I always had a very basic makeup regime. I covered my under-eye circles, because I look cadaverous otherwise. I swiped on some black eyeliner. I spread some bronzer over my nose to make me look less vampire-pale. And that’s it. All of this took less time than straightening my hair, which I did religiously.
And when I became a stay-at-home mom, this didn’t change.
I was a lot of things back then, newborn in tow, but I never thought of myself as sexy. Sexy meant girls who rocked leopard-print heels and possessed a kind of mystical makeup knowledge. Wide black lines rimmed their eyes; they pouted red lipstick.
My makeup knowledge was merely passable, like my wardrobe: black shirt, jeans, flip-flops or Birkenstocks. And while I never felt sexy, I also didn’t feel ugly. I believed my small swipes of makeup showed I cared; it kept me from looking and feeling like “someone’s mom.”
Not that there’s anything wrong with looking like someone’s mom. With a baby tied to my back and two kids in tow, I look like someone’s mom no matter what I’m wearing. But everyone knows the stereotypical “mom.” She rocks high-waisted, tapered jeans with white sneakers. She long ago got the “mom cut,” and she never, ever wears makeup.
There’s the other stereotypical mom, of course. Like her white-sneakered counterpart, she doesn’t care. This mom wears black yoga pants (probably stained); her face shines grease. Her hair’s pulled back into a smart ponytail, which may be gathered into a messy bun. This mom doesn’t wear makeup either.
As much as I hate it, that’s the stereotype of us stay-at-home moms: we don’t wear makeup. Or if we wear it, we wear it sparingly, and badly. Think shaky eyeliner, bad blush jobs. Now, I wasn’t blowing up the runway with my bad attempts at eyeliner, but I’ll admit I felt heads above that stereotypical mom image. Three kids, and I managed bronzer. I looked in the mirror before my kids’ playdates and felt, if not hot, then wholesome. I didn’t look like a “mom.” I didn’t know quite what I looked like, but it wasn’t that.
Until I found the wrinkles.
After baby number three, a particularly stressful pregnancy, I developed minuscule under-eye wrinkles. Minuscule, but visible. I freaked out. I was getting old; the spidery lines under my eyes reminded me of my grandmother. It’s not until then that I got serious about skincare.
Potions were purchased. I daubed. I tapped. I rubbed. I found something to make the wrinkles look invisible. By then I’d developed an arsenal of skincare, including oils, fillers, moisturizers, and removers. These products confused my husband, who maintained I looked beautiful. But I didn’t want to look like someone’s mom, and nothing says someone’s mom like wrinkles.
Those products restored me to normal. My basic makeup routine stayed the same, and the wrinkles had disappeared, thanks to the miracles of modern skincare. I was back to my old non-mom self. And mostly, I felt okay.
But I kept sneaking glances at Those Girls. The ones with the thick black lines around their eyes; the ones who had blush and knew how to use it. The ones with eyeshadow. I wanted eyeshadow. I could learn how to use it, I thought. I could do it. I was chasing three boys 24/7 and damn it, I wanted to care more about myself.
So I walked into That Makeup Store about a year ago. I bought a few things, nothing fancy: better under-eye coverage, an eyeshadow palette, and liquid liner. With these few things, I started experimenting. I swiped bronzer over my nose, eschewed mascara, and used one color of eyeshadow at a time. I drew liquid liner halfway around my eye, to the pupil, because I’d read somewhere that you were supposed to do that. I plucked my brows. I felt immensely accomplished; I looked better, and that felt good.
I started doing this every morning.
My eyes looked bigger, and the circles nearly disappeared. I discovered that I couldn’t use liquid liner with a baby tied to my back, but my makeup still didn’t take that long. I felt better about myself: someone who cared enough to actually go to a makeup store; someone who made an effort, despite her three boys.
I bought another makeup palette or two. I learned about zones and blending, and started rocking more than one color at the same time. I traded in those sponges-on-a-stick for my own brushes. While no one but my kids and their dumped-out dinosaurs strewn across the playroom would see my masterpiece on any given day, I didn’t care. Even if I didn’t leave the house, knowing I had put stock in my appearance made me feel better.
Then I watched a YouTube video on contouring. I had the basic stuff, though I’m so pale, I had to use white eyeshadow as a highlighter. I put on my kids’ favorite TV show and decided to try it out. I low-lighted. I highlighted. Then I blended it all together with some powder.
I looked airbrushed. Hollywood. I applied the rest of my makeup, which I’d gotten better at. No one would see it, at least until my husband came home. No one would remark upon it. But it didn’t matter.
This makeup was for me.
I could do this. I could make myself look good. I hadn’t lost some vital part of myself, of my sexuality, when I had my three boys. So I kept learning, and kept buying. I tightlined. I experimented with lipstick. I made myself up. I look, somehow, the way I always looked in my head. The way I always wanted to look. My kids don’t stand in the way of that.
Yes, it takes me some time in the morning. These are my makeup moments of zen, my time for myself, a separate peace from my children. I might have to charge out of the bathroom and breakup arguments while half-contoured, or try to tightline with a toddler on my hip (not recommended). I may need an extra 20 minutes to get ready. But it’s worth every second of time, and every cent of my money.
I’m not just a mom, the makeup says. I’m a woman. And I finally feel like it.More On