Performing Beauty (Or Not)

My complicated relationship to the feminine.

| Winter 2018

  • What I want to tell her is that no action is required of her to be worthy of love—mine or anyone else’s. What I want to tell her is that what she sees in the mirror is not a problem to be solved.
    Photo courtesy of Adobestock / Digital Skilleti

They catch my eye as I walk into the drugstore: the little bottles of polish, vials of liquid, and tubes filled with cream.

But it is with shame that I navigated this vast pharmacopoeia that promises to solve the problem of being and aging, human woman–because this is the problem I have so consistently failed to solve.

When I was growing up, my mother didn’t shave or wear much makeup. She grudgingly taught me how to use a razor when I entered junior high and we both realized it was expected of me.

On the few occasions when she did wear makeup, she offered an explanation that sounded more like an excuse. Her lips and lashes, she said, were losing their color as she aged. I think now about her lips, made rosy by gloss, and I feel a tug, a sense that I am supposed to be doing something about the fact that I am growing older. Some action seems to be required.

I have tried to perform what seemed to be expected of me. I have bought the things in the drugstore that promised to help solve my problems. I have put on lipstick and worn high heels. I have painted my nails and had my eyebrows waxed. I have tried, and failed, to fight stubborn belly fat.

When my daughter was born six years ago, I discovered that I had no time, energy, or interest to cling to the last few tethers holding me to conventional womanhood–things like wearing makeup and shaving. Six years on, I can see what is left after letting go of all these things. I do not know what to call it, but I know that feel deeply, irrevocably myself.

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