â€œWhat did she do?â€ became the hue and cry of a nation of jurors, judges, and conditioned critics. Ms. Zellweger, in case you havenâ€™t heard, made a recent public appearance and was deemed almost unrecognizable. Some folks are sure sheâ€™s has plastic surgery, and others say maybe, maybe not, but either way so what?
Iâ€™m in the last group. Whatever makes a woman feel more confident gets a â€œyayâ€ from me. My mom was a huge enigma and probably shaped my feelings on the topic of being a hybrid-authentic.
Mom rarely shaved anything. Legs, armpits, or her â€˜stache as she grew into her seventies. She never plucked her eyebrows. â€œItâ€™s the way God made me and thatâ€™s good enough,â€ sheâ€™d say while applying deep red lipstick and a couple spritzes of cologne. â€œIâ€™m a natural beauty,â€ she would say, and then look me up and down and frown. â€œYou, are not.â€
Except, Iâ€™d wonder, how natural are routine hair perms, hair color, girdles, high heels and seamed stockings? In other words, Mom enhanced some of her natural female charms and scoffed at others. The enhancements chosen gave her confidence and powerâ€¦in her own mind at leastâ€¦and I applauded her beliefs.
When I turned fourteen my best friend, Sharon, came back to Minnesota for a visit. Her family had moved to Oregon two years earlier and in that time Sharon had emerged into a full-fledged teenager. I was still a rural child and glommed onto Sharonâ€™s worldly knowledge. Sharon covertly, we thought, introduced me to mascara and eye shadow. It was fun to experiment because I was more than eager to jettison the farm girl look.
Momâ€™s reaction surprised me. She took one look at my mascaraed lashes and said, â€œIf you want black eyes so bad, Iâ€™ll give them to you.â€ Huh. She told my dad to make me stop using makeup. He shrugged and said he didnâ€™t see anything wrong with it. She tried shaming me by saying I, more than anybody she knew, needed makeup. The good Lord knew I needed all the help I could get. Oh, for good measure, she reminded me pretty girls were thin, and I was not.
I heard her words, felt her daggers, and I kept using mascara anyway. I loved the way makeup made me feel, and how it transported me beyond my circumstances. I still do. One day I might be all about the lips, and another the eyes. Sometimes my cosmetic choices were/are obscenely over the top, and sometimes just a smudge of this or that. I recall a phase where my lip-gloss was a quick wipe of honey. My lips were shiny, soft, and oh so tasty. I’ve never been a celebrity, but I’ve been judged for most of my life simply because I’m female.
As women weâ€™re culturally conditioned to fit in, look pretty, dress appropriately, and be ageless but not vain. As we age weâ€™re either trying too hard, or not trying hard enough. Weâ€™re too fat, too thin, too wrinkled, or too Botoxed. Ug.
Renee. If you did, if you didnâ€™t, I say thank you. Thank you for being the person you want to be. Thank you for not apologizing in the face of scrutiny, and thank you for saying you feel happy and at peace. Isn’t that what any of us want?