I grew up with a pretty beautiful mom, and I definitely heard about it my whole life. As a kid – your mom is so pretty. As a teenager – wow your mom looks amazing. As an adult – how does your mom look so young? She was definitely blessed with amazing natural beauty and great genes.
I also remember when my mom discovered Mary Kay cosmetics.
Make-up and skin care.
A key memory from my childhood, and I’m sure one of my mom’s best beauty secrets.
As an awkward teen I was a little in awe of the Mary Kay legend. The stories about the fancy pink Cadillac cars, the pink-clad women who ran the empire and the miracle make-up so beautifully packaged in the signature hue. There was no social media for the first 40 years or so of the company’s existence, no Instagram or Facebook ads to help promote and no online sales.
This make-up hustle grew its business through personal connection. Suburban communities, mom groups and door-to-door sales were what spread the word about the incredible products that could transform your skin and life. One of the original multi-level marketing companies. Right up there with Amway, but for the bold, beautiful, confident woman who wanted to take on the world.
Mom loved it all.
I remember when the boxes started coming to our house. She had found a Mary Kay make-up dealer, (sounds so shady-glam) and she was hooked. Of course, the more you bought – the better the deals – and mom loved a great deal. Much to my dad’s chagrin – the boxes kept coming. The dealer’s card was on our fridge, mom was a user and Mary Kay was now a part of the family. I can remember her saying, “I need to call my Mary-Kay dealer. I’m getting low.” There was no going back to the common drugstore cosmetic aisle now.
I looked on wishfully from afar at my mom’s newly found make-up and skin routine.
As a teen with terrible skin issues, I was very intimidated by all the products that were now around the house. I secretly wondered if it would be the magic solution to my problems – but I didn’t think my acne medication would mix with expensive toners and moisturizers. I’d read the labels in secret and hoped that maybe one day I’d have beautiful skin like my mom’s, and I could enter the pretty pink world of Mary Kay cosmetics. I’d also need to find a good career, because it wasn’t cheap – as my dad would say whenever the newest order was placed.
I especially remember her nighttime routine and all the magical lotions. Some for the eyes, others for the hands, the cleansing, the toning and then the final step being a pink emollient that made her whole face shine.
And the smell?
Like pink heaven, a defining scent of our good night hugs.
I would say that for at least 30 years, Mary Kay was the first and the last part of my mom’s day.
It’s probably been 3 years since my mom has done her skincare routine.
The last time I can remember – we were on a special mother-daughter trip to visit her family in Newfoundland. A trip that I knew would likely be the last that we would be able to take together. Each day I would sit on the edge of the bed in the room we were sharing and watch her put on her make-up in the morning – and do her skincare steps at night. It was almost automatic for her, a learned process after so many years. In the midst of her deteriorating memory, she still wanted to look her best. As Alzheimer’s was stealing her way of life little by little, she still knew her routine. Her Mary Kay best at all times. I think it brought comfort to her, doing what she had always done. She wasn’t vain, but always cared about how she looked and took care of herself. There were hard moments for me during that trip, but I found comfort in watching her do her make-up and clean her face – like she always had done.
After that trip, things began to decline at a more rapid pace.
It’s often the pain of familiar things that hurt the most when you see someone you love slipping away. It’s the longest goodbye of everything that made the person you love so special, so them. These days, my still-beautiful mom sits in her chair, mostly unaware of who she is. I sometimes still see parts of her. I know when she looks deep into my eyes, or gazes with a smile at my incredible dad that she feels our love always surrounding her.
I visit her for dinner every week. And then, I drive home, and I get ready for bed.
My final task?
My own Mary Kay routine.
A while back, I helped my dad go through some cupboards and clear out what mom wasn’t using anymore. (Another heartbreaking task in the long journey of good-bye.) After, he packed up a bunch of stuff and put it by the front door for me to take. I always hesitate taking something of hers home – I usually cry for the whole drive. I’d rather life be normal, and her still need it.
But I took the bags of Mary Kay product he gave me (I wasn’t kidding when I said she had lots), and I soon got pulled into the pink goodness. Even though the product is now a few years old, and likely expired (I rarely check the expiry dates on food either and I’m still alive) I started using it anyway.
Mostly because it was my mom’s.
And I’ll do anything to be more like her.
So, I dove right in.
I Mary Kay-ed the heck out of myself.
The firming satin hand cream is so soft, I feel like I could be a hand model. I’m not sure the firming eye cream actually knows it’s on my eyes, but I use it there anyway. The minty leg spray is divine, the replenishing serum gives me hope for my 40’s skin, and I love the way the various masks make my skin feel. (I do wonder how many masks one person’s face really needs, but I just go with it.) I like the SPF light sunscreen, and I’m not sure what the refreshing spray really does – but I take my make-up off with it and then I just spray it wherever it seems I need some extra freshen.
I’m especially intrigued by the thick pink emollient, which I affectionally call face-shellack, because I’m pretty sure it could literally hold a house together. It’s my favourite product because it smells like memories of my mom and I remember her putting it all over her face every night. I love to slap it on before bed each night too, and it amazingly absorbs while I sleep. (It also freaks out my children because it’s so glossy, which is a bonus.)
I use it all, knowing that she always was happy to give me anything that was hers. And more than her outer beauty that people always commented on – she had a deeper beauty that flowed through her life. While I’m optimistic that the Mary Kay product I’ve inherited from her makes my skin glisten, I more importantly hope people look at me and see the inner beauty my mom deposited in my life.
Each step of the longest goodbye is painfully hard, but each night I go home to a counter full of pink-skincare-goodness that reminds me of my mom. It seems strange that a multi-level marketing make-up line could conjure up such emotion and love, but whatever brings us comfort in our journeys and reminds us of the greatest moments of love in our lives is worth remembering.
Last week during my weekly dinner visit to my parent’s house, I took a look at the side of the fridge.
I was strangely comforted that the make-up dealer’s card is still in it’s place.
I’m sure when Mary Kay Ash started her make-up empire, she didn’t know she’d be part of creating family moments or memories.
Or maybe she did.
And perhaps I’m a little odd for connecting my love for my mother to her skincare routine, and maybe it’s weird to use her old expired products. But I don’t even care. I’ll keep using it sparingly (even now with a good career, I can’t really afford it) to make it last as long as I can.
But even when it runs out, I’m hopeful that I can keep all the beauty of my mom living through me.
Pink-tinged face-shellack and all.