I Look Like My Mom When She Didn’t Like The Way She Looked

It took me a while to realize the effect my mother’s body image had on me. It took me even longer to realize the effect it had on her.
Publish date:
December 10, 2013
skin, makeup, self esteem, body image, family, mothers

Like a lot of
women, my first memories of makeup involve my mother. I loved getting into her
foundations and lipsticks and smearing them all over my face before slouching
my eight-year-old body into her black slip, tying her pumps to my feet and clomping
down the stairs with two fingers up on each hand, yelling “I’M POSH SPICE!”

My first
memories of feeling insecure also involve my mother. I listened to my mom call
herself “fat” as she applied mascara in the mirror. I poured over her dresses
and pantyhose--signifiers of real womanhood--as she tugged at the rolls of her
body and frowned.

She meant more
to me in the world than anything, and I never heard her call herself beautiful.

It took me a
while to realize the effect my mother’s body image had on me. It took me even
longer to realize the effect it had on her.

The coolest part of growing up, so
far for me, has been recognizing myself in my parents, and recognizing my
parents as people who began to raise me when they were not far from the age I
am now.

My mother is,
still, the world to me.

She was born in
Baltimore, Maryland, tied for fourth place with her twin sister in a family of eight
siblings. She was an incredibly smart kid, though her birth name of Olga
vonhartze Wagemann caused her to be the last in her class able to spell her
own name. Big ups to Germany.

Her parents
divorced when she was young, and she spent a lot of time going back and forth
between them and various relatives. I tell you this because I need to share the
fact that for a period of my mother’s young life, she lived among the carnival
folk because my grandfather managed a traveling carnival. SHE IS SO COOL AND

She joined the
army at age 20, fought cancer at 23, married my dad at 24 (just a couple months
after meeting him!), and then popped me out at 25.

At age 49, my mother tells me over Thanksgiving dinner, “I look better now than
I ever have.”

And that’s great
to hear, because I look just like my mom.

I’ve been
hearing, “You look JUST like your mother,” basically since I was able to
understand words. This was really
cool to hear when I was a kid, because my tweeny ears would hear it as, “You
look like a grown woman!” and I could disassociate from my reality as a
scrawny, metal-mouthed social reject.

As I grew older, though, the constant comparisons got kind of annoying. Like, can you just tell
me how gorgeous I am without comparing to the woman who is responsible for
approximately half of my genetic makeup? C’mon.

Teenagers are
the worst, and I was the worst of the worst. I wanted nothing to do with my mom
for a long time, and I tried hard to distance myself from her. I experimented
with makeup, hair colors and style to make me look as little like her as

Obviously, this didn’t work. I just had to share this face with her.

frustrating because my mom looks awesome always and uses next to zero beauty
products. I, clearly, use way more than zero. Part of that is because nowadays
I get paid to use said products, but part of it is because I’m really into that
tingly way I feel after a good brainwashing.

I asked my mom
about her lifelong skincare routine, but some of you might want to stop reading
now, because it’s annoyingly simple. The woman’s never had a zit in her life but wonders how one might feel.

“When I was a
kid, I used Phisoderm Face Wash for acne
just because all my other friends did, even though I didn’t have any acne,” she
told me.

I did that too,
mom! But with this fancy tea-tree oil stuff my rich friend used, and not
Phisoderm, which is still around!

My mom swears by
Olay Complete All Day Moisturizer, which has an SPF of 15 in it. Most days,
that’s all she wears. For “events” she’ll wear mascara, a black or brown liner
and Chapstick.

Her simple
routine has been this way for as long as I can remember. When I asked her about
it, she told me, “Anything that takes longer than five minutes takes too long.”

The woman’s
committed to efficiency. She’s also committed to drugstore brands. I’ve never
seen her use something she didn’t pick up at CVS or Target. She told me she’s
never felt a need to use anything more expensive, though her first memories of
makeup involve a bright tube of pink lipstick from Avon and some Sweet Honesty

It’s cool to
have my mom in the back of my mind when I’m feeling pressure to wear makeup or
spend a lot of money on makeup. I do think some higher-end products are great,
but my mom instilled a sense of practicality in me for which I’m super
thankful. She looks great, and doesn’t spend a lot. It’s possible.

There are a lot
of bright sides to how much we look alike, too. I’ve inherited her skin
(mostly) and hopefully I’ll age as gracefully as she has.

My mom (who I
actually rarely call Mom because Olga is way more fun to say) credits the
majority of her newfound self-confidence to a healthy diet and exercise. Once my
sister and I were out of the house, she began to take her own health a lot more
seriously. Six months ago, she started doing CrossFit and eating a paleo diet.

My mom’s
experienced sort of a body image transformation, and it’s been amazing to
witness. When she says she looks better now than ever before, her face glows.
She smiles a lot more. She cooks her own food, which she NEVER did when I was a

She knows she
looks good. She calls herself beautiful.

It’s interesting
to me that my mom underwent this mental shift at a time in my life I experienced
something similar. Maybe we’re on the same wavelength, but in the past year
I’ve learned to love the way I look, in a similar way. Seeing my mom so
thrilled with herself has been extremely inspiring, and probably has a lot to
do with my own thoughts.

So, it used to
be kind of annoying hearing “You look just like your mom!” again and again.
Olga, of course, laps it up like the protein shakes she drinks on the regular.
I just nod along. I really don’t mind at all these days.

Our moms’ beauty
routines influence us, and our moms’ self-esteem does as well. I’m so glad for
everything my mom’s done for me. One year before I was born, the doctors told
me she’d never be able to have kids; I’m glad she’s never been the type to take
“no” for an answer. I’m glad she’s come so far in learning to love the way she
looks. I’m glad she’s happy.

And I’m glad I
look like her.

OK, I showed
you my mom. Now show me yours.