I braced myself for the beauty industry.
I’d just gotten a social media job doing work for a major hair brand. I figured that since this was a behind-the-keyboard position, I’d be exempt from the brunt of superficial scrutiny.
But I prepared anyway. Took stock of my insecurities, processed, and packaged affirmations.
My split ends -– I’ve been too poor to afford a haircut and the friend that usually does it is busy in Romania being a badass. What can you do?
My weight -– No amount of lbs can take away my facial symmetry and stupid-long eyelashes.
My acne –- This is a result of extreme neurosis and obsession…and…that jives with my ‘brand?’ I’m pulling this out of my ass.
My mom -– huh?
What the hell does my mom have to do with this industry?
And while I found my co-workers to be incredibly sweet and well-intentioned, I can’t tell you how many conversations managed to steer back to their glamorous mothers and the fantastic products they just texted about. French shit that always seemed to start with an “L.”
I would stay quiet and get that hot-in-cheeks feeling.
My mother isn’t my “style icon.” She’s lived in an Arby’s uniform my whole life. I grew up thinking that Target was where you went to get nice clothes. Because it wasn’t Wal-Mart. The place where our whole family bought work pants. Black denim. It hid the grease. For my mother, an investment piece was a pair of non-slip shoes.
I worked alongside her since I was legally able to age 22 and I can’t fault her rejection of makeup and products. SF-77 Cleaner will destroy skin and there’s no real point using a nice lotion with all the mandatory hand-washing. Likewise if you’re a closer and have to do dishes, there’s no hope for a manicure. And finding a foundation that’ll survive the greasy air that wafts off the frialators? Good luck.
For my mother, luxury and glamour were something entirely removed from our lives. They were things that existed purely on E! or Bravo which is the only reason why she knows about Herve Leger and Christian Louboutin. Every night after our respective Arby’s shifts, she’d crack open a Bud Light and scoff at these women who spent their days getting massages and "working" on their hand bag lines. I would sit on an opposite couch doing my nails, clay face masque on, wondering how the hell you get hair as pretty as Gretchen Rossi’s.
I started to really hate women that grew up with sexy moms. And I’m not even talking about sexy in the obvious, surface sense. I’m talking about moms that followed their passions. That started business. That got sexy sexy diplomas.
That was the ugliest part of it for me. The last bit.
We’re sitting in the Campus Center at Smith College at a huge prospective students event. We’re at a table with several young women and their mothers. I’m pretty sure they were wearing cardigans. I was wearing one too. And each of them had the same story. “My grandmother went here.” “My mother went here.” “I went here.”
I got hot-in-the-cheeks.
They kept beaming with this pride that smelled like entitlement but god damnit I was jealous of it anyway. Jealous of these women in their designer sweaters and their plans to go shopping after the tours were over. Jealous of the fact that they felt just as comfortable in a lecture hall as they did a spa or any restaurant with valet parking.
They would be bonding. Not screaming at each other in the school’s parking lot because Mom really didn’t like this place and it’s so expensive.
It’s the ugliest form of jealousy. Coveting is ugly by nature. But my ungratefulness and total dismissal of my mother’s hard work is even uglier. And the fact that I think claiming it, owning it, writing about it is going to make it any less awful…that’s the ugliest part.
So I’m trying to resolve it with action.
A few months ago I met my mother and father in Las Vegas. They love Vegas. My parents have become best friends with a cocktail waitress at one of the hotels and she treats them to top shelf liquor and jokes about her bad back. It’s a place where my mom feels comfortable.
Drunk on Grey Goose, she was near tears talking about how many hours she works a week now and how the customers keep complaining about prices. Drunker on Crown Royal, I gave her maybe the second pep-talk we’ve ever exchanged. I told her she was still very young and hard-working and that at school I wrote a screenplay about us burning the store to the ground.
If mom-the-character can do it literally, mom-in-real life can do it metaphorically. I said she needed to start that catering business that she jokes about. I told her to look at Kathy from Jersey Housewives. My mom loves Kathy. She’s making it happen with her cannoli business. My mom laughed and said she’d look into it.
Then I dragged her ass to Sephora. Selfish, I know. But the one thing my mother would carry around at work was chapstick. I made her try out something my boss introduced me to -- Fresh Sugar’s Tinted Lip Treatment. Nothing French and unpronounceable there.
She liked it. A lot.
“If I buy this for you, will you use it?”
“Sure,” she dismissed.
“I’m serious. I want to buy this for you because I know you never will. You at least deserve some fancy lip balm.”
And now every time we call each other, she makes it a point to say that she uses “that lip stuff” everyday.
No, I do not have a stylish mother. And yes, I do often get that heat-in-the-cheeks feelings. In those moments, I try to remind myself that thousands of miles away, my mother is changing out of her Arby’s uniform. Digging into her pockets for the lip balm. Making sure it doesn’t go through the wash. She’s sitting on the couch. Feet propped up. Watching sweet Kathy with all her desserts and dreams.
It may not be the most glamorous scene. But it is beautiful.