Tag Archives: beauty

My Life As a Drab Queen: Thoughts on Makeup

I sat in my car a few minutes before 11 a.m. this morning and watched one of those wonderfully Athens scenes: on one side of Hancock Street, tidy white families hurried up the hill to the Methodist church service while on the other side of Hancock, two glamorous drag queens welcomed guests to brunch at The National. Jacqueline Daniels and Yasmine Alexander serve on the board of the Boybutante AIDS Foundation, which has raised over $800,000 for AIDS services in Northeast Georgia. My kind of people, plus brunch.

Yasmine Alexander and Jacqueline Daniels. Photo by Josh Payne for Boybutante AIDS Foundation.

Yasmine Alexander and Jacqueline Daniels. Photo by Josh Payne for Boybutante AIDS Foundation.

Even though I spent all day in bed with a stomach ache yesterday, I wasn’t about to miss brunch with Bryn and Jill. So I slapped on some stretchy clothes and put my hair in a pony tail…as usual. But as I sat there in the car, knowing that these queens had been painting up for HOURS to get ready for the show, I figured I could at least put in a teensy effort to look festive.

I reached in my purse and unzipped the makeup pocket. I’m surprised there weren’t cobwebs blocking the zipper. I haven’t worn makeup for months. I put on a little bit in the car on the way to Daddy’s memorial service, and when I turned around to speak to the kids, Carlos grinned in wonder and asked, “Mama, what you do to your face?”

I drew a narrow black line across my upper lids then skooshed the corners a bit with the tip of my finger. I considered the “Wine With Everything” lipstick but thought that might be a bit too steep of a leap, so I dug around in the bottom of the bag to find a Burt’s Bees with a little bordeaux tint to it. Two lines across my eyes and a swipe across the lips and I made my way down the sidewalk. There are drag queens…and then there are drab queens, like me.

Most of my rebellion against makeup is that I think it’s ridiculous that I have to draw lines above my eyes or color my lips to be considered “finished” or “dressed” in this world. In the words of writer Erin McKean:

You Don’t Have to Be Pretty. You don’t owe prettiness to anyone. Not to your boyfriend/spouse/partner, not to your co-workers, especially not to random men on the street. You don’t owe it to your mother, you don’t owe it to your children, you don’t owe it to civilization in general. Prettiness is not a rent you pay for occupying a space marked “female”.

I’m not saying that you SHOULDN’T be pretty if you want to. (You don’t owe UN-prettiness to feminism, in other words.) Pretty is pleasant, and fun, and satisfying, and makes people smile, often even at you.

But some of my disuse of makeup has come from seeking out invisibility. I’ve been depressed lately and my therapist has pointed out before that I recede into black clothes, pony tails, and blank face when I want to disappear. That’s my Drab Queen attire.

I don’t know if it was hanging out with drag queens, or with my friends, or the mimosas, but I got in a really good place this morning. Jill and I talked about writing, Bryn smooched everyone in the house. I clutched my pearls while Lacie Bruce proved that she’s got all the right junk in all the right places:

Lacie Bruce gettin' all about that bass. Photo by Josh Payne for Boybutante AIDS Foundation.

Lacie Bruce gettin’ all about that bass. Photo by Josh Payne for Boybutante AIDS Foundation.

Looking around that room, I realized that nobody there gave a shit about whether I painted my face or didn’t paint my face. Not my old friends, not the strangers, not the artists who had been painting for hours. Nobody cared whether I had more junk in the trunk than I did twenty years ago. People were there to enjoy themselves–having some fun for a great cause while Peter Dale served brunch. And all I had to do to participate was….participate.

After the show, we hung around on the sidewalk so the restaurant crew could prepare for the afternoon seating. We talked about 80s hair and Aqua Net. We talked about the vagaries of boobs and gravity. That led to talking about our grandmothers. The delightful Lori Divine told how her grandmother could roll a Virginia Slim’s 120 from one side of her mouth to the other as she painted on her blood red lipstick. Then Jacqueline said, “One thing I love about drag is the Coty powder. It reminds me of my grandmother.”

Oh. My. Goodness.

Just the other day, I was thinking about Grandmama Eunice and that little round cardboard box of Coty powder that she kept on the edge of the mantle in the dining room, right next to the makeup mirror and the good light from the tall window. She wouldn’t have left the house without her lipstick on straight and a little dusting of powder. I wanted to smell that powder again because that’s what she smelled like when I hugged her.

That moment on the sidewalk was beautiful, because of the makeup. I love how if you talk to anyone and tell stories long enough, there’s always that moment of connection. Where your story and my story cross paths and we learn that we have something in common, even if it’s the smell of our grandmothers’ face powder.

I might just draw two lines across my eyelids tomorrow in homage to these queens. I might be ready for the world to look at me again.

Yasmine, Bryn, Lori, me, Jacqueline, and Jill. Just gals hanging out and talking about makeup.

Yasmine, Bryn, Lori, me, Jacqueline, and Jill. Just gals hanging out and talking about makeup.

That Woman Inside the Mirror

What is it about hotel bathrooms?  They have MUCH better lighting than my bathroom at home, and more mirror angles.  I am quickly met with an image of myself that I don’t normally have to deal with. Last Wednesday, I checked in to my room at the Fairmont San Jose for BlogHer14 and discovered a serious design flaw–the full length mirror on the bathroom door and the shower stall line up perfectly if the door is left open.  I had to WATCH myself shower.  Good GOD.  I hung a towel over the glass shower door so I couldn’t make eye contact with myself while I was so exposed.

The next day, when I was getting dressed for the first day of the conference, I sat at the mirror over the dressing table.  My hands shook with anticipation and adrenaline as I powdered away the shine, lined my eyes with black creme, outlined my lips just so.  I scrunched my hair only to smoothe it out then scrunch it again.  I didn’t want to look like the fat old woman I saw in the mirror.  What would people think when they saw me?  Would they even bother with me if I looked…wrong?

That night, after an exciting day of meeting new people and sharing with them the beauy of my best self, my generous self, my abundant self, I returned to the room and that same bathroom mirror. This is the surprise I found:  a pink heart that told me “You are enough.”  I stood in the bathroom and cried.  That word I use so much–enough–isn’t a word I associate with mirrors.  But there it was-ENOUGH. 10549251_10203441253065033_2633416593343239598_o Friday was The Big Day.  The day I gussied up in my new dress to claim my place on stage as one of the Voice of the Year (VOTY) readers.  I skipped the afternoon sessions so I would have mirror time before rehearsal.  The mirror and I were on better terms, what with that pink heart up there still.  I scrunched the hair and left it that way.  Put on a little makeup.  Gold earrings.  The gold bracelet that Big Gay gave me. The necklace made from Richard’s wedding ring.  I thought about Spanx but decided to wear my authentic waistline.  I slipped into the green dress.  Once I finished dressing, I turned to that mirror and liked what I saw.  Facebook friends responded with lots of love and encouragement so I strutted down the street to the Convention Center.  Look at me, out in the world.  Not hiding in black and drab.


Wobbly Selfie in New Shoes

Things were going great between me and the woman in the mirror.  Until I got to rehearsal.

That’s when I met August MacLaughlin, novelist and award-winning health and sexuality blogger…and stunningly beautiful woman. One look at her and I felt an instant dislike for her.  Why?  Was she being bitchy?  Nope.  She was sitting there reading through her notes and fighting nerves, like we all were.  She joined in the small talk.  She laughed at the right moments, just like an actual human being.  She rose from the table and poured herself a plastic cup of water. But she was doing all of this while being everything I’ve always wanted to see in the mirror. Naturally, I didn’t want to be anywhere near her. Which pretty much guaranteed that when we were assigned our places backstage, she and I were seated next to each other.  The chairs were jammed together and I was afraid that my ass would lap over my assigned space.  At least, I told myself, I got to go first in the lineup and no one would have to look at my tatty self after seeing August.  I could say my piece then get off the stage and go back to being plain.

(Pause for a deep authentic breath. I know this is all bullshit.  I knew it at the time but I had to process it all in my way, which passes through CrazyTown along the way.)


Pre-VOTY Smiles, Before the Ugly Crying Started

Once the show began, I got a handle on myself and decided to shut up the nasty voice in my head.  Both of us had earned a place in that lineup.  I asked August if I could read her story, “My Big Brindle Heart: A Love Story.” I’m not going to tell you what it’s about because you need to click that link and read it in her own words.  But I will say that by the time I finished it, I reached over and gave her a side hug.  I finally started treating her like a human being. It’s a beautiful story by a great writer, and a great story by a beautiful writer.

The next day, I woke up with a party hangover and dragged myself back to the mirror.  I smiled.  Scrunchy hair, smeared eyeliner, wine puffs under my eyes.  I looked like MYSELF.  And that’s when it hit me. I spent so much energy fearing that someone might discount me and not listen to me because of how I look.  If I’m not pretty enough or thin enough or nice enough, I don’t get SEEN.  And that’s exactly what I was doing to August.  I discounted her because of how she looked.  Because she was too pretty, too thin, too nice–I wasn’t open to listening to her, to seeing her.  My snap judgement of her came from that awful, stingy place that I stumbled into in my anxiety.

On Saturday night, I bumped into August at the Reverend Run party and confessed all this mess that I had projected on to her.  She thanked me for being honest with her.  And she gave me a hug.  Because she is enough and I am enough and I’m so glad I met August this July.  10535671_10203441251905004_9079957571851257617_oBlogging is one way that I am cleaning this poison from my mind and my heart, this idea that people, including myself, have to be judged and measured before they can be heard.  And going to events like BlogHer14 is like immersion therapy, where I surround myself with astonishing women of every walk and shape and style–in order to realize that I have a place, too.

Fourth Trimester Bodies

Fourth Trimester Bodies

Allison Prejna and her child photographed by Ashlee Wells Jackson

What’s the first word that comes to mind when you look at this photograph?  

Softness?  Nourish?  Mother?  Comfort?  Completion?  Beautiful?  Joy?  

Flab?  Fat?  Cellulite?  Dimples?  Ripples?  Sag?  

This picture makes me ache for the days when I nursed my babies, when they fit so exactly into the curves of my body and the curves of my body were made for sheltering and nourishing them.  For forty weeks, my body gave itself over to the making of another person.  Every cell, every breath, every bite was dedicated to their creation. My body transformed itself–twice–into a ship that carried my two favorite people to this world.  For the first six months after they arrived, my body and not a drop of anything else kept them alive and caused them to flourish.  Even after they began to eat other foods, my daughter and my son returned to me and my body for over a year for nourishment and comfort.  My soft body was and still is their safe harbor.  

This ship, this harbor is a holy place to my children.  Now it is my ship alone, the only vessel I have to navigate the rest of my life.  How can I find its holiness again?  How can I honor it for the work it has done and the adventure that is yet to be had?  

I can look at this picture of a mother and hear the words “softness,” “beautiful,” “completion.”  But were I to pose the same way and fit my toddler in my lap, I am afraid that I would look at the image of my miraculous body and hear the biting words “fat,” “sag,” and “flabby.”  When I walk by a mirror naked, I don’t stop and say, “Wow, this body has done some incredible things!  Thank you!”  Instead, I turn to the side and suck in, poke and prod and sigh.  Or I don’t even stop at the mirror to say hello.  

Today a friend who has recently had a baby confided that she is feeling these “fat” words and fighting with her image of herself.  I knew just what to say to her and meant every word, but if I try to say the same things to myself….well.  So I knew it was a serendipitous gift when another friend posted a link to this wonderful article on Huffington Post about Ashlee Wells Jackson and her Fourth Trimester Bodies Project, “a photo series that embraces the changes brought to women’s bodies by motherhood.  By showcasing moms, Jackson hopes to shine a light on cultural interpretations of female beauty and change women’s expectations for themselves and those around them.” Please click through that link to see a gallery of 27 images of mother bodies.  Jackson is raising funds for her project and hopes to publish a book of images next summer.  She also calls for models!  

There are people who survive to adulthood with intact healthy body images–hooray for them–but many of us have been brainwashed by the Photoshopped, hypersexualised glossy magazine ideal that we hardly know what to think about a lumpy body that bears the marks of life.  I am practicing accepting this body, honoring it for the favors it has done me, and strengthening it for the journey ahead.  

Today’s challenge:  stop by a mirror and say hello.  Look yourself right in the eye for 10 seconds.  Then smile.  Say “Hello, Gorgeous!”   


Oh What a Gift!

Have you ever read the Robert Burns poem, “To a Louse?”  It’s about a woman sitting in church showing off her fancy bonnet…but she doesn’t realize that a fat gray louse is crawling around on it.

Ye ugly, creepin, blastit wonner,
Detested, shunned by saunt an’ sinner,
How daur ye set your fit upon her,
Sae fine a lady!
Gae somewhere else and seek your dinner,
On some poor body.

 She tosses her head with pride that she’s the center of attention, unaware that the louse is the reason people are staring at her and pointing.  The Scots dialect makes a little translation necessary, but you get the drift.  My favorite part of the poem is the conclusion, which I’ll render into Englishish:  

And would some Power the small gift give us
To see ourselves as others see us!
It would from many a blunder free us

Oh, what a gift God might give us, to see ourselves as others see us.  It would from many a blunder free us.  

See that new logo up there?  It was designed and drawn by my friend Jose Luis Silva.  You might remember him from such favorites as “Dust to Dust” or “Short But Sweet.”  He’s a genius and I trusted him with my face (which for a woman of a certain age is no small feat).  

At L'Express on Park Avenue

At L’Express on Park Avenue

Luis asked me for some guidance on which direction I’d like to go with the logo, so I told him that I wanted something black and white, friendly and fun, maybe a caricature.  I suggested that he use this picture of me that he took when we were in New York for our friend Spencer’s memorial service in January.  I love this picture because it surprised me.  For once I didn’t see a wrinkle or a size or gray hair–I saw me.  The laughing me, the loving me, the feeling me.  What a gift Luis gave me in this snapshot–to see myself as others see me.  

Then he recreated it for the logo.  The first version was a pretty exact replica of this photo, but my giggle covered by splayed fingers looked too much like Hannibal Lecter in a mask.  I asked him to try it again with my hand in a different position.  He perfected the hand, but my now-uncovered smile looked a lot like The Joker’s  creepy slash.  Luis listens to a lot of death metal, so I was thankful there wasn’t blood dripping from my eyeballs or a baby head clenched between my teeth (maybe in the next version!).  

I said, “Um…can you change my mouth?  I look a little…evil.”  His reply was, “But, sweetheart, you ARE EVIL.”  And my answer?  “Of course I am, but I don’t want to LOOK EVIL.  This is marketing.”  Luis commented on the interesting challenge that caricature poses for the artist:  finding the balance between rendering your subject, but exaggerating primary features for effect.  

The next version looked far less evil, but now I was looking too nice.  Jimmy Carter nice.  (Isn’t this starting to sound like a stereotypical “Honey, would you move the couch over there so I can see how it looks” dialogue?)  At this point, I knew he had the hair, the eyes, the face shape, the nose, the clothes, the wine–everything was right except my stupid mouth.  I muttered, “I don’t look like THAT!”  Then I walked to a mirror, put my chin on my hand and smiled…and discovered I DO look like that.

Luis’ next version was The One.  He gave me some new smaller teeth and I was finally comfortable.  It was a done deal when I pulled the image up onscreen and turned my laptop to Carlos.  He took one look at it and chirped, “Mama!”  

I am so grateful to have a friend who can see me.  And show me to myself.  And tolerate me through the revisions that I needed before I could see myself.  Oh what a gift!  

If you would like to hear “To a Louse” in a charming rendition, click on the following image to hear an award winning recitation!

Hear the winner of the William Law Memorial Trophy from Calderwood Primary performs 'To a Louse'.

Hear the winner of the William Law Memorial Trophy from Calderwood Primary performs ‘To a Louse’.

You Are More Beautiful Than You Think

This video has been blowing up all over Facebook this week.  My friend, Emily, sent it to me yesterday because my post about prejudice reminded her of this video.  I finally watched it after her recommendation and all I can say is WOW.  If you haven’t watched it yet, it really is worth three minutes.  I’ll spend at least three minutes today mentally criticizing myself, so I clearly have the spare time!

I had an awesome girls’ lunch at Marti’s at Midday yesterday with Nicole and Libby.  We were talking about how we think of ourselves and what we think is important about describing ourselves.  I said that the first word that pops into my head when asked to describe myself is “overweight.”  AS IF that conveys any real information about me and who I truly am.  BAH!  Back to the therapy couch!