I Look Like My Mom When She Didn’t Like The Way She Looked

It took me a while to realize the effect my mother’s body image had on me. It took me even longer to realize the effect it had on her.
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Rachel
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It took me a while to realize the effect my mother’s body image had on me. It took me even longer to realize the effect it had on her.

Like a lot of women, my first memories of makeup involve my mother. I loved getting into her foundations and lipsticks and smearing them all over my face before slouching my eight-year-old body into her black slip, tying her pumps to my feet and clomping down the stairs with two fingers up on each hand, yelling “I’M POSH SPICE!”

My first memories of feeling insecure also involve my mother. I listened to my mom call herself “fat” as she applied mascara in the mirror. I poured over her dresses and pantyhose--signifiers of real womanhood--as she tugged at the rolls of her body and frowned.

She meant more to me in the world than anything, and I never heard her call herself beautiful.

It took me a while to realize the effect my mother’s body image had on me. It took me even longer to realize the effect it had on her. 

The coolest part of growing up, so far for me, has been recognizing myself in my parents, and recognizing my parents as people who began to raise me when they were not far from the age I am now.

My mother is, still, the world to me.

My adorable parents, and me- inside my mom’s belly!!

My adorable parents, and me--inside my mom’s belly!

She was born in Baltimore, Maryland, tied for fourth place with her twin sister in a family of eight siblings. She was an incredibly smart kid, though her birth name of Olga vonhartze Wagemann caused her to be the last in her class able to spell her own name. Big ups to Germany.

Her parents divorced when she was young, and she spent a lot of time going back and forth between them and various relatives. I tell you this because I need to share the fact that for a period of my mother’s young life, she lived among the carnival folk because my grandfather managed a traveling carnival. SHE IS SO COOL AND SUCH A WEIRDO.

She joined the army at age 20, fought cancer at 23, married my dad at 24 (just a couple months after meeting him!), and then popped me out at 25.

At age 49, my mother tells me over Thanksgiving dinner, “I look better now than I ever have.”

And that’s great to hear, because I look just like my mom.

Mommy and me. 1990.

Mommy and me, 1990.

I’ve been hearing, “You look JUST like your mother,” basically since I was able to understand words. This was really cool to hear when I was a kid, because my tweeny ears would hear it as, “You look like a grown woman!” and I could disassociate from my reality as a scrawny, metal-mouthed social reject.

As I grew older, though, the constant comparisons got kind of annoying. Like, can you just tell me how gorgeous I am without comparing to the woman who is responsible for approximately half of my genetic makeup? C’mon.

Teenagers are the worst, and I was the worst of the worst. I wanted nothing to do with my mom for a long time, and I tried hard to distance myself from her. I experimented with makeup, hair colors and style to make me look as little like her as possible.

Obviously, this didn’t work. I just had to share this face with her.

Mom’s high school senior photo. Look at that feathered hair! And her skin! Ugh!

Mom’s high school senior photo. Look at that feathered hair! And her skin!

It’s frustrating because my mom looks awesome always and uses next to zero beauty products. I, clearly, use way more than zero. Part of that is because nowadays I get paid to use said products, but part of it is because I’m really into that tingly way I feel after a good brainwashing.

I asked my mom about her lifelong skincare routine, but some of you might want to stop reading now, because it’s annoyingly simple. The woman’s never had a zit in her life but wonders how one might feel.

“When I was a kid, I used Phisoderm Face Wash for acne just because all my other friends did, even though I didn’t have any acne,” she told me.

I did that too, mom! But with this fancy tea-tree oil stuff my rich friend used, and not Phisoderm, which is still around!

My mom swears by Olay Complete All Day Moisturizer, which has an SPF of 15 in it. Most days, that’s all she wears. For “events” she’ll wear mascara, a black or brown liner and Chapstick.

Yep, definitely related. This was my mom way before she was my mom.

Yep, definitely related. This was my mom way before she was my mom.

Her simple routine has been this way for as long as I can remember. When I asked her about it, she told me, “Anything that takes longer than five minutes takes too long.”

The woman’s committed to efficiency. She’s also committed to drugstore brands. I’ve never seen her use something she didn’t pick up at CVS or Target. She told me she’s never felt a need to use anything more expensive, though her first memories of makeup involve a bright tube of pink lipstick from Avon and some Sweet Honesty perfume.

It’s cool to have my mom in the back of my mind when I’m feeling pressure to wear makeup or spend a lot of money on makeup. I do think some higher-end products are great, but my mom instilled a sense of practicality in me for which I’m super thankful. She looks great, and doesn’t spend a lot. It’s possible. 

Army mom, age 20.

Army mom, age 20.

There are a lot of bright sides to how much we look alike, too. I’ve inherited her skin (mostly) and hopefully I’ll age as gracefully as she has.

My mom (who I actually rarely call Mom because Olga is way more fun to say) credits the majority of her newfound self-confidence to a healthy diet and exercise. Once my sister and I were out of the house, she began to take her own health a lot more seriously. Six months ago, she started doing CrossFit and eating a paleo diet.

Mom attributes her physical change to CrossFit. (She went to one in Bel Air, MD.) I attribute it to her willpower and awesomeness.

Mom attributes her physical change to CrossFit. (She went to one in Bel Air, MD.) I attribute it to her willpower and awesomeness.

My mom’s experienced sort of a body image transformation, and it’s been amazing to witness. When she says she looks better now than ever before, her face glows. She smiles a lot more. She cooks her own food, which she NEVER did when I was a kid.

She knows she looks good. She calls herself beautiful.

We’re such happy gals.

We’re such happy gals.

It’s interesting to me that my mom underwent this mental shift at a time in my life I experienced something similar. Maybe we’re on the same wavelength, but in the past year I’ve learned to love the way I look, in a similar way. Seeing my mom so thrilled with herself has been extremely inspiring, and probably has a lot to do with my own thoughts.

So, it used to be kind of annoying hearing “You look just like your mom!” again and again. Olga, of course, laps it up like the protein shakes she drinks on the regular. I just nod along. I really don’t mind at all these days.

Our moms’ beauty routines influence us, and our moms’ self-esteem does as well. I’m so glad for everything my mom’s done for me. One year before I was born, the doctors told me she’d never be able to have kids; I’m glad she’s never been the type to take “no” for an answer. I’m glad she’s come so far in learning to love the way she looks. I’m glad she’s happy.

And I’m glad I look like her. 

Thanksgiving, 2013.

Thanksgiving, 2013. Photography shot with the Canon SL1.

OK, I showed you my mom. Now show me yours.