My mother forced me to wear a fuchsia pink full body jumpsuit to my grade nine hazing day, effectively launching her plan to keep me a chaste, untouched virgin until my arranged marriage husband would make appropriate love to me through the crocheted hole of new linen sheets on our wedding night. Little did she know that senior high school boys in 1988 had x-ray vision and didn’t even notice the fuchsia pink jumpsuit.
My mother also thought that reading women’s magazines was the intellectual equivalent of 1920’s Paris salons. Actually, I retract that. I don’t think she would know about Parisian salons.
Politics, religion, philosophy, history, literature; these were not the domain of women in the little century old home where I was raised. Eyeshadow, hairstyles and how to keep your man via the household menu were the topics in which I was tutored. However, I was a curious, stubborn and contradictory child.
I was more intrigued by the evening news than I was by Phil Donahue or the afternoon soap operas. I followed politics, and often, to my immaculately turned out mother’s chagrin, often left the house without make-up (gasp!). Even at a young age, I was very matter of fact, which must have been a nightmare for my 1950’s housewife style mother. Youth does not fair well in the land of grey, only in black and white/right and wrong.
Mother bought most of the women’s magazines that came out every month, and by the age of 13, I was buying and reading Cosmopolitan as a habit. We always had magazines in the house, articles about make-up, clothing and hairstyles often dog-eared, circled, or torn out and folded up inside Mom’s gargantuan purse. A broken nail was a five alarm emergency which would send her out the door and to the aesthetician immediately.
One could argue that it’s the finer things that women appreciate, the beautiful aesthetic that we maintain and honor in the world that grounds our homes and families. I can’t argue with that. If we could all go home to a peaceful and comfortable retreat, the world, indeed, would be a better place. We all know that’s not the case for most people. Even if affluence is present, presence may not be present.
So, I moved beyond the smut of home and fashion and the promise of no-effort, no-fail weight loss miracles on the cover of weekly rag mags. I educated myself by reading the newspaper, or several from various politically charged landscapes scattered around the globe. I continue to question what’s reported on, and more importantly, what is not.
Am I a better person for it? Does simply being in-the-know make me a better person than my mother?
What do I do with my knowledge, my questions, my human instinct for justice? How does it come into my seasonally decorated home? These are the things that my mother never taught me.
I remember her advice as I moved out on my own, ” Always buy magazines, and you’ll never be out of style. Be careful who you make friends with – never trust another woman around your man.” She also told me I was fat, ugly, and getting a university degree was a selfish waste of time. Great advice.
Despite ditching mom’s advice, I must admit that I still have a magazine addiction. My grade 11 English teacher Ms. Madeleine Horton eyeballed my Cosmopolitan one day, and said, “Kemina, you’re far too intelligent to read that. Try Vanity Fair.” She was sure to ask about the articles every month.
I have been very fortunate in this lifetime to know several older women who have tutored me in intellect and the presence that I mentioned earlier. I have been blessed to engage in conversations with older, more experienced women about real life issues. I’ve been given advice about relationships that my mother would have never thought of. Beyond losing weight and looking too good to be true, I was not nurtured in the value of maintaining my own ideas, personal ethic and independent thought. All pretty flipping sexy qualities don’t you think?
I still love some of the more girly periodicals, and buy two or three every month. I even love my mother because as a woman, I have to respect that she did the best she could with the resources she had.
It was my relationship with my “other mothers” that lead to my appreciation of magazines like The Economist, The New Yorker, The Walrus and Mother Jones. Fashion magazines are to me what sports are for most men; a safe way to connect and bond.
I’m not a guerilla warfare style human rights activist, but I do stay up to date, and engage my peers in conversation about things that matter. As I mature, I hope that some day, somewhere, young women say, “You know, I learned a lot from that Kemina woman.”
One final maternal thought to leave you with. When I was six years old (1980ish), my mother loaded me in the car, and drove me to her friend’s house who was a very kind, chain-smoking hairdresser. She was going to transform her long, blonde haired kindergarten aged daughter (moi) into the clone of little Orphan Annie. As I sat through two hours of bungee cord curlers pulling my hair, and perm chemicals stinging my eyes, my mom didn’t ask if I was ok as she chatted in the haze of the smoke-filled room. She looked at my tearing eyes and said very matter-of-factly, “Kemina, it hurts to be beautiful.” I think I remember some kind of evil laugh after that, but passed out from the fumes. Anyway, my point is that I think it is more accurate to say, “It hurts to think you are not beautiful.”
Confidence is beautiful. Staying informed and educating yourself is beautiful. Mentoring and encouraging other women is our nature, not a danger. This, not fastion magazines will save the world.
Be kind. Be smart. Be informed. Be Fabulous, and remember that you are beautiful-always.