can’t clean up good

You know that moment in the movie where the nerd girl takes off her glasses and pulls down her ponytail and steps into a fitted, sparkly dress? She is transformed. She timidly makes her way down the stairs, and the guy at the bottom stares up, open-mouthed, seeing her as though for the very first time. Who is this sudden goddess? It is probably Aphrodite.

That has never happened to me.

Not even close.

Actually, when I was trying on wedding gowns at Macy’s, I was a little surprised at the extent to which that didn’t happen. The saleswoman was pretty sure it would.

“If you need to cry, just do it,” she said. “It’s overwhelming, seeing yourself like this for the first time.”

I blinked hard. I looked at myself in the mirror. I leaned forward, gazing deeply, cushioned by billows of shimmering white gown. It was true. One of my eyebrows really was a little higher up than the other. Weird. And my face looked saggy. Saggy? Seriously? I was twenty-four! How was this possible? The face did not match the gown. I looked stupid.

“It’s OK,” said the saleswoman. “I know it can be very emotional.”

“Can you get me out of this dress, please?” I said.

I do not clean up good. Well. I do not clean up well. I do not transition smoothly into a fairy princess. Instead, in fancy clothes, I look a little confused– like my hair didn’t get the memo. Like my face wasn’t made for elegant parties. Like I should work on my posture. In other words, I look like myself– but wearing something nicer.

It’s disappointing. Some women (including many of my friends) are full of womanly mystery. In their street clothes, they are lovely, but their loveliness hints at some greater potential. They might spring into full stunning gorgeousness at any moment, given the right shoulder-baring dress, eye makeup, and hair stylist. Not me. What you see is definitely what you get. And what you get looks like it should be wearing overalls with paint splatters on them.

(oooh, sexy…)

For a long time, I hoped that something magical would happen when I dressed up. I hoped that I’d transform. I’d watched too many movies. I’d had too many friends with excellent collarbones and sculpted shoulders that were practically begging to be bared. I thought that the ability to undergo a metamorphosis from normal to stunning with a few simple props was an integral part of being a successful woman.

Now I’m not sure it is.

When I went to that penthouse party recently, I looked pretty good. I did not look transformed. I looked like me wearing a cool dress and heels. Getting dressed for the party, I leafed through the clothing hanging in my closet. Nothing great, as usual. I went through everything again, hoping something fabulous would appear. Nope. And then I put on a dress and heels, looked in the mirror, thought, “Yup. That’s fine” and left.

Because I don’t expect myself to turn into someone else anymore. Or at least, I expect it less.

I’m still jealous, I’m not gonna lie. I think it’d be more fun to be one of those magical women who can sometimes resemble goddesses. But I’m also OK with looking good with paint stains all over me. After all, I like to paint. Even more than I like going to fancy parties.

A lot more.

A really, really lot more.

When I saw myself for the first time in the gown I ended up buying for my wedding, I thought, “That’s definitely better than the last one.” And then I thought, “I look pretty good.”

“She’s going to cry!” said the saleswoman.

But I didn’t.

*  * *

Unroast: Today I love the shape of my chin.

Here’s the latest cake shot, and it comes with this fantastic and wedding-related commentary:  I was the maid of honor in my sister’s wedding, and when it came to the part where the bride and groom are supposed to feed each other cake, instead they turned around and shoved the cake in my (and the best man’s) face.  I gasped in surprise and managed to get an entire cupcake shoved in my mouth, and someone watching was able to capture the perfect shot.

As always, send me your cake shots!!


Kate on November 16th 2011 in beauty, being different, wedding

43 Responses to “can’t clean up good”

  1. Kimmy Sue Ruby Lou responded on 16 Nov 2011 at 1:26 pm #

    i love overalls…am somewhat “famous” (in a weird way) for wearing them a lot…and you can definitely sex them up, just add a low-cut hoochie top and a boa…and i think most brides look “lost” in a wedding dress…i could see you in a full-body spandex suit, like cat woman…try that!

  2. Ali responded on 16 Nov 2011 at 1:30 pm #

    Thank you so much for this post – it’s like it was meant to be read by me this morning.

    I work at a professional theatre in CA and we had our first dress rehearsal for our Holiday Extravaganza last night and boy was it a blow to my self esteem. I work with three beautiful women who know how to fix their hair in a fetching way, who have boobs to show off in their fancy Christmas dresses, and who (most frustratingly) make pulling it off look so easy. I left the theatre last night feeling like an ugly duckling in a cast of swans, came home and cried for twenty minutes or so and then started trying to figure out this hairstyle thing.

    We’ll have two more dress rehearsals today; here’s hoping I can figure out this princess transformation thing at some point.

    Although, even if I can’t, at least now I know that I’m not alone… Thank you, thank you, thank you for that.

  3. Kate responded on 16 Nov 2011 at 1:40 pm #

    @Kimmy Sue
    I love that you’re famous for overalls. That is awesome.

  4. Kate responded on 16 Nov 2011 at 1:42 pm #

    Oh, I forgot, I have no boobs! That’s an important part of not being able to dress up effectively.

    Anyway, I’m glad this helped. I am retroactively dedicating it to you.

    Notice: This post has been officially dedicated to Ali.

  5. Marti responded on 16 Nov 2011 at 1:45 pm #

    From an untransformable woman who is old enough to be your grandmother, I think that that big transformation thing comes if you truly believe in it. But if you think “this is regular old me in a hoity toity dress and shoes that hurt my feet”, that is exactly what you look like. Women who transform do it from the inside out, so by the time they step out of their bedroom, it’s like, ‘show time’. It’s a psychological thing. I have learned over the years to wear the classiest thing I can find THAT IS COMFORTABLE! Not too tight anywhere, not too low, not too weird a color, not some fabric that is going to make me sweat, not too anything. And shoes that fit, not just shoes that match.

    I have learned to strut it, rock it, and flaunt it, wearing what fits and what I like. The rest of the pizazz has to come from my insides. Honey, you may never be the best dressed in the room, the most glamorous, or the most sexy, but let me tell you, if you are feeling it, you can OWN that room.

    Rock on, girl. It’s all in your head.

  6. Jess responded on 16 Nov 2011 at 1:46 pm #

    That nerd girl you mentioned? When I was getting ready to graduate college and become a professional actor, we did an exercise where we went around our seated circle and everyone told you what “type” they think you are (because who you really are doesn’t matter in marketing). That girl who’s pretty when she takes off her glasses is the only thing anyone said about me. I do clean up good. I feel like I have one of those magic faces that with a little bit of makeup and good lighting can suddenly come to life. It can be really fun, sure. The other side of that is that you look like crap without a bunch of work, and you don’t always feel like putting in the effort to clean up. Besides, who wants to be defined by their put-on beauty? The only thing anyone remembers about that character is how lame she used to look. The only thing people talk about in “Cinderella stories” is how she used to have it bad, but look how far she’s come! I don’t want to be defined by what I could look like or used to look like. How ’bout what I DO look like, all the times?

    (PS- you DO look good, all the time. I have seen it with my own eyes. Maybe not first thing in the morning running on very little sleep or something, but nobody is allowed to look good then because its not fair to the rest of us, and I haven’t seen you then anyway)

  7. Kate responded on 16 Nov 2011 at 2:00 pm #

    I hear you about finding comfortable stuff to rock, and I’m glad you’re rockin’ that stuff!

    But I have to disagree about it being in my head. At least entirely in my head. People definitely have different looks. Mine might just be more casual. But that’s ok!

    And now I’m gonna contradict myself a little when I say I also think you’re right– anyone can feel like they’re owning the room. I’ve definitely felt that way and will definitely feel that way again.

    But in general, even when I feel good, I don’t think I transform. I think i just am. So instead of wanting to transform, I want to feel really good about what I am all the time.

    Like what Jess was saying. Thanks, Jess!

  8. sara responded on 16 Nov 2011 at 2:59 pm #

    I needed this post today :) @Ali, you are definitely not alone. I just started dating this guy, and I’m so afraid for him to see me as I am, messy hair, glasses, flat chested, no makeup. I was getting so good at going out without makeup! Every time I’ve seen him, I made sure I had makeup on, and my hair looked good, and I was wearing something sophisticated. But that isn’t me, and I’m worried he won’t like the way I look when I’m just me. And I know I should just get over it, and if he doesn’t like me this way, then I’ll meet someone else. But I like him a lot, and I feel really vulnerable. Anyway, that was a huge ramble. Just wanted to say thank you for this post Kate!

  9. Emmi responded on 16 Nov 2011 at 3:11 pm #

    I too have one eyebrow higher than the other. I delight in wearing my favorite $1 sunglasses, which gives my face the illusion of having only one eyebrow (the other being hidden behind the dark lens). I love it!

    I transform with confidence, which happens when I am sartorially comfortable and quirky (hard to achieve when you are a lady of size on a budget). My current favorite outfit is this dress:,1815&GEN1=Dresses&T1=P87602+XS&dispRow=1814&srccode=

    And bright yellow sneakers. I look amazing in that getup. Or at least, I think and feel like I do, and people see it. It’s a lot of busy dress on a lot of lady, and I rock it.

    The wedding dress I bought was the one that made my mother cry. Works for me! I didn’t care what I wore, and she did. So when she asked if I would wear that dress if she paid for it, it was an easy decision to say yes. But I wore sneakers under it.

  10. Kate responded on 16 Nov 2011 at 3:20 pm #

    This is the cutest comment. But the link isn’t working for me!! And I really want to see the dress!

    That’s exactly how my eyebrows are with my sunglasses. Yes.

    I wore cheap flats under my gown.

  11. Kate responded on 16 Nov 2011 at 3:20 pm #

    P.S. this is not to say I think women shouldn’t revel in dressing up and wearing fancy shoes!

  12. Aurora responded on 16 Nov 2011 at 3:48 pm #

    I don’t actually know what I look like dressed up! The reason is because my face looks big and fat in every single photograph ever taken of me. I can’t find a single glamorous shot of me, anywhere. Direct light from a flash makes me look flushed, round-faced, and double-chinned. I can’t imagine myself looking striking, because all I can see in my mind is that fat ugly red face that looks very little like my actual face.

  13. Isabel responded on 16 Nov 2011 at 4:03 pm #

    That’s me too. I love to wear dresses, but I never look like a princess, or model, or goddess in them. I am starting to think that the population of women who that is true for, is actually a lot smaller than we think.

  14. Nakia responded on 16 Nov 2011 at 4:13 pm #


    Oh, you are so NOT alone in this. :)

  15. janetha responded on 16 Nov 2011 at 4:25 pm #

    I bought Crown Burger for my coworkers today. I thought of you.

  16. Kate responded on 16 Nov 2011 at 4:29 pm #

    OH MY GOD!!! Love it. Thanks for letting me know!

  17. NB responded on 16 Nov 2011 at 4:44 pm #

    Oooh, Kate. A giant, giant thank you for this post, which gives words to an uneasiness I feel all the freaking time.

    My adventures in wedding dress shopping (apparently, in my deep dark subconcious The One Chance To Prove You Really Do Clean Up Well), precipitated a ginormous crying jag in the parking lot of a 76 Station, with lots of hiccupping woe about how I was never going to be beautifulllllllll, booooo. I did not look like Magic Fancy Breathtaking Bride. I looked like me, frizzy haired, huge chinned, and sunburned, doused in a shitload of taffeta. WTF, man. That sucked.

    We just got our picture previews back. Meh. I still look like me, in white, with more makeup on (and not in the Extra Specially Magic Bride Pretty Me way, either). I was, by no account, the kind of totally breathtakingly pretty-to-strangers that I was planning on being. I think I’m ok with that. My grandkids might not gasp in my otherworldly prettiness, but at least they will be able to say: “DAMN. Grandma liked to fist pump, huh?” Because apparently I look exactly the same on Friday at the bar as I do at my wedding. But with more white. And more Journey. Obvi.

  18. Deanna responded on 16 Nov 2011 at 4:51 pm #

    @Ali…where in California are you? I can relate to you and your experience.

    First of all Kate, you look amazing. Of course if you really in your heart believed it and didn’t have any doubts, we would not have your amazing blog to read so I guess a part of me is glad you sometimes scratch your head and say “hmmmm.”

    I’ll never feel beautiful although I do know that for my age I look pretty good. I look good for someone 10 years younger than me because I am tall, thin and have good skin. The thing is, I will never believe it. Too many times in my youth I was turned down, told I was unattractive or, worse, ignored. It made its mark on me. Because I am a fitness instructor,,,I carry myself in a way that exudes confidence and I smile a lot and have a warm and caring personality…but even with all of that…I rarely get hit on by men. I think they see me as a really nice lady who just isn’t sexy. I’m not overly fond of that.

    I recently went out with a young lady who had the look…long blonde hair, bit blue eyes and not an ounce of ethnic in her. All the eyes were on her. I felt jealous. I wanted to put a bag on my head. Even though I am married..I would still love some attention once in awhile.

    Yikes…gotta go! This was a great blog but they are all great!

  19. Adrienne responded on 16 Nov 2011 at 5:43 pm #

    Lord, I know what you mean! I remember walking in to David’s Bridal and seeing all the laughing, screaming, crying, giddy women and wondering what all the fuss was over. I looked at two or three of the plus-sized dresses, realized they were all going to be stupid, and walked out. HUBS still makes fun of me for calling the place “too bridey.”

    I think the only benefit I have over you here is that my extremely practical mom taught her extremely cynical daughter not to buy into the princess, fairy tale, something-magical-will-happen thing. I never expected to turn into a gorgeous, mysterious creature of glamour when dressing up. I knew I’d be me with some glitter thrown in. And that’s ok.

  20. Spelling responded on 16 Nov 2011 at 7:56 pm #

    The whole “nerd: transformed” thing reminds me of Taylor Swift’s “You Belong With Me” music video. Anyone else?

    I totally understand whatcha mean. Other people seem to look amazing when they get dressed up and I just look like, umm, me trying to look good. It sucks.

    Gotta hate saleswomen. I walked into a bridal/formal dress shop this summer with my mom to pick out a dress for her & my dad’s 25th anniversary vow renewal. We found a gorgeous dress that would’ve looked amazing on her. Then the saleslady walked over, scanned my mom’s body from top to bottom, and said, “I think the dresses in your size are over HERE.” The nerve! Whattajerk.

    Someone should really start an organization: “People Against Snotty Saleswomen.” PASS. Has a ring to it :D

  21. Kate responded on 16 Nov 2011 at 8:05 pm #

    I’ve definitely met some great salespeople, but that story makes me so mad!! How obnoxious. I hope your mom got it anyway.

  22. San D responded on 16 Nov 2011 at 9:52 pm #


    If I want to “have some of the attention once in awhile”, I find a striking looking woman and stream behind her in the NYC crowd, keeping pace the whole time. All eyes are on her, but of course since I am right behind her, I pretend they are really on me. Always cracks me up and makes me smile.

  23. Kristine responded on 17 Nov 2011 at 12:48 am #

    Maybe you’re just not wearing the right dresses? I think you look great in any of the photos you put up. You would look great with a fancy clip in your hair and some red lipstick :)

    I’m one of those “transformation” people. I think I’m pretty naturally, but because I know how to dress and do hair/make up I can look really amazing if I dress up. That’s just cause I know what to do though. I know I’m more “objectively” attractive when I do all that stuff, but sometimes I prefer how I look without it and I don’t do that every day, I just wear some concealer if i need it and chapstick. When i started online dating I would specifically put up an “every day look” photo, so guys knew what I actually looked like cause it was kind of a big difference.


    fixed up:

    It’s seriously easy to do. You just need to realize what works for you. Work with what you have, not what you think people “should” do when they dress up.

  24. Alissa responded on 17 Nov 2011 at 8:55 am #

    Ha! I always laugh about those movies where the actress is transformed. They always take some incredibly gorgeous actress and have them wear glasses and overalls and then everyone in the movie is so SHOCKED that they look so great at the end. I’m always like, “REALLY?! You couldn’t tell she was beautiful?!” I’m specifically thinking of that 90s movie “She’s All That” (I think that’s the name…the one where she comes down the stairs and “Kiss Me” is playing).
    I think I am the type of woman that can be “transformed”. It’s not a good thing though…just means I don’t look so great w/out hair done and makeup and a killer outfit. I always envy women who look the great and basically the same no matter what. Most, I think, (like you) have great bone structure (that’s the hypothesis I’m going with). I will never forget meeting this guy at a party when I was in college and he started calling me constantly. Then, a few weeks later, I saw him on campus and I was wearing sweatpants and had my hair in a ponytail, no makeup. The look on his face was like he was so DISAPPOINTED. I’ve never forgotten that!

  25. Hannafate responded on 17 Nov 2011 at 12:25 pm #

    Nothing looks worse on me than elegant, femmy clothes. I’m just not an elegant femmy person!

    I’ll stick to what I feel good in, because I look better that way.

  26. Tempest responded on 17 Nov 2011 at 12:47 pm #

    I am the mousy (and messy) girl who transforms when I get into my dance gear. Part of it is becoming a performer and getting into that headspace, but really, I think it’s really the make-up. I don’t wear a lot even for that, but that’s what really does it. Putting on something that brings out your eyes, lips, cheekbones, etc – that’s the secret. A piece of clothing may help accent your body in new ways, but mousy self in overalls (and I haz them) and mousy self in expensive dress still looks pretty much the same without make-up and hair done.

  27. briana responded on 17 Nov 2011 at 12:51 pm #

    Great post! I feel like sometimes I can transform, and sometimes I can’t. I find that the time of the month makes a huge difference, which is incredibly annoying. If I ever get married I’m going to have to figure out how to time the wedding to fall at the right place in my cycle, when my body and face are at their most attractive. Does anyone else experience this?

    Kristine, how do you transform your hair like that?

  28. Jo responded on 17 Nov 2011 at 12:56 pm #

    I would LOVE to have that magical moment, and I’m sort of angry with the media for making me believe that it’s possible. Because looking like that is hard work, work I’m not willing to do.

  29. Novice Wife responded on 17 Nov 2011 at 5:25 pm #

    I’m really not sure this actually happens outside of movies. At least, it certainly has never happened to me. Anytime I finish dressing up, I look in the mirror, and I think of that quote from Julie & Julia:

    “Not bad, not very bad! . . . but then not that good either.”

  30. Kate responded on 17 Nov 2011 at 6:06 pm #

    @Novice Wife
    I want to agree, but I’ve really seen women transform. It’s real. It’s just not real for me :-)

  31. Alana responded on 18 Nov 2011 at 2:59 am #

    I agree that being the tranformable gal is really six of one and half a dozen of the other… And much of it is down to things you can’t change, like colouring. I am very fair and blonde, and my eyebrows (being also sparse and fine) are literally invisible. My lashes are quite long but likewise invisible, and my lips are pretty much the same colour as my skin. So I kind of have a chemo-baby meets albino Lisbeth Salander look going on, naturally (add to that a slight nose bump and a weak chin). It’s not very pretty, and if I ever forget to draw on eyebrows or wear mascara, lifelong friends come up to me with great concern to ask if I’ve been crying, or if I’m sick! So I basically have to wear eyebrows, eyeliner and mascara all the time just so I don’t look like an alien! The flip side of this, however, is that I am EXTREMELY transformable. Cos I am sort of a blank slate, naturally, I can do very different and dramatic makeup styles, and look convincingly 20s or 50s or 60s or pre-raphaelite or 18th century or rock-chick or vamp or soft romantic or whatever!! I’d be the dream model of a makeup artist. Having no visibly brows alone means I can draw on any number of brow styles which change the whole look of my face. And, of course, ‘pretty’ styling makes a huge difference. That said, I resemble a pink piglet until I have gone to the effort of putting makeup on.

    I have friends with luscious dark lashes, well defined eyes, arched brows and rosy lips. Glammed up, the change is not as great, but boy oh boy is their ‘basic’ look better than mine!! Kate, think of it this way – I can transform, but I would have to spend fifteen minutes in front of the mirror to look like you on your worst day!

  32. Sooz responded on 18 Nov 2011 at 8:02 am #

    i LOVE the overalls look. I don’t have any right now and I can’t seem to find them anywhere locally. But they are so cute and comfy and you look adorable in that picture. I never look glamorous or transformed when I put on heels and a dress. But that’s okay because I’m a low-key lazy dresser who more than likely will drop food on my clothing at some point during the day. I’m quirky and a bit “off” and those things are definitely reflected in how I look in clothing. It works for me so I try not to beat myself up about not being sexy or glam. By the way, I really love all your posts and feel better after reading each and every one. Thanks!

  33. Fun for the weekend, 11.18.11 « tiny squared responded on 18 Nov 2011 at 12:15 pm #

    [...] at Eat the Damn Cake talks about how she can’t clean up good – and how trying on her wedding dress wasn’t the transformative, tear-jerking [...]

  34. Hannah responded on 18 Nov 2011 at 1:01 pm #

    You know, I didn’t feel transformed hardly ever until I started doing tribal belly dance. The costumes are pretty involved, but when I look at myself in pictures later I kind of don’t recognize myself. I look like a goddess, hanging out with all these other goddesses. How weird is it to even write that?

    Maybe you just haven’t found the thing that will transform you (physically) yet. And you know, just because you can’t see transformation doesn’t mean it’s not happening.

  35. Kristine responded on 20 Nov 2011 at 9:45 pm #

    briana-i have naturally curly hair, but it will kind of just do whatever i want it to do. if i put straightening stuff in it (smooth infusion line from aveda) and twirl it with my fingers it will be wavy instead. i have bangs but i push them up and blend them with my hair if i am leaving my hair natural, if i make it wavier i just leave them as bangs. not everyone’s hair will do this, if yours won’t you can use a waving iron ;)

  36. steph responded on 23 Nov 2011 at 11:33 pm #

    but if she takes off the glasses she can’t see the world around her. I’d rather keep my eyes open and tell myself that I’m fabulous even if others can’t see it. It’s their loss…and I wear red underwear. It’s amazing how sexy you can feel in your baggy sweatshirt when you have on great underwear. Thanks for this post!

  37. Joy Daniels (@AuthorJDaniels) responded on 28 Nov 2011 at 5:40 pm #

    I love this post because girl, you are talking to me. I don’t clean up magically either. I can do professional quite well: suit, skirt etc but sexy? I have the no boob problem too, which doesn’t help since most dresses need to be filled out.

    Funny thing is I look ok from the neck down – not hot, not spectacular but nice. It’s my face that doesn’t fit (OK I have wide shoulders too – no they’re athletic). But imy face can’t hide the fact that these clothes just aren’t me. It’s like the wink is just there, saying “really? wouldn’t you rather be wearing yoga pants or even a flowy skirt instead of THIS?”

    Yeah, I would.

  38. Eat the Damn Cake » little victories: schlumpy phase responded on 29 Dec 2011 at 12:58 am #

    [...] for my arms to look fatter? I look terrible in EVERYTHING.” I will definitely say, “I can’t dress up! I am one of those women who doesn’t look good in nice things!” I hope I won’t say these things out [...]

  39. Penny responded on 01 Aug 2012 at 9:35 pm #

    I bet with your no boobs you could pull off one of those low cut halter dresses, as they look better without cleavage. I have too much boob and look trampy in low cut things.

  40. Eat the Damn Cake » the extreme importance of letting yourself be occasionally ugly responded on 03 Sep 2012 at 12:53 pm #

    [...] The main problem with beauty for girls is that it gets conflated with just about every other good thing. Even the nerdy smart girls we gratefully identify with in our favorite books get played by typically lovely actresses with shiny hair, slender limbs, and delicate, even features. It’s OK to be endearingly dorky, as long as you can transform into an angelic vision of ideal femininity the moment you put on a prom dress! [...]

  41. Brooke responded on 14 Sep 2012 at 2:50 pm #

    Kimmy Sue, your hoochie top + overalls + boa recommendation makes me want more style advice from you!

  42. Brooke responded on 14 Sep 2012 at 3:00 pm #

    Also… Kristine you have such delicious style! Seeing people’s untamed hair is such a treat, I love the unruliness of your curls.

    Hannah, I’m so glad you shared your dance reflections. I love your idea about different activities having transformative effects, and your goddess gang was an ideal way of illustrating that! :D

  43. beaujolais responded on 23 Sep 2012 at 11:45 pm #

    Honestly? I don’t think the ‘transformation’ into beauty really happens. At weddings, the bride always looks herself, and I think her beauty is heightened because of her happiness of the moment.

    The transformation may occur because the transformer feels it, not because she actually looks different–the whole ‘feeling confident’ thing. But many things can make us feel that way, things we’re good at (like, for instance, dance).

    Everyone looks so distinctly themselves that a surface physical addition doesn’t really change them.