There’s no doubt that motherhood changes you. Physically, for sure. Emotionally, thoroughly. My brain has absolutely undergone shifts, and my perspective has, too. The way I present myself to the world, but more importantly to my daughter, Indah, has been one of the biggest and most surprising transformations to occur. And I’m not talking about the stereotypical giving up on appearances, being too exhausted to put on a matching—let alone clean—outfit, or not having a minute to brush my hair.
Since becoming a mother in February 2021, I’ve steadily worn less and less makeup until I reached the point of wearing none day-to-day. This decision became more conscious over time. Funny enough, in the earliest sleep-deprived months when I spent at least a quarter of every 24-hour cycle nursing my daughter in a cozy glider, I almost always put on mascara and brow gel at some point in the day.
Admittedly, during those slow-motion hours I scrolled through Instagram and for the first time checked out my suggested page, which was crowded with influencer moms and babies, celebrities, and models. The steady, soul-sucking stream of unnaturally plumped, line-free faces wore on me, and I found myself angry. Angry at the before-and-afters showing already stunning women who’d felt compelled, apparently, to make their noses smaller, lift their brows higher, and inexplicably double the volume of their lips.
I’d look at these pictures and then at my daughter, the most flawless creature to ever grace the Earth. I worried and wondered, will this still be the reality when she’s old enough for a phone and social media and magazines? Or will it be even more extreme by then? What will she think? And what’s more, how will it make her feel?!
It’s not about being anti-beauty
Having lived in Los Angeles for 15 years, I was no stranger to seeing plastic surgery or lash extensions or beaucoup Botox. In my 20s, I happily and excitedly wrote about beauty for the magazines where I worked. I even launched a beauty website with my best friend covering all things cosmetic, skincare, hair, and nails with plenty of aspirational editorial photo shoots and interviews with experts.
For years I painted my own nail art weekly, went monthly to brow shaping appointments, and wore boldly colored eyeliner daily. I prided myself on being relatively low maintenance, which to me meant balayage highlights twice a year. When I stopped working in an office, went freelance and started traveling the world, lots of that stopped. I packed far fewer products and pared back my routine. My former beauty editor self could never have predicted my current rage at what society deems beautiful these days.
Whether we realize it or not, we are our daughter’s first role model
One of the many things you learn with your first baby is that a newborn’s vision isn’t amazing. You show them high-contrast cards, bury your face in their tender body, coo adoringly up close, and inhale deeply their intoxicating scent. They know you, their person, their mother, from across the room, and then they begin to see more detail, color and distance. Those close-up moments, though, have a lasting impact: They know every millimeter of you. No one knows my pores, smile lines, and crow’s feet better than Indah.
Eventually I saw her studying me. She notices everything—me putting on chapstick, slathering on hyaluronic acid, brushing my hair. Nothing gets past her. When I use a Q-tip, she also wants to try it. As little girls we look up to our moms as the feminine ideal. It’s nature! Critiques only come later, after society has sunk its claws in. They learn so much from this long monkey-see-monkey-do phase. It’s adorable, of course. But it’s also made me think.
The more she witnesses my vanity, the less good I feel about it. Growing up in the ‘80s and ‘90s, we couldn’t leave the house until my own mother, the most naturally gorgeous woman I know—who has proudly rocked silvery “platinum” hair since her 30s without ever once dyeing it and aged so gracefully it’s unreal—“put on her face.” She typically wouldn’t come downstairs until it was “on.” It’s not that she wore tons of makeup, either. More that she needed a cosmetic shield to be convinced she didn’t look ghostly. I’m not judging or criticizing, only recalling that I was very aware at a young age that there was a big difference between the way she woke up and “the face.” To this day she hates being seen without at least a quick version of it.
Self-esteem can feel challenging as a mom, but it’s worth working on it
Recently I’ve thought about what I want Indah to remember about our mornings: that we played, we made and ate breakfast, we chatted, maybe we even danced. Not that I took time away from her to “perfect” myself. Time speeds by faster every day, especially as a mom. And I greedily want every possible moment of every stage with my firstborn, because we all know you can’t get them back. The other day, my hair unwashed, no makeup, she sweetly said to me, “mommy pretty, Indah pretty,” and I melted.
I would hate for my daughter to think that mommy wasn’t complete or pretty without makeup. I want her to know and love my bare face, like my husband does, and get a kick out of me getting fancy and done-up on occasion. If I’m confident in my own natural beauty, I feel there must be a better chance of her feeling confident, too. And if she one day wants to load on the makeup, get lash extensions, or make any other aesthetic choices, that’s her prerogative. At least I know she’ll be solidly rooted in the knowledge that she is Indah (which coincidentally means “beautiful” in Indonesian) without any of the extra fluff.
Truly, I try not to judge other people’s choices. I am all for each individual deciding how and what makes them feel empowered. But my current focus is loving my raw self. Motherhood is an opportunity for a ridiculous amount of growth and unforeseen change, after all. And it’s impossible not to think back to my own childhood and the many opportunities for embarrassment and shame I felt as a preteen, so susceptible to peer influence and invasive ideals. I’m a perfectionist, and I have been very, very critical of myself over the years. I do not want to offload that tendency to my daughter. And so I’m challenging myself to look in the mirror and like what I see, not pick it all apart, imagine what if, or compare myself to the faces I see on social media. (And yes, I know I could easily stop looking at Instagram. And maybe I should, though it exists around us everywhere now.)
Normalizing extreme behavior feels risky
Society’s beauty standards are so extreme compared with when I was young. Yes, Barbie’s shape is more realistic now, beauty campaigns are somewhat more inclusive, and theoretically the media embraces more body types. But somehow women are now expected to look better in their 40s and 50s than they did in their 20s. And they can and do, thanks to cutting-edge technology, science, and trendy, outrageous surgical procedures I’ve recently learned about like lip lifts and ponytail lifts. This is what we’ve come to: girls hardly out of their teens getting face lifts! How and when did we as a society normalize this or at the very least decide to let it slide?!
What does this say to younger girls? To boys who expect those girls to look a certain way? They’re all growing up under the guise of unattainable doe-eyed, pouty-lipped expectations. Even if I tell Indah differently, I’m terrified that my daughter could grow up seeing only one way to be beautiful. That’s probably why I make such an effort to travel with her, so unique faces across continents and classes and cultures are engrained in her as “normal.”
Let’s celebrate diversity and uniqueness even more
I might sound dramatic up on this soapbox, but from where I sit and scroll, natural beauty and individuality seem to be under threat. This question plagues me of late: How do I ensure Indah doesn’t fall prey to this standard of sameness in a few short years?
My initial response, I suppose, is to embody the opposite, by which I mean to be as real and authentic and un-tweaked as possible. To make beauty fun and honest and truthful. To never lie about what I’ve tried. I hope to keep it real and lighthearted. Fingers crossed that using fewer products and doing less on my part might have a counterbalancing effect. That said, I’m still stoked to see Indah thrill over glitter or gloss and play with painting her lids in rainbow shadows as I did as a girl. I’m excited to teach her all about the importance of good skincare habits. Most importantly, I hope she will choose for herself what feels good, without feeling pressured to conform to any ideal.
I hope she will choose for herself what feels good, without feeling pressured to conform to any ideal.
In my 20s, beauty to me meant hiding blemishes and hormonal acne, accentuating my eyes, highlighting brow bones, bronzing cheeks, painting lips, and lacquering my nails. This all took up significant time and energy—time that has a different value as a parent. Now I recognize that beauty can be dangerous if it goes too far. So much is at stake with a daughter, like her future self-worth. I want her to know that the true definition of beauty is vast and wide and deep and actually has nothing to do with the shape of our faces.
So this is my current philosophy, as a 38-year-old girl mama: Beauty means a bare canvas to allow my light within to shine. It’s such a mom thing to say, right? I’d roll my eyes if I were 16 again. But I feel it to be true. Beauty is individualism. We now live in Bali and travel frequently to experience unique ways of life, which only continues to strengthen my opinion that diversity should be prized. As I see it, difference is a superpower. And for my little girl’s sake, that’s what I plan to lean into.