When I was a little girl, my mother was the epitome of beauty. Everyone talked about how beautiful she was. Her beauty was simple, and for a time it was appropriate. She was a hippy child: She wore her dark hair in two long braids and never wore makeup -- no mascara, no foundation or powder, no lipstick.
One of those funny-the-things-you-remember memories of my girlhood is my mom's bottle of Oil of Olay sitting on the bathroom sink. It sat there throughout all the years I grew up. In my head, that bottle was the secret to my mom's beauty. All of the other girls' moms wore makeup. By sixth grade most of my friends wore makeup. But people commented on how beautiful my mother was, and she needed none of the equipment or supplies the other mothers used, so I assumed her secret was that bottle of Oil of Olay.
As a teen I came to love heavy eyeliner and mascara, but as an adult, I am a makeup minimalist. From my grandmother I learned to always carry a tube of lipstick in my purse -- to her, the tube is necessary to refresh the face of a lovely lady. To me, it reminds me that I'm a woman and I haul around all the crap a woman should haul around in her bag. Of course, since I never remember to wear lipstick, I've managed to haul around the same tube for the last decade or so.
And because my mother did it, I bought a bottle of Olay and put it on my bathroom counter. I used it religiously, believing that the moisturizer was helping my face to keep a youthful glow and a beautiful countenance, just like my mother's.
My mom came to visit me a few months ago. At one point she disappeared, and after a while I found her giggling in my bathroom. She was holding the bottle of Olay. "Do you use this?" she asked.
I nodded. "Sure. I use it because it's what you used."
She gave me a quizzical look. "Me? I would never buy something bourgeois like this! I was laughing at the fact that you would."
"Yeah, huh!" I countered. "You always had a bottle of Olay in the bathroom! I distinctly remember that!"
Mom giggled harder. "Oh that!" she said. "That was a free bottle they sent me in the mail. I never used it. That's why it sat there!"
I was tempted to toss that bottle of Olay after that. But something compelled me to keep it. All these years I thought the secret to my mother's beauty was in that bottle, and if I would just use it, I might be beautiful too. It was tough to learn that bottle was empty, a shell of beauty, but really, it's quite funny if you think about it. The secret was in the bottle after all: Like hers, my bottle now sits on the counter unused, a reminder that I don't need expensive creams and fragrances and formulas to be beautiful. I am my mother's daughter, after all.