On Mother's Day, a Reflection on my First Beauty Icon
For many of us, mothers are our first beauty icons. In honor of Mother’s Day, co-founder Karen Hayes reflects on the ways her mother shaped her views on self-image, skincare, and the meaning of true beauty.
My mother is the great beauty of our family. Her natural ability to defy age is legendary, and throughout my lifetime, friends and strangers alike have marveled in disbelief when they learn her real age.
Hers was (and still is) a soft-spoken beauty, never flashy – reflecting her shy nature and an inherent ambivalence in calling attention to herself. But a supernal beauty nonetheless.
So much of what we learn about beauty comes from our mothers or mother figures. Some of my earliest memories are of sitting on the shag carpet in my mother’s bathroom, watching her at her vanity every morning as she went through her beauty routine – simple skincare followed by minimal makeup, each step taken with the utmost consideration and care. It was her non-negotiable daily ritual (and, I imagine, a bit of me-time before she set about taking care of everyone else for the day).
Observing my mother’s regimen day after day, year over year shaped my own approach to beauty. Admittedly, I’ve taken a much higher-maintenance approach. I don’t think my mom ever used more than a bar of soap (Dove) to wash her face, and only in the morning. She used Oil of Olay lotion and an Elizabeth Arden Eye Cream religiously, but never a serum, and never an SPF (it was a different time, folks). But still, at 84, her skin miraculously looks like porcelain.
I, on the other hand, am one of those 9-step skincare junkies, with different moisturizers and serums for different times of day or season. And I definitely don’t go without SPF. The skincare lessons I learned from my mother weren’t so much about specific products or steps; it was the devotion to the ritual – the taking of time to care for my skin and for myself. Now in my 40s, this approach is not particularly unique among my peers, but I was a devotee even in college and my early 20s. It was ingrained in me, by action more than by declaration, that skin should be diligently cared for, even without specific skin concerns to address. And if you take good care of your skin, you can get away with less makeup.
My mom was 39 when I was born, and so my childhood memories of her are from when she was in her early to mid-40s – about my age now. Which means that I’ve only known her beauty from the time in life when society generally considers us on the decline. While she naturally defied that trend, I imagine she would not have been immune to the criticism that popular culture doles out on women of a certain age. Despite this, when I look at pictures of her in her 40s and 50s, I see a woman who allowed herself to age as nature intended – no hair dye, no heavy makeup, and no surgical interventions. Just naturally radiant.
I assume my mother must have had physical insecurities because we all do, but growing up I never heard her express them. I don’t know if it was a conscious choice to suppress self-doubt in front of her only daughter, but I never once heard her complain about her looks or her body. She took pride in her appearance but didn’t obsess over it – much more than just a pretty face, she was too busy taking care of four children, helping to manage our family’s business with my father, and running the household.
The skincare lessons I learned from my mother weren’t so much about specific products or steps; it was the devotion to the ritual – the taking of time to care for my skin and for myself.
I recall once when I was in my early 20s (she would have been in her early 60s) out of the blue I was moved to tell her, “Mom, you’re so pretty.” She was a bit taken aback I think; and responded, “No one tells you that once you’re past a certain age…well only your father, but that doesn’t count.” I remember feeling guilty, suddenly cognizant of all the times I had thought it but failed to say it out loud.
In truth, my family never prioritized physical beauty. Maybe because we were out-numbered by the boys 4-to-2, or maybe because my parents had the good sense to teach us that scholarship, hard work and being a good human are the things that matter most. What I understand now is that my mom was and is considered so beautiful by all of us not because she is genetically blessed (although she is), but because of the kindness emanating from her smile and her entire being, the love that she showers on each of us, and the strength that she showed and still shows in handling all that she did. To me, my mom is just as beautiful now as she was in her most glamorous years. She is still exquisite, oblivious of the impact her beauty has on those around her.
I believe that the bond of beauty and skincare between us – mother and daughter – and those indelible early memories over cosmetics, are at the heart of why I pursued a career in the beauty industry; and why it feels like a calling more than a profession. Beauty is intimate, existential even, and our impressions of it are shaped at an early age. It can be used as a weapon, pitting women against each other, or it can be used as a force for good (Dostoevsky even thought it could save the world).
Beauty is intimate, existential even, and our impressions of it are shaped at an early age.
In my mother, I learned that personal beauty is a reflection of both good habits and inner intent. It’s not profound to talk about beauty emanating from the inside-out, but who teaches us this better than Mom? For so much of our lives, mothers do their best to cajole us to feel beautiful, but the most powerful way we learn this is in how they exude that inner beauty themselves.
Happy Mother’s day to my beloved mom and mothers everywhere.