Last Friday I was getting ready for my riding lesson while Topher played with his Leappad in our bed. "You look pretty, Mommy!" he said, looking up just as I finished pulling my hair into a ponytail. I was wearing an ancient pair of breeches, boot socks that went up to my knees, and a ratty hoody. "Thanks, bud!" I said, dismissing the compliment as nothing more than Topher trying to be extra sweet so I would bring him to the barn with me. I didn't feel particularly pretty. Happy, yes - I love going to the barn! - but pretty? Not so much.
Later that evening - after the kids had been tucked into bed and I had had a rather luxurious shower to warm myself up - Nathan complimented me. "You look pretty!" he said when I joined him on the couch. Or maybe he said I smelled pretty? Either way - I immediately dismissed the compliment as nothing more than my husband being nice. I was wearing Christmas tree pajama pants and a tank top, with my hair in a braid and glasses instead of contacts. I didn't feel particularly pretty. Happy, yes - I was warm and clean! - but pretty? Not so much.
I've been thinking about beauty ever since, trying to remember the last time I felt pretty.
* * *
I was in my best friend’s wedding earlier this year. It was a fancy affair: She hired a professional hair stylist and a make-up artist for the day, and I spent almost half as much on my bridesmaid dress as I did for my own wedding dress. When she tagged me in pictures from the wedding that she had posted on Facebook I got dozens of likes within minutes. “You look amazing!” “You look beautiful!” “You’re so pretty!”
I was confused by the response. I don’t get those sorts of comments when I post regular pictures of myself, the everyday “mom” version of me in jeans and a t-shirt and glasses, with my hair pulled back in a ponytail. I don’t wear make-up on a regular basis and if my hair isn’t up it’s probably because my daughter has pulled the elastic out. So many people thought I was pretty at the wedding … Does that mean that I’m not pretty when I’m not all dolled up?
The thing is, I didn’t feel pretty that day. I felt sick. I had been fighting a stomach bug all week and hadn’t had anything to eat or drink all day. My dress was so tight that I couldn’t stand up straight for fear of ripping it, and I was so worried about the kids and how they would behave that apart from the pictures, I don’t think I smiled all day.
* * *
I’ve spent the past several months learning how to wear make-up. I’ve scoured Pinterest, I’ve watched YouTube videos, I’ve even watched make-over shows!
For my birthday my sister gave me money designated specifically for make-up, directing me to ask the experts at Sephora so I could learn how to apply it properly.
My new make-up kit is almost as big as my son’s backpack. It’s filled with moisturizer and toner and primers and concealers and foundation and blush and eye liners and eye shadow and lipstick and lip gloss and more tools and brushes than I can remember the proper use for.
I’ve been practicing, and I’m trying to wear make-up on a regular basis.
Friends and family and even other moms in the pick-up line at school compliment me on how I look now.
* * *
I like wearing make-up. I like the way I look, and I feel more comfortable facing the world without enormous dark circles under my eyes.
I have confidence.
But I’ve learned something more important than contouring techniques; something my husband and my five-year-old son – the two boys whose opinions mean more to me than anybody else’s - already knew:
The packaging doesn’t change who I am on the inside.
Audrey Hepburn put it best: "Happy girls are the prettiest."