Crackers, sippy cups, and picnic blankets in hand, about 10 first-time moms sat down in a circle and let our kids roam around in the sunshine, free at last after a long winter.
Among all the usual mom-talk about our kids’ milestones (“mine just started walking last week!” I shared), a comment from one mom stuck in my mind.
“We’re all doing pretty great at this mom stuff. We’re all wearing makeup and everything!”
We collectively patted ourselves on the back, agreeing that we are doing great. Most of the kids are right around a year old, so we’re all reflecting a lot these days about how much of our lives have changed in so little time.
But I smiled mischievously – I wasn’t wearing any makeup, not even a spartan dab of lip balm. I haven’t worn makeup regularly since leaving my full-time job at Christmas.
But I feel just as beautiful as before, if not more so. The secret for my postpartum beauty lies in the happiness I've found as a mom.
I feel fulfilled in my role as a mom, watching and helping my daughter get to know the world and her place in it.
Laughter infuses our everyday lives, and I'm grateful for the regular hugs and kisses I get to give and receive from my daughter.
Often she’ll be playing with her toys while I check my email and within a few minutes, she’ll come over and plop herself into my lap for a hug. Who can resist smiling when that happens?
A sense of purpose buoys my days – what could be more important than raising the next generation of thinkers to be confident, compassionate, and resilient?
Putting on makeup simply doesn’t factor into my daily priorities now. I’m definitely not about to use up precious nap-time minutes to attempt to reach what I feel is an unattainable beauty ideal, reached only through spending lots of money to get perfect skin, amped lips, smoky eyes, etc.
I have too much writing to do, bills to pay, sinks to scrub, and books to devour instead – my priorities are clear.
At the same time, every time I’m on a mission in the drugstore to pick up a few essentials, I see the lipstick and mascara as I buzz by, and I’m tempted to grab some to spice up my look. But I have quite a collection of barely-used lipsticks already, so I usually resist the urge. Yes, a bright new red might give me little confidence boost, but within a day or two, it will be forgotten at the bottom of the diaper bag.
Especially as a mother of a daughter, I feel self-conscious about what kinds of messages I’m sending directly and indirectly to her. I know she’s looking to me (not just at me) to learn what it means to be beautiful.
Being makeup free could mean that I don't care about my appearance, or that I have enough confidence in myself that I don't need the artificial enhancement makeup provides to step out everyday. Every once in awhile, yes, it's fun to wear, but I no longer feel that it's necessary to feel beautiful in everyday life.
Which interpretation will my daughter assume?
I hope her takeaway is that real beauty lies in confidence, self-assurance, poise – none of which can be acquired at a cosmetic counter. Like the late Maya Angelou wrote in her quintessential poem, Phenomenal Woman:
Pretty women wonder where my secret lies.
I’m not cute or built to suit a fashion model’s size
But when I start to tell them,
They think I’m telling lies.
It’s in the reach of my arms,
The span of my hips,
The stride of my step,
The curl of my lips.
I’m a woman
When you see me passing,
It ought to make you proud.
It’s in the click of my heels,
The bend of my hair,
the palm of my hand,
The need for my care.
’Cause I’m a woman
To me, this poem means that beauty is internal, not external. Ms. Angelou, as her poem states, labeled herself as “not cute or built to suit a fashion model’s size,” but because she knew she was a phenomenal woman, she was beautiful. That confidence made her shine, so her physical measurements didn't even factor into her self-worth.
If each mom, no matter how much or how little makeup she wears, would take a moment to affirm that she is phenomenal, it would be a step in the right direction toward gaining self-acceptance and peace. Our daughters are watching. We owe it to ourselves and to them to love ourselves as we are.
Before I became a mom, I had trouble thinking of myself as a grown woman. Like many of my generation, I didn’t feel settled, financially, professionally, or personally, so it felt strange when someone would call me “Mrs. Silva.” It sounded like they were talking about someone’s mom – someone I wasn’t yet.
But as soon as I got pregnant, it was like a switch flipped. I embraced my curves for the first time since hitting puberty. Throughout my pregnancy, I rubbed my belly affectionately, after so many years of hating how paunched it looked.
But then the pendulum swung back the other way once my daughter was born. My belly had become extra flabby from all the skin I acquired while she grew to a solid 8 pounds, and my breasts grew out of proportion with the rest of my body when I started nursing my daughter. I also shed a lot of the gorgeous, thick mane of hair that I had luxuriated in during my pregnancy - a sharp surprise to accompany new motherhood.
I felt a nagging feeling of self-doubt and criticized myself harshly. I eventually realized that I had been way too focused on external beauty, forgetting what actually makes me beautiful.
I had to remind myself of all the beautiful qualities of motherhood - perseverance, patience, strength, and more - that I have witnessed in myself in my short time as a mom.
No matter what state our bodies are in, no matter how much or how little makeup we have on, no matter how mismatched our outfit is, no matter how long it has been since we squeezed in a shower, mothers are always phenomenal women.
And when we do forget, because life gets in the way – remember Angelou’s poem, read it aloud, and affirm,
“… I’m a woman