“You always look so pulled together. How do you do it?”
I’ve been doing a little project this semester on my instagram account, taking a picture of myself every day wearing a different dress to work. I did this in part because I wanted to wear all the dresses I have in my closet, but I also wanted to be body positive, also posting the size of the dress I was wearing (usually 14, L or XL), and if it had pockets.
Spoiler alert: most didn’t have pockets.
My kids are now on instagram, and I wanted to show my kids, too, that beauty comes in all shapes and sizes and styles. That one does not need to be perfectly lit, at the perfect angle, and have a “perfect” body to look and feel good. This is particularly important to me because my daughter is almost 12 and practices ballet and I want to inoculate her as much as I can from toxic body shaming.
The weather has changed, and so I have a few dresses left that I haven’t worn/documented, I want to be wearing pants and sweaters right now. But I’m still motivated to create different outfits every day, to have some fun with my wardrobe, to help me feel “pulled together.”
My ADHD makes me feel, most of the time, like I am not pulled together, but it also makes me an impulsive shopper. Being of average size according to population but not according to retailers makes me loyal to particular brands that I know fit me and look good on me (Universal Standard and Elie Tahari on super-sale), so I have a reliable stable of dresses. I also got obsessed with designer collaborations with mass-market retailers (like Target and Kohls), so I have a lot of really nice stuff that makes me feel good.
I also did a massive purge of the clothes that no longer made me feel good, which helped.
I never, ever, ever really cared about clothes. My style was “swimmer chic” mixed with some grunge. Basically everything was too big and athletically inspired or plaid. I’ve also gained and lost weight so many times that clothes have long been a source of stress for me, punctuated every spring with a session where I would try on my pairs of shorts and cry because they no longer fit.
My daughter has ALWAYS cared about clothes. She has been choosing her own unique outfits, parading around in them, since she was old enough to do so. Looking through pictures of her on my phone, I find so many of her posing like she is in a fashion magazine, which mystified me; I don’t buy fashion magazines, and this was before she was online and consuming most of her media from YouTube. No, she came out a fashionista, at one point even aspiring to be a designer.
She has also been a consumer of makeup. When you start dancing at age 5, you learn quickly about makeup. I had to learn quickly about makeup. I never bothered with makeup growing up because of swimming; why would I spend any time doing my makeup when I was getting right back in the water? Also, swimming makes your skin super-dry, and leaves nasty goggle marks under your eyes.
I have also always looked younger than I am. Even in college, wearing makeup would lead me to get carded because I looked like a 15-year-old trying to look like I was 18 by wearing makeup. I felt like a Barbie doll, or like a little girl who got into her mother’s makeup. It just wasn’t me.
When it came time to put makeup on my daughter, I had to go out and buy what was needed, and re-learn how to use it. My daughter, on the other hand, has become a pro in the meantime. She has watched YouTube tutorials, practiced with her friends, and even practiced on me. Her favorite thing to do is to do my makeup for me.
So, in the spirit of the 2018 purge, of books, of clothes, of all the things I didn’t need anymore, I also got rid of all of the random makeup I had collected over the years from promotions, free-with-purchase, or just impulse buys. If I was going to participate with my daughter in something she enjoyed, then I was going to do it right.
Well, at least right for me.
My daughter and I don’t share a lot in common, in terms of shared interest. My son and I share swimming and watching hockey. My son, daughter, and I watch So You Think You Can Dance together, with both kids having sneaked out of bed to watch it with me when they were old enough. Now I just let them stay up. But fashion and makeup and ballet? Never really been my thing. But it’s important to me that my daughter and I can have shared experiences and shared interests to talk about, so I started caring more about my clothes and makeup.
I am more purposeful, now, in terms of what I wear and my makeup. It’s a little time for me in the morning before the stress of the day wears me down. The kids are old enough now that I can just remind them to eat and make their lunches, rather than supervising them. Getting dressed and doing my makeup has become an act of calm self-care, a brief moment for me.
I like sharing new eyeshadow pallets with my daughter when I get them, playing with shades and blending and brushes. I like it when she tells me I did a good job on my makeup, and I even enjoy it when she turns her nose up and tell me that maybe I should clean my face and try again. She does it as kindly as a tween can, but also from a place of love, where she just wants to help me. I am modeling how she can receive loving criticism in the meantime while she supervises the re-application.
I never thought I would become a person who cared as much as I do about what I wear and how I look, enhancing it with makeup. There are part of the way I look that I still don’t care about, at least not as much; I only get my hair cut twice a year, corresponding with whatever major special event happens to fall during that period (lately, summer weddings and Christmas parties). I don’t shave my legs. I have no desire to learn how to contour my face (that seems REALLY labor intensive).
If I appear more pulled together now, more so than ever before, it’s because I have someone in my life for whom being pulled together for is a way to connect. But I also want to show my kids that they can be themselves and beautiful on their own terms. I don’t want to inspire them to be like me when they grow up; I want them to be inspired to be like themselves.