A couple of weeks ago, I came up with the idea to write about Southern Women as beauty inspiration. I jotted it down along with a few notes and fell asleep contentedly snug in my bed with visions of Dolly Parton dancing in my head.
Unlike every essay I ever wrote in college, for this piece I decided to do some “research.” I’ve lived in Mississippi for five years now, so I’ve seen my fair share of Southern Women (the capital letters are important to me), but I wanted to talk to them about beauty. I wanted to know, do Southern Women know what I mean when I say "Southern Women"? I wanted to know about their skincare and makeup routines, and I wanted to know firsthand.
So I took a weekend trip to Macon, Mississippi, a town of about 2,000 people. My boyfriend’s family has ties to some beautiful old homes there, and we often visit. Upon arrival Saturday morning, I was greeted by the home’s towering white columns, a militant onslaught of chiggers, and four beautiful Southern Women sitting around a kitchen table preparing lunches for the men (and women!) working outside in the over one-hundred-degree heat to repair a worn-down picket fence.
I brought up the article I had planned: “I want to write about the way Southern Women look, and how they get that look.” The four women mused together, emitting a synchronized and obliging “Hmmm.”
Judy spoke up first: “Well, there’s our skin.”
“Yes, we are known for our skin,” replied Carol.
I asked, “Do you think it’s the humidity? It keeps the wrinkles at bay?”
“Oh, I don’t know about that,” Ann said, with a chuckle.
We delved into a discussion of beauty routines, skincare regimens, what our mothers looked like, their daughters’ upcoming weddings, how particularly mild this summer was, the proper amount of pimiento cheese to put on a sandwich (hint: more than you think), sunscreen, and who’s still alive in this part of town and who isn’t.
Looking around, I noticed these women weren’t wearing any makeup at all. And why would they? These women, all married, divorced or widowed, had come here to work and to gossip and to spend time together. The Southern Woman in my mind, dolled up and cake-faced just to go for a jog, was not at this table with me. In fact, I don’t even know that Southern Woman.
And so, a newer (and I think, better) article was born. An article in which I both debunk stereotypes and in which I pay homage to these women. The Southern Women I know aren’t Steel Magnolias, except in the way they care for each other, their undying support for their fellow woman, their sense of humor, and their belief in the grandeur, history and promise of the place they call home.
But don’t get me wrong: Southern Women know how to look good. You have never seen “done up” until you’ve seen a Southern Woman giving it her all, or even her half.
The South has a bad rep, and I’m not here to repudiate most of the reasons for this. But there are a few things I’d like to address.
Southern Women are not simple, and they are especially not dumb. To be born a Southern Woman means to be born into a prolonged and stormy history. A Southern Woman’s narrative is preempted. A Southern Woman rebuts the mistakes, both egregious and heinous, of those who came before. A Southern Woman is not simple. And so how could her makeup routine be?
Like I said, I don’t want to be Dolly Parton. (In this article, I mean. Most days, I do desperately want to be Dolly.) Instead, I want to recreate a look that is both timeless and trendy, both complicated and simple, both natural and manufactured.
The goal of this look is straightforward: look pretty. Nothing too crazy or avant-garde. The best part of this look is we are only using products from the drugstore. There are barely any higher-end stores, like Sephora or Ulta, in the Deep South, especially for small country towns like Macon. Also, the South and I are very broke.
A Southern Woman is practical, and she knows there no need to go spending all her money on fancy makeup when this stuff right here will do just fine. Plus, it’s a small town! She graduated high school with John, who owns the drugstore and oh! That’s Jenny working the register! I remember when she was in Sunday school! My goodness, how time flies.
Like Carol said, the skin is the first thing that comes to my mind when I think of Southern Women. The humidity, while it ruins our clothes and preoccupies 2/3 of the calendar year, does wonders for skin.
Southern women have gorgeous glowing complexions. To recreate this look, I used two products. For three nights before heading to Macon, I used Garnier’s Skin Renew Dark Spot Treatment Mask. I love the way it makes my skin feel, and I feel it helps create that “glow” I mentioned.
At night and in the mornings, I use a small amount of L’Oreal’s Collagen Moisture Filler. I always put this on before applying any makeup to my skin, and on days I don’t wear makeup, I still make sure to use this. I’ve been using it for about two months, and I’ve seen my skin grow healthier and more even and glowing.
I then applied CoverGirl’s Clean Whipped Crème Foundation with a combination of my fingers and Studio 35’s Beauty Blender Brush. The foundation goes on so smooth and evenly. I used a shade lighter than I typically use, so it would look like I’ve spent my life under the brim of a large straw hat.
Then I covered my entire face and neck lightly with Revlon’s PhotoReady Powder in Light/Fair, followed by a light dusting of e.l.f.’s High Definition Powder. After all of that, I went back and added some more blush. For good measure.
For my eyes, I wanted to make them look bigger and emphasize them without getting cartoonish. I wanted to look like I was wearing makeup, but not like I didn’t know how makeup worked.
I started by covering my lids with Wet n Wild’s Eyeshadow Primer. I then whipped out Revlon Colorstay 16 Hour Eye Shadow Ombre palette in Siren. I covered my whole lid with shade #1, a metallic gray and lilac shade.
Then, I worked a bit of shade #4 into the crease. It’s a soft dark gray, with hints of deep purple.
Then I used Jordana’s Fabuliner Liquid Eyeliner to line my top lashes with a thin line of black. Stick with a simple line, rather than a cat eye or anything too thick. You want your makeup to make everyone look at your face, but not at what’s going on on your face.
In an effort to let my eyeliner settle and also to cool my face (this house is VERY old and it was a hundred degrees), I sat in front of a fan for a minute. This is an essential and important part of every Southern Woman’s beauty process.
I finished off my eyes with Maybelline’s The Falsies Mascara. This is my favorite drugstore mascara of all time, and I’ve repurchased it about four times. I curled my eyelashes for 30 seconds each and then blinked a thousand times.
I wanted my lips to look smooth, glossy and polished. That morning, I used e.l.f.’s Lip Exfoliator and a good amount of Burt’s Bees Beeswax Lip Balm, which had set in quite nicely by the time I was ready to put lipstick on.
I needed to do something about this hair. A lot of jokes have been made about Southern Women and their hair, and for the most part, it’s true. Their hair is big, often in an effort to get closer to God. What people forget is that we live in the most humid part of the country, and big hair is just a side effect. I can’t leave my house without my hair inflating like an air mattress, no matter what I do. So Southern Women work with what they’ve got.
“Oh, this weather makes my hair quite large. No bother, I’ll just make that my thing from now on.” Southern Women are crafty like that. Remember Scarlett and the curtains? Genius. Indeed a Pinterester WAY ahead of her time.
I wear my hair shorter than the Southern Woman look I’m going for, so I went for an updo. To achieve more volume, I walked outside on the porch. (See above.) I then hit up my roots with a hairdryer for a minute and hairsprayed the undersides of my hair with Aqua Net Super Hold.
Then, I used a small teasing comb to tease pieces of hair around the top and back of my head.
Then I grabbed all my hair, pulled it back, and twisted it into some form a French twist. I pinned everything up and under the twist in the back of my head, and then pushed my fingers under everything on top to give it more height. More Aqua Net.
Then, I added this beautiful gold-jeweled hair comb I found in the bathroom at this house.
I then cascaded down the huge antebellum house central staircase in all my Scarlett O’Hara glory, and walked out the front door to show everyone how good I looked.
The focus of the look is to look beautiful. I don’t know if it was the house or the makeup, but I felt great in this look. I think it’s how good my skin looked. I love a heavy blush.
Like I said, though, Southern Women take care of their skin. If you want to emulate this look, be sure to wear sunscreen AND a hat, even if you’re just sitting on the porch in your rocking chair drinking sweet tea.
Since moving to Mississippi at the age of 18, I’ve fallen in love with a few men. But it’s the Southern Women who have my heart forever. They’re not perfect, but the ones I have grown close to are kind, gentle, strong and smart. And beautiful. Just as much as I wish more people in the South were open-minded, I wish more people outside the South wouldn’t be so quick to judge us. If you’ve met a Southern Woman, you understand. And if you haven’t, well, bless your heart.