I look a lot like my mom.
At least, that’s what everyone says. I don’t really see it.
(my dad, mom, one of my brother, and me. I am holding a lot of stuff, for some reason)
Classic daughter behavior.
When I was a kid, I had this book of hairstyles. The photographs were close-ups, shot by some famous fashion photographer. The models were famous models, and the hair stylists were legendary stylists to the stars. I didn’t care about any of that. I just loved looking at the amazing hair. I wanted to paint pictures of the pictures. My favorite was of this model with very dark brown skin and purple lipstick. Her hair was incredibly short, and her face was literally the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen. After I flipped through it in Borders, I saved up my money and bought the book because of her face. But there was one picture in that book that annoyed me. That disrupted the flow of gorgeous faces and fantastic hair.
It was a picture of a woman with her two daughters. The woman was a famous model, now retired. The daughters were maybe fourteen and sixteen. Someone had thought it would be a cute idea to show them all together. The problem was that the mother was so much prettier, I thought, in my childish, unsympathetic way.
The mother belonged in this glossy, incredible book, but her daughters were out of place. Their faces were less refined versions of her face. They were duller, lumpier, muddled, as though her genes had been muted by their father’s, or misapplied. I felt sorry for them, but I wanted them to get out of my book.
Later, when I was both more aware and more aware of the way beauty worked in the world around me, I thought of those girls and their mother. And I remembered that the girls had actually been lovely, with their more complicated faces. And I thought of my mom and me.
Because I am one of those women with a very pretty mother.
A mother who was always the pretty girl. The kind of girl who will sometimes complain that she doesn’t like her toes, or something, and no one will believe her, because it’s hard to imagine anything about her not being pretty and well-formed.
Once, when I was a teenager, I ran into a casual acquaintance of my family in town, and he looked me up and down and said, “I think you might be almost as pretty as your mother!” And I felt suddenly faintly ill.
A string of boyfriends all told me how beautiful my mom was. As though they were surprised. “I have to admit this—your mom is really good looking…” They were nervous around her. I was easy. It was my mom, sometimes imperious and faintly dangerous, sometimes warm and laughing, who needed impressing.
I felt sort of proud of her, sort of unsure how to react.
Every time we’ve gone out together, over the years, the person behind the counter of the little store we’re in inevitably says, “You look exactly the same!”
Which clearly isn’t right. But I take it as a compliment, even though I am twenty-six and she is fifty-six.
Even though I used to wish that people wouldn’t compare me to someone who isn’t even close to my age. Especially when I was younger, I was frustrated by this. Do I look like I’m forty-five? I thought when I was fifteen.
But generally, I don’t mind being compared to my mother, because I know people think she’s attractive.
(she has this infectious smile that I’ve modeled my own smile after)
Sometimes, after someone has told me that I look just like my mom, I catch myself rushing to a mirror. I am automatically comparing our faces. I see where mine is duller, where the features got muddled. I got the big, bulky nose, while hers is straight and sculpted. Her eyebrows are fine and feathery, mine are heavy and dark. My face looks softer, longer, confused about its mission. I can see some of my great-grandmother, on my dad’s side, struggling to surface.
My mom recently lost a lot of weight. For most of my life, she was thin, but never skinny. She is taller than me, and never looked overweight. But she has changed the way she eats completely in the past few years, and grown more and more slender as I have gained weight. She wears stylish clothes now, and her hair is always freshly done. I hug her, and she feels like less and less in my arms.
She looks great. There’s no denying it. She isn’t depriving herself of food, but she doesn’t eat the foods I like. She does a lot of yoga and is outside a lot and just generally has a fit, healthy air.
And there’s a part of me that senses that I’m letting myself go. You know how they say that. I’m letting myself go as she hones herself. I feel suddenly large next to her, for the first time. After I see her, I wonder if I should change my diet. I am always the only one eating a bagel, when I visit. She keeps bagels in the freezer for me. No one else will touch them.
After I see her, I wonder for a second if she thinks, on any level, that I am letting myself go. No, she doesn’t. But how can she not, when she is so careful with herself? When she would never eat a bagel.
I am proud of my mom. She is a strong, opinionated, motivated woman who does things the way she wants to do them. Who is as comfortable choosing radically different paths as she is walking the most conventional ones with flair and a perfect outfit. She defies categorization. She is an incredible gardener. She is intensely organized. She throws parties.
I am not very much like her, in so many ways. Maybe most.
Although we both hate it when people leave the towels crumpled after a shower. Hang them up STRAIGHT. SPREAD THEM OUT. They dry better that way. It’s so simple.
My mom and I are different people, as moms and daughters tend to be. We are a different mix of genes. I have my great-grandmother, for example, a gentle woman with a bold nose who spoke at least seven languages. I have my father’s father, who was so sweet. I have my dad, who is disorganized and messy and often silly. Who has more pronounced eyebrows.
I have my own body, which wants to do its own thing.
And sometimes I wish for a moment that people would stop comparing me to my mom.
Maybe it would have been better, in a way, if they had never started.
* * *
Do you look like your mom? Do you not look at all like your mom?
Unroast: Today I love the way I look in a vaguely tribal pattern.
Cake pic from a reader! Well, cakes, technically. Even better. Send me yours!
P.S. So I have to tell this story here—Anne Hathaway was behind me in line at the grocery store, and I was about to pay when I remembered that I’d wanted to buy cookies. I asked the guy behind the counter to add cookies to my order, and he tried, but for some reason this threw his little computer off, and then the credit card machine stuttered out and the guy was frantically trying to fix things. All because I wanted cookies. A lot of them. I was having people over that night, but Anne didn’t know that. She was very, very thin, and had amazing tufting hair, and was wearing sunglasses inside, on a rainy day. She looked so unhappy. She was buying kale. We waited there together forever. And then, finally, I got my cookies, and I fled.
P.P.S. I wrote a silly little list piece about things women should do with their hair. It’s on the Frisky over here, if you want to read it.