This essay was written as part of an empowerment campaign, “Wear Yourself In,” led by eco-luxe skin care company Kari Gran. In response to the beauty industry pushing an impossible idea of flawless youth for years, the campaign encourages women to be kind to themselves, and their skin, as they reflect on beauty, aging, wisdom and self-acceptance.
Mindy Trotta spent many years as an editor behind a desk and then switched to working behind the oven as a pastry chef. She is the owner of Flour Girl Desserts Company and is a contributing editor and social media manager for BetterAfter50.com, which is an online magazine written for women at midlife. She is a native New Yorker/Californian, who is now living in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
The phenomenon of “looking good” played a rather large part of my growing years. My mom placed a high value on beauty, both the physical and material. I gather much of that was because she was a Holocaust survivor, and had experienced ugliness and the absence of any modicum of beauty firsthand.
I find it not very ironic that she became a cosmetician and manicurist after the war, a career with a premise based wholly on enhancing the beauty of others. Her favorite compliment was, “You’re gorgeous!” It was her go-to phrase that she would bestow upon anyone who did her a favor, fixed a
leak (aside from “It’s so nice to have a man around the house”), gave her a lift in their car or was smart or savvy. It was quite indicative of her personality that she used an expression that referred to the ultimate of beauty as a substitute for the ultimate of everything.
My mom, in fact, was a beauty. Quite often she would be stopped on the street by complete strangers asking how she kept her skin so lovely. How surprised those people would be to discover that aside from a special cream, this woman who worked in salons that had shelves filled with potions and lotions used none of them and wore very little makeup. A little lipstick, a little mascara, a good hairdo, and a black penciled beauty mark were what kept her going, even though paradoxically, she did try to get her daughters to be a little more “embellished” than we chose to be.
Unfortunately for Mom, aside from the Jayne Mansfield-like spot, and possibly as a result of being a typical, rebellious teenager, my makeup regimen was more similar to hers. I rarely gave in to her “suggestions” to perhaps add a little more of this or that. Her remarks to my sister and me about our weight and/or hairstyles were quite often ignored as well. I can’t really say whether that was a disappointment to her, since whenever she looked at us, even during our most angst-filled middle school and early teen years when tears would often flow, to her we were always “gorgeous.”
When other girls’ makeup bags at sleepaway camp were filled with tubes and pots of colored powders and creams that would put a rainbow to shame, mine was always the smallest and least full. I had my select colors and very rarely strayed from the palette—earth tones, all the way. I have to admit that I do indulge in more “product” than I had used during those years, but I stick with only the amount I feel I need, never more than that. In many ways, I am still doing what my mom did, not what she told us to do. At sixty, many years later, I am still the owner of a rather small makeup bag and while the packaging has changed, the palette has not…although now we call them “nudes.”
As much as I fought my mother on so many issues, I understand her belief in the connection between looking good and feeling good. I also know the importance of wearing that goodness inside, because that makes you feel even better. I’m not a fan of articles that dictate what women 50 and over should or should not wear on their bodies or faces. If you’re comfortable, then do it, wear it, and embrace it. What I do ascribe to is knowing that “overworking it” creates something that is not pleasing to anyone. It’s the philosophy my mom used on herself and it’s one I stuck with in the kitchen when I worked as a pastry chef. You have to be able to sense when you’ve handled your dough enough or it will be too tough; you have to know when the amount of decorations on that cake will take you into the “way overboard” realm. Knowing when to stop “handling” things takes skill, and after sixty years of being on this planet, I hope it’s one I have mastered.
I find it amusing that whenever I run into people who knew my mom when we were so much younger, they remember her as always being “made up,” while that was so not the case. She had an air about her. An air of self-confidence, something I think she developed while she was in Auschwitz. The prisoners there were reduced to their base elements. Everything was raw. You were the sum of your parts, and if you were going to survive, as difficult as it was, you had to think of yourself as something more than what your captors were attempting to reduce you to. One can never truly state why some prisoners survived and so many did not, but I can wager a guess that in addition to a force of luck, a force of inner strength and confidence is what helped my mother make it through. And that was what she wanted for me and my sister…as much as she espoused being “beautiful” on what I believed to be a more superficial level, she really wanted us to be “gorgeous.”
Confident, prideful, and comfortable. If you’ve attained that level of “gorgeousness,” all the rest that is beautiful will follow.