My entire immediate family is insanely, unbearably well-groomed. I have a mom, a dad, and a little sister, and all three are blonde (fancy blonde with streaks from the salon), hairless, and perfectly polished. All three a flat iron, and all three do either home or salon waxing. You get the idea, right?
They’re all super-high-maintenance, and for a long time, I really resented them for it--especially my mother.
My mom always meant well when I was growing up (as all mothers do), but as her firstborn, I felt like she had very high expectations of me and who I’d become.
For example, when I was nine years old, we used to train together on this hike called the Grouse Grind, which is basically just sketchy stairs that literally go all the way up a mountain. Not only did we work extremely hard to beat our best times, we did it faster than most grown people ever could dream of, and without ever stopping once. My mom had the idea that stopping for water or snacks would slow us down and make us lose our momentum, so as we half-ran up the mountain, I’d take gulps of water from her camelback hose, stumbling and trying my best to keep up. She was a hard-ass all right, but her work paid off: I won the Grouse Grind race for my age category (under 15), beating all the girls and all but one boy.
It was fun and exciting as a kid, but that didn’t last.
As soon as I hit mid-high-school, the pressure became too much for me. I stopped everything I had worked so hard for--every sport--mostly because I felt I couldn’t be what I thought my parents wanted me to be: a fierce competitor who will stop at nothing to win. I dropped mountain biking, triathlons, running--all of it. I became a lazy teen who refused to even walk if I could avoid it.
The way I treated sports was also sort of the same way I treated grooming and beauty.
My mom has a very obvious signature beauty look. Her hair is always as blonde as possible, and usually shoulder length or a tiny bit longer. Her nails are usually naked, but if they’re painted, they’re a super-bright colour, and her toes always match.
Face-wise, she never wears anything on her skin, but sports a thick layer of black eyeliner on her top and bottom lash line, and always wears extremely bright MAC lipstick. So much, in fact, that she smells a bit like lipstick, and always has.
Because my mom has always loved bright, statement makeup so much, I think she assumed I’d love it when I was old enough, too.
When I was 13, she booked me an appointment at our local MAC counter and had a professional teach me how to do my makeup, then bought me most of the products the salesperson had mentioned (which, of course, was probably way more than she needed to).
For a while, I used the new items, excited to be using proper makeup for the first time, but as time went by, I started to rebel. I hated my mom’s dark eyeliner, her bright eyeshadow and “fun” lip colours. I started experimenting with wearing less makeup, and let my hair fade toward my natural dark blonde colour as the streaks and blonde dye grew out. I even put a purple panel into the back of my hair, and needless to say, my mom was not impressed.
At the time, I thought my mom was overbearing and mean when she asked me, “Are you sure you don’t want some lipstick or blush? You look so pale!” on the drive to school; she was just trying to look out for me in her way. When she was a teen, she wasn’t ever allowed to wear makeup even though she had wanted to, so I think she thought I was going to miss out on something like she once did.
My mom also met my dad (still her husband to this day) when she was 13, and never really had many friends, so attracting a mate was very high on her list of things that would make me happy in life. She wanted me to fall in love, to make lots of nice friends, and most of all, feel confident. For her, that always meant wearing bright lipsticks, but over time it became clear that, for me, it meant something different.
As the years went on, I became more comfortable with myself as I figured out my identity, and I became more and more comfortable experimenting with makeup. I left high school with platinum hair and a very minimal beauty look, went through a "baby dyke" phase in early university where I dyed my hair black with pink bangs and looked a little scary.
I dyed the black back to blonde, then grew the colour out and shaved have my head; and finally, I became comfortable being a queer girl who loves dresses and makeup, which is where you find me now.
I love lipstick, hair bows, bright blush, backcombing and curling, and all the rest of it, and the best part is it’s making me and my mom even closer.
These days, makeup and hair enters the conversation almost every time I talk to my mother on the phone. She lives in Vancouver, and I live in Toronto, so we don’t get to see each other very often anymore, but we make up for it with frequent, long phone calls and texting funny photos back and forth.
Whenever I carefully paint on a bright lipstick at the start of the day, or reach for a particularly cheerful shade of blush, I think of her, and instead of the disdain I once felt as a teen, I smile.
Maybe we’re not so different after all.