Scents, Gestures And Advice: The Bond Of Beauty Between Mother And Child

The beauty secrets and preferences that are passed from mother to child are just as resonant as tradition and family lore.
Publish date:
May 5, 2014
fragrances, nail polishes, family, mothers, Liz Claiborne, traditions, ChapStick, mother's day, children

Editor's Note: All this week leading up to Mother's Day (May 11), xoVain is focusing on moms and how they've influenced us beauty-wise. Because regardless of your mom situation (complicated, easy, nonexistent, BFF), we wouldn't be here without 'em.

You may not remember the exact date, but there was a day
that you realized that your mother was the most beautiful woman in the world.
At least, she was to you.

It started in
preschool. You drew her, one giant head and fingers like chicken feet, with fat
crayons on satisfyingly scratchy construction paper. You sat on her bed,
digging through her costume jewelry, her mother’s rhinestones, and imagined
what kinds of wonderful experiences would accompany adulthood. Maybe you tried
on her perfume or experimented with her makeup. By the time you’re ten, you
spend hours looking at her pictures from college and marveling at her kicky
fashion sense. You compliment her senior
portrait, telling her that she reminds you of Jackie Kennedy.

Of course, it started long before then, and for some of you,
the bond was with your father, or grandmother, or older sister, or with
whomever it was who cared for you when you were soft and helpless.

Long before
she let you try on her lipstick, she was tenderly bathing you and applying
lotions to your new, sensitive skin. She was trimming the tiny, papery
half-moons of your fingernails. She was touching you, holding you against her
heartbeat, imparting to you her scent, her comforting presence. The grooming
was part of the bonding, the vehicle of nurturance.

When you brought your own son home, you were focused on making
a secure attachment with him. You fell into a role that was at once alien and
familiar. You were driven by hormones and biology and ancient history. It was messy
and wonderful all at once. While you knew that your mother had cared for you in
this way, you didn’t realize the importance of such little gestures until you
practiced them yourself.

These days, you sit in the dark, singing bedtime songs to your
boy, and you can’t help but remember your mother coming into your room to kiss you
goodnight. Specifically, you remember her smell: Original ChapStick, cold
cream, a faint whiff of mint toothpaste, and faded Liz Claiborne perfume. You
wonder how your children will remember you, what your scent memory will be.

You catch him stealing lipstick out of your purse. His
favorite might be Maybelline Baby Lips in Grape Vine. He uses your blush brushes as make-believe
drumsticks. Some days he asks to use your hairbrush. You may be astonished by
his behavior, and you may become wistful for the days when he relied on you
to clean and dry him. He’s becoming independent and stubborn and curious right
before your eyes, and he wants to play with your “face tickler”--your Clarisonic.

Your mother laughingly reminds you that you once dabbled in
novice beauty experiments. Social learning fueled your adventures, too. You
wanted to play with the exotic creams and lotions that you associated with your
mother’s daily routine.

And who wouldn’t? You recall friends’ stories about
lipstick smeared into carpets, or children begging to have their nails painted
just like mommy’s. Children learn by
watching and reproducing what they observe in their environments, after all.

At some point, years after you stop playing with her
cosmetics and copying her gestures, you might ask your mother for real beauty
advice. She might recommend the same cold cream that you played with over 30
years ago. It’s the cleansing technique, she notes, of the grandmother that you
never got to know.

Your mother might stress the importance of moisturizing and
not over-plucking one’s eyebrows. She might say to you, “Stay away from
magnifying mirrors. They’re horrifying and you’ll only be tempted to pick. Or
over-pluck your eyebrows.” She prefers plumy shades of eyeshadow and lipstick,
you note.

Her advice is different, perhaps simpler, than the advice that other
women get from their mothers, but it is still valid. Your mother is not the
ex-beauty-queen mother of your best friend, but she is wise about beauty in a
different way. Clean. Basic. You appreciate it. This will be what you pass on
to your children, should they ever ask.

Perhaps you write a few articles for a beauty website. You
learn from the other women in that community. Perhaps your son, after watching
you take pictures for your articles, crashes a shot.

And insists on his own close-up.

That’s when you may realize that this child is attached to
you, and that he wants to be like you. He may very well be asking for advice
one day, beauty or otherwise.

cycle--attachment, modeling, advice-giving--continues with each
generation. Your mother patiently
trimming your nails gives way to you grooming your son’s fades into you wearing
the perfume that your grandmother gave to your mother turns into your
granddaughter one day reminiscing about how lovely your skin was, even when you
were in your eighties.

You may write for a site called xoVain, but beauty, the
concept of grooming oneself, is so much more than vanity. The bond that occurs when a mother cleans her
child is just as important as the bond that occurs when she feeds or dresses
him. The beauty secrets and preferences that are passed from mother to child
are just as resonant as tradition and family lore. The beauty you see in others
can run so deep, especially when you’re recalling the sound of your mother’s
laugh, or the way your child’s skin smells after a bath.

There’s a reason that
your mother is the most beautiful woman.