She was applying false eyelashes to my lids. Despite my best efforts to tip my head back and stop them from falling, tears were slipping from the corners of my eyes. But she was a professional; the stiff dark fringes stayed in place. I peeked under them at my daughter standing in the center of the white room, styled and made up, poised in front of the camera like an antelope, alert, wide-eyed, somewhat out of her element. This was not a natural state for either one of us, nevertheless we were spending the afternoon at a Glamour Session in an airy studio in the capable hands of four lovely women who were helping us tip-toe past our self-imposed beauty inhibitions.
I was leaking tears because Charrisse was telling me about a makeup session she had volunteered to do with disadvantaged women in Vancouver’s Downtown East Side. As the brushes swept like butterfly kisses over my cheekbones I stifled the urge to make a self-conscious joke about crow’s feet. We talked about the idea of “beautiful”. She told me a story about one woman in particular who had wept during her makeover after receiving a compliment about an aspect of her appearance. “Some part of everyone is beautiful. I only have to look for that,” said Charrisse. The woman replied that she had never in her life been told she was beautiful; never in fact had been told she deserved to think of any part of herself as beautiful.
I was weeping for that woman, every woman who denies or cannot see her own beauty, for every teenager who stands in front of his or her mirror and wants to hide. How do any of us truly claim our own version of beautiful? What happens to our girls and boys after the unabashed delight of playing dress-up ends and self-consciousness sets in? What lifelong expectations are set up when everything around us is idealized and falsified?
We cranked up the music. I did kind of love the lashes. They made me feel like I did as a young girl, sitting at my grandmother’s vanity and secretly applying her Chanel-red lipstick. Daring. Fancy. A little twirly.
My teenager looked dazzling. If anyone told her so she’d deny it. Find every flaw. I was hoping the camera would show her a different perspective. As we played—and yes, twirled just a little—Kyrani’s shutter clicked. She spoke about wanting to help young women "open their minds to their own beauty".
Helen, who styled us patiently, seemingly effortlessly, coaxed us out of our comfort zones and into heels, daring us to question our own internal monologues and step out from behind the change room curtains into the light. She talked to us about her experience as a stylist and the million ways women undermine themselves with negative self-talk. She called this inner monologue of self-criticism an “acid rain”, utterly corrosive to revealing true beauty.
When did my inner acid rain kick in? Sometime around the time I got hip bones. I wished for prettier curves, plusher boobs, felt I was a rectangle and my hips too big. My mother tried to tell me to own my teenage looks. She told me this even as she was doing the Jane Fonda Workout because "things require a bit more effort after 40". I thought she was perfect. She was trying to tell me that I already was too.
I am finally living that lesson, and try daily to be an example to the girls in my life that beautiful is a moment in a garden, a laugh, an unadorned morning hug, an all-made-up-in your-fancy-dress pirouette before the party even begins. Beautiful will always be what you project from within. The Glamour Sessions were a gift I could share with my daughter not only because it was a phenomenally fun afternoon but because that moment? That moment won’t come again. We are always changing, there is no point fussing over hip bones or crow’s feet. We must learn to embrace ourselves as we are, not as we think we ought to be, but for the moment, the skin, the body we are in.
Helen, Kyrani, Charrisse and Noelene who organized it all want nothing more than to capture that moment. You can find The Glamour Sessions on Facebook here. And press or more information from Noelene Searle Valleau at firstname.lastname@example.org. I think this, from my follow up conversation with Kyrani, is a perfect testament to the work they are doing:
“Throughout pop culture and art history, the majority (if not all) images of women were produced by men—in other words, men's view of women. Doing the Glamour Sessions is a way for me to put out my own vision of women. And everyday women, not fashion models or actors. The images I produce are not intended to be photoshopped to make someone look skinner, with longer legs, etc. Simply how I see you. Just a team of women working together to create something beautiful for someone else thereby seeing the beauty we create as the beauty that exists within ourselves”.