After our third delivery, Mel developed dark blemishes on her face so she started wearing makeup. The crazy thing is, I argued with her about it.
“You don’t need makeup. You have never needed it. You’re beautiful.”
Mel was in the bathroom, applying foundation to her chin. I was standing in our bedroom.
We’d been married for nine years. And to be honest, Mel wearing makeup was more shocking to me than when I found out that she didn’t. We’d had three children by then. We were both in our early 30s, and had lived in three different states.
The first time I can recall seeing Mel wear makeup was at our wedding. She wore some blush and a little eyeliner, but overall, it was light — something for the pictures. I remember thinking that she looked beautiful that day, but I don’t think that makeup made the difference. I don’t think it was her dress or the reception center, or any of that. I think it was her smile. She has a sly smile that curves just right, her cheeks twisting in the corners. Her hair was pulled back into a simple braid.
There was also something comforting about her demeanor. The way she walked and laughed. She made my heart feel warm. I loved her personality and the way she carried herself with just the right amount of confidence. I enjoyed her opinion, and I loved the way she encouraged me to go to school despite being a late bloomer. I’m not exactly sure what it was that made me fall in love with her. Obviously it was a mix of things. But what I do know is that nothing about my love for her had anything to do with makeup.
Mel stepped from the bathroom and looked at me with a twisted smile, her right hand on her hip, brown hair pulled back, a small round mirror in her left hand.
“It’s not about how you see me,” she said. “I know you think I’m beautiful.” Then she twisted her lips to the side, and her face seemed to say, “You don’t get it.”
Thinking back, I didn’t.
She was silent longer than I expected, clearly trying to find the right words. “But people can’t see me how you see me. I don’t feel all that beautiful anymore, and these spots on my face make me feel terrible. I just don’t want people to see them.”
We went back and forth for a while after that — me insisting that she is beautiful, and her trying to explain how the blemishes on her face made her feel. She used words like “old” and “ugly,” while I kept telling her how beautiful I found her. I told her about how sweet her smile was and her disposition, and how she was the whole package. “If people can’t see that, then it’s their problem.”
“No,” she said, “it’s my problem.” I couldn’t tell if she was getting frustrated or angry. Then she said something that I really struck me.
“The thing is, your opinion about how I look isn’t the only one that matters.” She didn’t say it with anger. She didn’t say it with sorrow. She said it with a soft hint of the reality of what it’s like to be a woman.
She went back into the bathroom, shut the door, and the conversation ended.
That was two years ago. From that day forward, she has worn makeup every day. And the crazy thing is, it hasn’t made a difference in how I see her. Her smile still twists just right in the corners. And she still has the same disarming disposition and soft easygoing sense of humor that she had before she wore makeup. She still carries herself with grace. She still melts my heart.
In fact, I think the only thing that changed when Mel started wearing makeup was the way she saw herself. And I thought about that a lot after Mel told me that my opinion isn’t the only one that matters. And like things like this often do, it took me a while to realize that Mel was right.
Mel and I have been married for 11 years, and even with all our history, our children, our mortgage, all of it, my opinion on her beauty isn’t the only one that matters. And please realize that this was really difficult for me to admit, because I like to think that the way I see my wife is how the world should see her.
But that isn’t true.
I will be the first to admit that makeup and beauty is a social construct drafted by marketing, movies, and magazines. And I suppose my understanding of that has made me assume that if I loved Mel just the way she is, that it would be all she needed to feel beautiful. But I can’t deny that she walks a little more confidently with makeup. She clearly feels a little better about herself and who she is right now as a mother and wife.
And that’s not a bad thing.
At the end of the day, it’s Mel’s choice to wear or not wear makeup, and I support her regardless.
So one morning, almost two years after we argued over makeup, I brought it up again. It was morning. She was leaning in close to the bathroom mirror, getting ready, and I told her that no matter what, I will always see her as beautiful. But ultimately I want what all husbands want: for my wife to feel beautiful. “I will admit that feeling beautiful is murky and mysterious to me. But I know it’s important to you, and if makeup is what it takes for that to happen, then I’m all about it.”
Mel looked at me with a smile. She didn’t say I told you so or that I got it. She just leaned in and gave me a kiss, and said, “Thank you.”