Philadelphia Metropolis


Mascara & Me

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By Robin Lentz Worgan

As I got dressed to attend my first boy/girl dance in seventh grade, my mother came in and offered to put some of her mascara on me.  I had never worn makeup before.  It seemed decadent and mature, so I said yes.  My mother handed me an eyelash curler and told me to hold it for 20 seconds. After I did this, she pumped the mascara brush in and out, squinted at my face and said, "Now look up."  I looked up, but while she tried to apply the mascara my eyes watered and I kept looking down.

After several attempts she succeeded in applying the mascara, and then she drove me to the dance.  Inevitably, each time after this when my mom made me up she got mascara on my face because I could not stop moving and my eyes constantly watered. "Oh for God's sake, Bird, hold still!"  One time she got so fed up that she said, "That is it! You have to do your own eyes."  But I never did.

To me, makeup was just time-consuming and unnatural; to my mom it was an art.  She often tried to apply my lipstick in the car, to which I would say, "I hate the taste," and wipe it off.  She always offered me black eyeliner when she had it but usually her eyeliner pencil had no point because she'd used it to quickly scribble a note for my sister and me when we were running late for school.


Over the next 30 years, I did not improve much as a makeup artist, and my mom was always there for me.  In fact, a few years ago for my 25th high-school reunion my mom came over with her makeup bag. She reminded me, "Always apply your makeup in natural light." She then began by putting on some foundation -- just-a-tad -- and went from there.

It may seem kind of me after all these years to continue to allow my mom to come do my makeup, but really I was always amazed by her work. She would end each of our sessions by complimenting me and then say, "Wow, I should really be a makeup artist!"  Indeed, after all these years, she's kept one steady, grateful client: me.

There are many traditions such as cooking, road tripping and reading that I carry on with my children like my mother did with me, but applying makeup was not one that I passed along.  So, recently when my 12-year-old, Winnie, came to me and asked, "Can I please start wearing mascara to school?"  I was not ready with a response. 

I tend to be lax when my children ask to cook, ride their bikes to school or use public transportation, but when it comes to doing something that symbolically makes them seem to grow up faster, I become a bit controlling.  My body tightened and I answered, "No.  Boys will think you are trying to attract attention ...You are much too young... You are a natural beauty and don't need makeup."


Somewhere in the back of my mind I could hear my grandfather saying all of these things to my mom when she was around the same age as Winnie, which led my mom and her friends to defiantly apply makeup each morning on their walk before they passed the boys' school, Penn Charter.

They would then clean their faces before facing the nuns at Raven Hill Academy and again apply makeup for their walk home passed Penn Charter once more.  My grandfather didn't stop there, as he also suggested that girls should never shave their legs! Thank goodness my mom ignored this advice too.

Winnie waited calmly after hearing my initial response and then turned to me and said, "Mom, it won't change my looks; it will enhance them, and I like attention and compliments from girls, too, so what is wrong with that?"  As I forced myself to let down my lioness defenses for a moment and listen to her rational arguments, I realized that I did not like makeup because I did not appreciate makeup like she and my mom did.


They are both talented artists who sketch drawings and apply makeup with the same amount of passion.   I never really "got" makeup because I never became good at it and my artistic ability ended at a copied stick figure.

Last night my husband and I went to a party with dear college friends whom we had not seen in a long time.  Again, someone else applied my makeup but this time it was not my mom; it was Winnie.  I must admit I looked pretty damn good, and her mascara-blue eyes looked, well, just right.

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