Thursday, May 26, 2011

Unmasked. Au Naturel.

I grew up in awe of my great-aunts. They were all so friendly and loving. Living together their entire lives, these elderly sisters shared an apartment downstairs from my Nana, their married sister. I had great affection for each aunt. Aunt Irma died when I was quite young but my Mom loved to tell the story of how I went right up to her body at her wake, leaned over the coffin, and kissed her "goodbye". Aunt Leonie, the only aunt living at the apartment with a husband, dear Uncle Camille, used to love to show me her antique dolls and one day gave me one to take home. (I loved that doll and as any young girl who loves a doll would do, I played with her until she fell apart in my arms). Aunt Irene, the one who looked the most like my Nana, lived the longest and became the one I knew the best. Aunt Irene was so sweet, had an easy laugh, and was so pretty. But today I got thinking of Aunt Emeline. She was equally nice as my other aunts. But it was my Aunt Emeline who was known for never being seen without being fully dressed, adorned with jewelry and make-up. She would be picture-perfect even at the breakfast table which she would set each night before going to bed.

Maybe influenced by Aunt Emeline, from the time I was entering high school, I used to have a bit of a phobia of being seen without make-up. At times this phobia still surfaces, although it's not as strong as it once was. Although I still won't go out to dinner or to the movies without having "my face on", you can occasionally spot me running to the store or to the post office au naturel. But it's taken years to get me to this point. Call me vain, but remember, I've got the blood of Aunt Emeline within me.

Where does such a superficial insecurity come from? Maybe from childhood teasing for my childhood platinum blonde hair...teasing at a new school that confused and hurt me at the time, although back then I tried to appear "tough" and tried my best not to let a single tear fall. Maybe from a few years of being a self-proclaimed "ugly duckling" as an adolescent when I first got my glasses. I picked out the most hideous pair or so I thought later. I really have no idea where these dumb insecurities come from. But I know that we all have insecurities. I'm just glad that I am not nearly as vain as I used to be.

In spontaneous conversations with my three children, each of them have told me separately over the years that when they think of me, their Mom, they picture me without make-up on my face and without my contact lenses. "I know the 'other you'", my son told me last week, "but that's the Mom who heads to work or is going out somewhere. I like to think of you as you are most of the time, at home".

I've been thinking of this shared truth of theirs. It makes me smile. It warms my heart. It reminds me that my children, who see me the way I naturally am, bare-faced, unwashed hair, and all (along with my husband of course, and other family members and close girlfriends) know me and love me for who I AM, unguarded, unveiled, beautiful for being their Mom...that's all. I'd like to think that I am authentic as that "other woman" who adores playing dress-up with make-up and fashion, but in truth, the fashion, the make-up, maybe even the contact lenses give me a "mask" that is not completely me. It's all a mask I am unwilling to take off for too many. The make-up and maybe even the contact lenses represent that "guard" that is there protecting me from someone seeing "the real me", someone not liking what they see.

It's silly. It isn't a guard that is needed, I don't think. But after 30 years of wearing it, it can be awfully difficult to remove. So lately, as I have begun wearing my glasses more often out of necessity, I have been thinking of all this. When I catch myself feeling vain I tell myself that I doubt even Aunt Emeline would approve of this. I don't approve of this. It's foolish and it flies in the face of everything that I have ever believed in and have wanted my children to believe in. So, if you do happen to catch me fresh-faced, wearing glasses or contacts at the grocery store, post office, or more predictably, out on the dock where I am always at my happiest, I'd love it if you'd give me a little smile and a sincere, "It's nice to see YOU". I promise I will keep my eyes focused on yours and smile back fully confident and at ease.

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