(Miguela Holt y Roybal by noted portrait artist John de la Vega, 1973)
My mother was a very pretty lady and if I am at all attractive I can thank her for that but she was what we call in New Mexico una ranchera--a ranch girl. Jewelry and makeup did not interest her and so she was not a model for glamor. She wore her hair in a pixie cut that looked like Moe Howard and didn't pluck her eyebrows.
It must have been her Catholic upbringing that made her rail against the sin of vanity and she would fuss at me whenever she caught me looking at myself in the mirror. She hated make up and I remember long arguments with her about it even as a very young girl. Mother had some beautiful Cuban ladies for friends, though, stylishly coiffed, whose dramatic eyes were so pretty beneath their thin arched brows. I wanted to be like them.
Like most children born in the 1950s and living in the suburbs, I was a TV kid and got most of my ideas about everything from it including beauty. There were commercials for a line of cosmetics for little girls made by Tussy that was called Budding Beauty and I saw my friends unwrap these delicious pink confections at birthday parties and for Hannukah and longed to have them but knew mother would never permit me.
The Marx toy company made a little vanity to match the Budding Beauty cosmetics. I wanted it so much but the thing cost $12.99 and would have cut into the money needed to buy scotch. Sometimes my sisters and I had new clothes but more often than not we wore hand-me-downs from the Cuban refugees.
"A little girl becomes a lovely lady with a vanity all her own."
One time at a department store, mother bought a child's black patent leather purse that had a bottle of toilet water in it. It was the most beautiful and cunning little thing I had ever seen. I thought it was for me and was crestfallen when she wrapped it up to give to the daughter of one of the Cuban ladies for her birthday.
Very Personally Yours
All over the world, the transition from girlhood to womanhood is sudden and marked by menarchy. By the time I was ready to learn womanly facts of life, The Walt Disney Studios had produced an animated film, The Story of Menstruation. Public schools and the paper products industry no longer trusted womenfolk to inform girls about changes in their bodies and began educating young women on the modern view of the menstrual experience. That can be understood.
My parents were educated and left the matter to the discretion of the public schools, but I had a cousin, another ranchera, who was so baffled and frightened by her period that she thought she was dying and hid her panties from her mother for months. I watched this movie in the auditorium of Highland View Elementary School with my female classmates:
After the movie, we were given pink shoeboxes distributed by the Kotex company that contained pamplets, a couple of sanitary napkins, and an elastic belt with hooks and plastic teeth to hold the things in place. I raced home to try it on. It was soon a tangled mess after playing on the swings and jumping rope so my mother made me throw the whole contraption away by the end of the day.
Envious Not Vain
I still don't understand my mother about the trappings of feminine pulchritude and many other issues we have battled about. I believe she was envious. She forbade me and my three sisters from shaving our legs, under our arms, or from wearing makeup until the very day we were to turn sixteen and was vigilant about it inspecting our faces for that little hint of pink rouge or lip gloss to slap it off. My sisters and I never went to the beauty shop; mother cut our hair herself and had no training so you can imagine what my 'do looked like by the time she was done. It was definitely a don't!
Once just shy of the age of mother's makeup/hair removal consent, I was invited to the Santa Fe Country Club to swim by my friend Jaime and I spent the night before at her house. There was her dad's double-sided safety razor on the shelf and next to it his shaving cup and brush. I mixed up the lather, inhaled its fresh scent, brushed on the microsuds, and shaved those hairy gams. An inexperienced shaver, I cut myself before I was through, and Jaime showed me how to use the stiptic pencil to stop the bleeding. There was to be sure a beating to pay for disobeying mother, but I had pretty legs at the country club that day and kept on shaving.
The London Look
Once I turned sixteen I got a job teaching aerobics at the local gym and so I spent the money I earned huffing and puffing with fat ladies on makeup and clothes. Always there was the ubiquitous TV where teenaged girls learned about the latest fashions from England and that were worn by The Beatles' girlfriends such as actress Jane Asher and model Patty Boyd.
(Jane Asher, then girlfriend of Beatle Paul McCartney. Google Images.)
(English model Patty Boyd with George Harrison. Google Images.)
No one exemplified The London Look better than model Jean Shrimpton.
Unless you bring up adorable Leslie Hornsby also known as Twiggy.
Here are a couple of commercials I admired that were aired during the popular series The Monkees:
Wanted for Stealing Kisses
Yardley of London made the most beautiful makeup and in very lovely packaging. Pastel stripes in pinks and blues and lavenders adorned with tiny black curlicues. I had the little eye makeup kit on a key chain that was shown in the commercial and how I wish I had kept the used compact. To buy even used Yardley of London cosmetics on ebay is very expensive indeed and when something mint in box shows up, the bidding is fierce.
I remember this two page magazine spread for Slickers. The model was very mod in her white patent leather cap with the transparent visor. She was looking askance and much more like a glamorous international spy than the cunning thief that was implied in the headline. “Wanted for Stealing Kisses” it read. “She slides a Slicker under. She slides a Slicker Over. She Slides a Slicker Alone. Caution: She Carries Her Ammunition in a Secret Liplighter: a small ingenious little case for kissing. One end holds a Slicker. The other end a London Look Lipstick in one of five man-trapping colors. Confidential: Want To Be Wanted, Too? Get Slickers by Yardley at your nearest drug or department store then give up at once and get the reward: Kisses! Kisses! Kisses! Isn’t It Fun To Be Wanted? Yardley of London, Inc.”
Slicker Under, Slicker Over, Slicker Alone
A clever little lipstick on a chain with a whistle was quite stylish .
Yardley's Pot-o-gloss was the first time I had seen lipstick that was not in a tube.
A heaven of Slickers!
Now I'm a Mother
Whenever I told the story about my mother and her rules about makeup and hair removal, my students would gasp with disbelief. I asked them what they thought I did with my own daughters once I became a mother myself and was surprised when they suggested that I would behave like my mother. Wrong! I told them.
When my daughters started complaining about hair on their legs, we went to the drugstore where I bought them the pretty pink razers and the pink foaming gel. Their eyebrows were professionally groomed at the beauty shop when their hair was cut and it was appropriate. Girl time is spent having makeovers and facials. For the prom, I brought in a professional to do my daughters' hair at home and included their friends.
Beauty culture has brought my daughters and me closer in a way that my own mother never would have understood. My girls have MUCH more confidence than I did as a result of my mothering style. They are naturallybeautiful and don't need to wear makeup but they are so gorgeous and I am proud to see them in new dresses all made up for their dates.