The Daily Mask

As women, we are most likely masters of the mask. We wear one often, if not daily. Because, rare is the woman indeed who doesn’t alter her appearance in some way before stepping outside each morning.

Hair. Makeup. Perfume. Nails. The perfect outfit. To-die-for shoes.

Unless you’re walking around in a brown sack with hair wet from the nearest stream, you’re probably wearing a mask of some kind. I know not everyone dresses to the nines with all of the accouterments above, but we usually have our one thing.

And mine has always been makeup.


My mother has never worn a lot. She’s got beautiful skin, and when I was a girl, her makeup routine was almost exclusively liquid blush, under-eye concealer and mascara.

She didn’t wear foundation, powder, eyebrow pencil, etc. But my grandmother did. My father’s mother, my Grandma Jeanne, wore ALL of it. Liquid foundation, brow pencil, mascara, blush, lipstick, and finished everything off with that classic Coty Airspun Loose Powder.

Though Grandma Jeanne and my mother were on completely opposite ends of the makeup spectrum, I loved watching them “put on their faces.” I’d sit on the toilet seat and watch the magic happen. My mother would turn into a slightly more colorful version of herself, while Grandma Jeanne would basically become a whole new person.

I started wearing blush in fifth grade. I’ve always been very pale and was constantly concerned that I looked TOO pale. Which is dumb to be concerned about when you’re eleven, but I was obsessed with “making myself prettier.” I vividly remember stealing away at the grocery store when my parents were in other aisles, picking out a Cover Girl blush (Peaches n’ Cream, I believe) and then buying it with my hard-earned allowance, while pretending I was buying makeup for my mother—because that’s normal. I’m sure the cashier totally bought my ruse.

So, it started with blush. Then eye shadow. Then lipstick. Then pressed powder. By seventh grade, I was wearing so much that I had a double-decker Caboodle (remember those?) FULL of makeup. My dad called it “the command center” and he wasn’t wrong. It was ground zero for my makeup—my mask.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this “me” lately. Mostly because when I was at home recently on maternity leave, I didn’t drop it. Even if I wasn’t doing anything all day but partying with the baby and doing drop-off and pick-up of my son at school, I put it on. I didn’t put on much—basically my mom’s old routine of under-eye concealer, liquid blush and mascara—but I DID do it.

And I’m not sure why, other than the fact that I didn’t feel like me without it. Even though that same “me” has had a Facebook profile picture for nearly two years of myself SANS makeup in running gear. Sure, the sun is hitting my face just right to make it all glowy, and I have that “I’ve been running flush” but still…no makeup.

My friend Erin had a really smart post about this whole Catch-22 earlier this week. It was inspired by the fact that her young daughter told her: “You look beautiful but you should put make-up on and be more beautiful.”

That post—read it here—made me think about what I was going to tell my baby girl about why Mommy wears makeup. Obviously at six months I don’t need to worry that she notices it, but eventually I will. And what will I tell her? That I feel like myself with it on? That it’s my mask? That she doesn’t need it but Mommy always felt she did?

I have no idea.

But I do feel like I should let go of my “mask” more often—and make sure she sees me without it.

10 thoughts on “The Daily Mask”

  1. I think it’s only natural we have masks. For my teenage self (and sometimes now), it’s dressing like tough punk tomboy kid. Quite the opposite of your make-up-ing, but similar when you cut to the root of it. To be honest, I’m quite the opposite of a badass tomboy kid. I’m terrible at sports, I don’t like video games, I’m super weak, and I’m an introverted individual who prefers the companies of books and music. Yet for some reason I feel the need to express this “tough” exterior. I think it has to do with the type of media I took in as a young person. I’ve always admired “tough” women—women warriors, women leaders, women who could hold their own. And dressing like them is the closest way I can be like that.

    Great post.


  2. What a wonderful post, Sarah. Like you I remember my mother ‘putting on her face’ every morning. Full court press. I am not sure she even answered the phone without makeup, much less the door! Me, I’m a clean face woman. Only wear makeup to work. I think it’s because we live in Florida and I’m outdoors so much (running, swimming, etc.). Funny how we seem to go retrograde from our parents. Thank you for delightful memories.


  3. This is such an interesting post, Sarah! Like TK’s point about expression, too.

    I think makeup is great if people like it and unnecessary if people don’t like it. Think that the *choice* is what’s important. That’s my answer to most things, actually. 🙂

    (Also, Naomi Wolf’s THE BEAUTY MYTH is an interesting read.)


  4. I also agree with T.K.’s point about expression. We pick who we want to look like.

    I think I had the same blush. 🙂 My mother wouldn’t let me wear makeup until. 9th grade. Then, well, I went hog wild (it was the 80s – anybody else wear electric blue eyeshadow?). As an adult, I went through a long “I cannot leave the house without makeup” thing – even taking it on vacation. I think as a young mother, I looked so exhausted (to my eyes) that I needed the makeup to look “human.”

    Now? Well, if I’m going out-out (like to church or something), I wear light foundation, eyeliner and mascara. A little blush if I look pale. Lipstick is usually light gloss (often not even tinted). On days where there’s nothing “special” I skip the makeup entirely. The only days I do “full face” is the day job and a special event (such as going out to a play/concert and dinner with my husband).

    Oddly, my daughter wears very little makeup on most days. Eyeliner and mascara. When she wants to look a little polished, some eye shadow. She goes to an all-girls school and says, “why bother – who are you going to impress?” Yet she knows how to glam herself up. For her it’s fun, but too much work for every day.


  5. Interesting! I’m more like Mary’s daughter. Why bother? But when I’m teaching, standing up at the front of the class, I wouldn’t dream of being there without the basic make-up. As if it gives me a barrier between me and the students.


  6. It’s tough when the culture starts in on our children. I just saw a post about baby clothes. For the boy, it said “Super Star.” For the girl, “I hate my thighs.” I gave them a bad review on Amazon.


  7. I’m so glad we’re having a discussion about this! And, yes, I put on my makeup this morning. I sort of think there’s no wrong answer. We want to teach our daughters to do whatever makes them feel comfortable, right? I guess I just want to make sure mine doesn’t feel like she HAS to have it. Even if I felt that way.


  8. Also, T.K., you make a fabulous point. I know quite a few tough chicks who definitely wear that armor the same way. Again, it’s all about feeling comfortable, right?


  9. I enjoyed your post, Sarah. I never thought of makeup as a mask, but you are so right. I used to go to the gym in the morning sans makeup. I mean, why bother. But my neighbor, who also takes the same spin class, commented once when she saw me in the grocery story cleanup up and groomed. She said, “Wow! I didn’t recognize you; you’re so . . . beautiful.” Since then I apply a bit of makeup BEFORE my workout.


  10. Sarah, this is so true. I wasn’t allowed to wear makeup until I was in Junior High, so I used to sneak my older sister’s and put it on before first period. I still remember the day my parents picked me up and my mom saw me with that mint green eye shadow! But I loved it. Still do. I think, just like a uniform, it helps us feel like us and it’s a ritual that allows us to face what the day brings. And God forbid we run into any ex-boyfriends!


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