There is no preamble, no set-up. She simply looks at me and says:
“Mom? Why don’t you ever wear make-up?”
And I look back at her, and pause. And ponder. What do I say? It has been years—not decades, but more than a decade, more—since I’ve thought about my always-naked face. What does she need to know? What does she want to know? Should I tell her that I’m too practical-busy-lazy, that when one naps in the middle of the day with babies and toddlers, one doesn’t want to smear mascara-eye-shadow-foundation on pillows? Sort of true, maybe, except I don’t think that’s quite how it happened.
I can’t quite remember when or why I chose a naked face. Or if it was even a choice…
I could tell her it’s because I exercise in the middle of the day and I love that clean up involves nothing but the quickest of showers, a wipe with a towel.
I could tell her it’s an aesthetic thing and choice and preference, one devoid of any merit, because most of the women in her life dress their faces, and I love them, she loves them, and I want her to honour their choice. And, in a couple of years, she will long for mascara and eye-liner and blush and all those things—I wallpapered my face enthusiastically as a teenager too—and I don’t want her to, ever, think that I’m judging her, denigrating her preference of the moment.
If she was older, I might tell her that in my experience lovers always prefer the taste of naked skin to the taste of cosmetics… but no, not now, I won’t tell her that.
I could tell her I like my skin. My eyes. My lips. Just the way they are. And I like to smear on lipstick for special occasions, sure, but it gets on wine glasses and her daddy’s shirts and… TMI. Stop.
I could tell her… oh, so much. Too much. I’m an anthropologist by training, after all, and I know too much about the “why” theories for most of humanity’s quaint customs.
I don’t know what to tell her, because she’s an almost-pre-teen girl in a sick culture that warps beauty and body image and aesthetics and personal choice and turns everything into a weapon, a war, a conflict, an assault on her own sense of beauty and self and joy, and oh, why-does-raising-a-daughter-have-to-be-so-fucking-hard and oh, why-do-I-always-overthink-everything, why-can’t-I-just-say, “Because I don’t want to” and be done with it?
I should tell her… what? What the hell should I tell her?
But then, she answers herself:
“Is it because it wouldn’t be fair to the other moms? Because you’re so beautiful already?”
Flora, my most beloved child, I’ve said before I know I’m not supposed to have a favourite… but at moments like this… it’s really hard for your brothers to compete with you.
I wrap my arms around her. Press my naked face against her naked face. Kiss her. Love her. And she says:
“We’re so lucky we’re so beautiful, aren’t we?”
Flora, my most beloved. We are. You are. Hold on to this feeling as you grow.
N.B. I wrote this post before Avital Norman Nathman of The Mamafesto brought the #365FeministSelfie project, masterminded by Veronica Arreola from Viva La Feminista, to my attention. Naked face, painted face, happy face, sad face, angry face–REAL face. Real people. An aesthetic of the real, as seen-captured by the subject, without a mediating eye. That’s power. And also… play, joy. I’ve been in since Day 2. Come celebrate the reality of you with me, on Twitter or Instagram with #365FeministSelfie–or, you know what? Privately. Just for yourself. There’s power in that too.
The photos, Week 1. Do I love them? One of them is awesome. Two of them make me cringe. All of them are me.