous little black dresses tucked
away in our attic to prove it. (She has a matching Dior mink, too, which she’s
mostly embarrassed about now.) But, after a couple of economic challenges and
five (yes, five) Caesarean sections, dressing her body became more of a
challenge, and less of a joy. So, she turned to makeup.
Mom always loved cosmetics and skin
care. But, after five children and 40 years, her God-given beauty became her
last line of defense — a Great Wall that required constant upkeep and
maintenance. She was too chicken for plastics, she reasoned, so why not invest
in a great serum? I’d go from counter to counter — Sisley to Trish McEvoy to
Chanel — and listen to her learn about her face (and, in the spirit of the
great Nora Ephron, her neck). The makeup artists would teach her never to leave
the house without concealer (she has dark circles), and the aestheticians would
lecture her about daily SPF.
We were often late to school because
she couldn’t get ready in time. My father would scream in frustration at the
bathroom door as she applied her foundation, preciously, in silence. I
sometimes worry she may have spent much of her life in fear of her face — that,
one day, she’d lose it. For the record, she still hasn’t. But, if I told you her
age in this column, I’d for sure be a dead man.
As a male beauty editor, I’m in the
unique and privileged position of writing for mostly women. My mother informs
most of my writing, as does having worked at salons, spas, and in the perfume
world. I’ve met a lot of women and heard a lot of stories — from the mom who
got her daughter’s beautiful, kinky curls blowdried biweekly because the kids
at her private school made fun of her texture, to the housewife who surgically
lifted the folds above her knees (and a few other things) after she discovered
her husband was having an affair with his secretary. A lot of people point
fingers at these women, claiming they’re “vain.” A lot of men shake their heads
in confusion, saying they’ll never understand. They are my father, yelling at
my mother, refusing to get how hair color could cost $150, or how a face cream
could be as much money as a television.
That’s probably why I was so goddamn irked when I read Vanity Clause, the latest from T: The New York Times Style Magazine. In the piece, Andrew O’Hagan writes, “something
in masculine solidity is lost with the enforcement of beauty regimens…
[meaning] the suavity that comes as if by accident, without noticeable effort.
Simple as that.”
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