Chicago mom with autoimmune disease challenges perceptions of beauty

Every morning since she can remember, my 9-year-old daughter has sat in the bathroom and watched me put on my makeup. I’m guessing ours is not an atypical ritual. Our customary habit is slightly different though. My daughter surveys my makeup application with the keen precision of a nuclear bomb inspector. “You missed a spot,” she often shouts out.

UPDATE: “Facebook doesn’t like my face.”

Lisa Goodman-Helfand recently posted an article to her blog, Comfortable in My Thick Skin, in which she shared a photo of herself bare-faced, all in an effort to bring awareness to scleroderma. When she attempted to spread the message further by placing an ad on Facebook promoting the article, she was turned down due to the fact that her bare-faced photo would receive “high negative feedback.”


UPDATE: Face off for Scleroderma

Ditch your makeup and join Lisa for her Face Off for Scleroderma event on August 9, 2015 at Larry Fink Memorial Park. Learn more.

I have scleroderma, an autoimmune disease that can cause disfiguration and telangiectasia (red spots). My doctor says I have the most telangiectasia sprinkled over my body than any patient she has ever seen. I wonder if there’s some kind of contest I can enter for that cool claim to fame? I religiously apply three layers of concealer to my face each morning before I let the world see me.

Sure, I may look like I’m caking on my makeup with a butter knife, but that beats the alternative, watching everyone I meet recoil in fear of catching some horrible rash, which really isn’t a rash at all.

My kids have grown accustomed to me saying, “I can’t make you pancakes this morning, I’ve got to get my makeup on before the plumber gets here.” Or, “Sorry sweetie, Mommy can’t read with you right now, I’ve got to get my makeup on before your playdate arrives.” Or, “The carpool is here! I’m not getting the door because I don’t have any makeup on.”

I will go to great lengths to avoid being seen in my splotchy skin. When my kids have friends sleep over, I’ll wake up early just to put on my makeup so I don’t scare anyone.

The crazy thing is I’m not even doing this out of vanity. Plenty of people have seen me without makeup. After my daughter was born, I suffered grave complications and was in the hospital for 218 days. I lost all my hair, weighed less than 80 pounds, had a tracheotomy and a garden of tubes sprouting from my abdomen. Hundreds of people visited me and my bare spotted skin, which was certainly the least of my concerns.

So why won’t I take out my trash in the morning without makeup?

I have rationalized that it is because I feel more confident when I am masking my disease. I don’t want to have to explain scleroderma to my lawn-care man. I’ve convinced myself that it’s OK to want to look more “normal” to the outside world. I truly believe that women should be empowered by their beauty and should not ever apologize for wanting to present themselves well.

One morning when I was upstairs missing out on a family breakfast because I was putting on my makeup, I overheard this conversation between my husband Dave and my daughter, Emi.

Emi: Daddy, do you think I’m pretty?

Dave: Of course I do! You’re naturally beautiful just like Mom.

Emi: But Mom isn’t naturally beautiful.

Dave: Sure she is! Mom is very beautiful. Why would you say that, Emi?

Emi: Because she looks terrible without any makeup on!

Yikes! Why don’t you just tear out my heart and pour acid on it? My daughter is a kind person. She generally will not intentionally try to say mean things or hurt anyone’s feelings. My first inclination was to march out of the bathroom and tell her that her comment was not very nice.

Thankfully, before that happened, I had an epiphany. Holy crap, this is what I have instilled in my daughter. How can I expect Emi to appreciate all types of beauty when visions of me concealing my natural appearance have been imprinted on her brain since she was a toddler? Of course she thinks I look horrible without any makeup. That is the message I have sent her.

I vowed I would do something to alter my daughter’s perceptions of beauty. I began to notice all sorts of ways in which I was imparting warped values. I usually greet my groggy 12- year-old son each morning with, “Hey buddy! Good morning! Did you have a good sleep?” In contrast, I awake my daughter with, “Hi gorgeous girl! How’s Mommy’s beautiful princess this morning?”

If I let him, my son would go to school with bed-head hair, mismatched clothes and un-brushed teeth. My daughter spends a lot of time picking out her outfit, selecting her hair accessory and asking me questions like, “Which shoes look cuter with this outfit, Mom?” Some of these differences can be attributed to personality type, interests and dare-I-say gender.

But I can’t help but wonder how much of my daughter’s interest in outward appearance has been perpetuated by me.

I’m not saying I want my daughter looking like she just climbed out of a dumpster. I want both my children to take pride in their appearance and appreciate the value in presenting one’s self well. I don’t want my kids to equate their self-worth with their reflections in the mirror, though. It’s important they know that there is so much more to people than what they initially see. Sometimes, it’s tough to strike a balance between these seemingly opposing notions.

One thing I do know is that I don’t want my kids looking back on their childhoods remembering all the times their mom said “I can’t because I’ve got to put my makeup on.” I want my children to think of their mom as a brave person who wasn’t afraid to do something bold.

How can I combat all the subliminal messages I’ve unintentionally transmitted to my daughter? How can I show her there are all different types of beauty? Are you waiting to read my thoughts on this? Sorry, I haven’t got a clue. I’m posing these questions to the Chicago Parent readers in the hopes that someone far wiser than me has an idea.

Anyone? Anyone? Bueller? Bueller?

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