I have a huge family on both sides, which is awesome. There are 10 kids on my dad’s side and seven on my mom’s, so you can imagine what Christmas is like, what with children, grandchildren and extended family. You can also imagine why I’ve never brought a guy home--too many names to remember.
My mom, Kate, is one of five sisters: Cyndi, Debbie, Lisa and Brenda, AKA my aunties. My uncle Jeff married Jodi, who is practically one of the sisters since she’s been married to my uncle for so long. Besides Auntie Brenda, who lives in California, my mom and her sisters live close to each other and so I grew up with them, spending nights at their houses and hanging out with my cousins.
I love my mom and my aunties very much and have learned a lot from them. They’re strong, inspirational, beautiful women who have so much love for their friends and families, and I try to take cues from them in all parts of my life--not just beauty. But I’ve learned some pretty important stuff in that arena too!
LAUGHTER MAKES YOU PRETTY
When you get my family together, it’s a party. We like to sing, dance, do karaoke, have a couple drinks, play cards and eat Grandma Louann’s Special K bars. We spend summers floating on the lake on my uncle Scott’s pontoon boat and drinking Uncle Jeff’s Pontoon Punch.
Any gathering is guaranteed to be fun. My mom and aunties laugh all the time. They hug. They’re full of fun. They welcome new people into our family immediately; all of my friends who meet them love them. They look for the good in everyone.
Who cares about wrinkles around your eyes? Wrinkles around your eyes mean you smile often. The happiest people are the most beautiful, and the happiness my mom and aunts radiate is infectious. They’re beautiful outside, sure, but their open hearts make them even prettier to me.
CULTIVATE A “LOOK” AND STICK WITH IT
My aunties have definitely changed a bit over the years; as you can see by the photos, they were pretty into the big hair and blue eyeliner of the ‘80s and early ‘90s. They’ve changed their hair colors, but for the most part, their daily “looks” haven’t changed.
They have lovely skin they never coat with makeup. Their lashes are always just mascara’d enough. They’re as comfortable in their makeup as they are out of it.
When they get dressed up for a wedding, they always look like themselves, just enhanced a bit with eyeliner and lipstick. I have to remind myself of this, because I have a tendency to pile on the makeup for an important occasion.
“Mom [Auntie Jodi] was always against us wearing foundation. To this day, I only wear Laura Mercier tinted moisturizer and so does my sister. It feels unnatural to put anything more on my face,” says my cousin Sarah, who has beautiful, creamy skin like the women in our family. (I wasn’t so lucky in this genetic lottery.)
My Auntie Jodi is big on routine. She blow-dries her hair every day, then sits down and trims her lashes. You heard that right: she trims her eyelashes. She’s part Lebanese and has long, dark lashes and doesn’t like how curly they get when they’re long. She trims them and coats them with Maybelline Great Lash.
You may not like this, but my mama and aunties like to be tan. They’ve always been tan; my mom said a stint hoeing sugar beets in a field as teenagers darkened their skin so much it’s been basically permanent since then.
I have fond memories of them “laying out” on my grandma’s deck, coated in tanning oil. I am also into tanning outside (no beds!), and believe me when I say that my aunts’ favorite product, Maui Babe Browning Lotion, is the best. When I first noticed it at Ulta, I was like, “Wait a minute! My aunts have been ordering this online for years!” It gets you deeply, deeply tan, just like magic.
I GOT IT FROM MY MAMA
My mother is the single biggest beauty influence on me and always has been.
As a little girl, I was always so interested in her products: the Victoria Jackson makeup palettes, the triangular bottle of Liz Claiborne perfume, the pink and red nail polishes, the frosty lipsticks in silver Clinique tubes. She encouraged my interest in makeup, taking me to the Clinique counter when I was ready to start wearing makeup every day, and let me choose a few good products to get me through my teens.
Now that I’m older, my mom and I share products. I introduced her to NARS. She introduced me to Chanel No. 5. When I read about a product she’d like, I tell her right away. She raids my lipstick drawer (and my closet) when she visits. We share Sephora points. We don’t always agree on everything--namely the changing colors of my hair--but we bond over beauty products.
Mom and I are very, very loyal to Lancôme mascara. There’s simply nothing better. Trust me, I’ve been wearing drugstore mascara for a few weeks since I dropped my Lancôme in the toilet and can’t afford to replace it at the moment--it does not cut it. Lancôme mascara, particularly Hypnose Drama, makes my lashes long, dark, and perfectly curled. It lasts all day. Mom and I have tried tons of other brands, but we always come back to Lancôme.
BE A LITTLE GLAMOROUS
I can’t write about the women in my mom’s family unless I mention my glamorous Grandma Louann. She raised seven kids and still always looked gorgeous.
She still does; she gets her hair colored a lovely chestnut shade and her nails are always painted. She gets dressed for the occasion. She’s retired now, though she stays incredibly active. I think she’s busier than me! But she’s never too busy to put on lipstick.
FIND BEAUTY IN EVERYTHING
My mom’s oldest sister, Cyndi, taught me about beauty. She took care of me when I was small and my mom was at work, and I always, even as an adult, felt like her special little girl. She taught me to see the beauty in everything, from a stray cat lounging in the sun to the flowers growing on her deck.
My auntie Cyndi died from lung cancer a few years ago and it is a loss I still feel acutely. She was the most fun-loving, sweet soul I’ve ever known, and when I close my eyes I can still see her hands, covered in the turquoise rings and bracelets she collected, nails painted a terracotta orange.
Even though she had lost her hair due to chemo and was in constant pain, Auntie Cyndi stayed positive. She found the light in everything. Her capacity for joy never wavered. I miss her every day.
Auntie Cyndi’s battle with cancer means I don’t smoke. I would be lying if I said I hadn’t smoked a handful of cigarettes in my life, but I do not smoke. My mom and a few of her sisters smoked for many years, but they’ve quit too. I have a lot of friends who smoke, and I refuse to preach at them, but it’s really important to me that they quit. I lost the most beautiful person I ever knew to smoking, and I’d hate for that to happen to anyone else.
I’m really lucky to have landed in such a supporting, nurturing family. I’m proud to consider myself a Neil woman, because each of them are beautiful inside and out. I know that’s cheesy, but it’s true.
Do you have inspirational women in your family? I want to see pictures of them. Show me your grandmas! Show me your aunties! ARE you one of my aunties? I know you guys read these!