Make up is a verb, not a noun

I’m a member of two online mama groups, one was my due date group for Seve (October 2009) and the other for Juno (June 2011).  Though we all “met” online via a website for people trying to get pregnant, most of us have migrated over to Facebook, which, even though it is free, is a much less restrictive (read: censored) environment for sharing questions, news, advice, etc.

The groups are, by their nature, quite different.  I’ve known the October girls for much longer — more than three years now, including pregnancies — and we are all a bit … not older and wiser, but very definitely BTDT.  Several of us have had more children and for many, their October babies weren’t the first.  It’s a more comfortable group, in the way that your hometown might feel comfortable.  For all that’s left to be learned about each other, it would be hard to shock these women.  Kind of comes with the territory when your first conversations centred around the quality of your cervical mucus (no, really).

The June group is newer and … it’s tough to describe the difference, really.  It seems louder.  Really funny, slightly drunk.  It’s the fun girl at the party who knows everyone and has ten thousand Facebook friends.  October, by contrast, is the person in the corner drinking unaffordably good red wine and wondering when she can get home and into her pyjamas.  One isn’t better than the other, though June definitely seems more active.  Part and parcel of being wasted, I suppose.

So it wasn’t surprising to me when, on Monday, someone raised the call and started asking others to post wedding photos.  These are all women with babies ranging from ten months to a year.  We are busy and have full lives, so this wasn’t some kind of wacko nostalgia tripping, just a fun challenge.  Assuming it applied to you.  It was meaningless for me, because I’ve got as many wedding photos as I have nuclear submarines.  Part of never having been married means not owning an engagement ring, which was the next photo challenge that cropped up.


At the risk of having “every negation is an affirmation” thrown back in my face, I don’t have a problem with not being married.  I just have nothing to contrinbute when the topic turns to weddings.  And I have a terrible eye for such things — honestly, after three dresses they all look the same (so why do I watch “Say Yes To The Dress?”  Good question.  Beats me.).  I told both groups that I was going to have to duck out until we got back to our usual patter of “why won’t my baby sleep” and “I think my husband is addicted to porn.”

This is when things got interesting.  Not long after, one of the June mamas snapped a photo of herself and posted it to the group, with these instructions:

Okay, so all the amazingly beautiful pictures on here make me curious. So starting RIGHT NOW, ccpp frenzy! Rules: no touching up/putting on makeup/fixing hair etc. grab your phone, take a ‘crappy cell phone picture’ and post!

Well now … this was a challenge I could meet.

Babies happily playing behind me, I took this:

I think I made note of the finger reflecting my sentiments about sharing an un-glammed photo of myself.  And pointed out that I’m growing out my grey on purpose.  And I recall describing my chin zit as “jaunty.”

In the June group, instantly dozens of photos popped up.  I got inspired.  I took the challenge to the October moms.  One by one they posted their photos, too, and after only a few hours there were more than 40 beautiful faces.  Tired, annoyed, wrinkled, sunburned.  Some with makeup but most without.  Two of the photos included nursing babies.  Several more featured curious toddlers wanting to know what mama was doing.  But there they were, my brilliant mom friends, as they are.  Unvarnished.  Looking the way they would look if we stopped by for a real coffee, not just a virtual one.

I thought long and hard about how to share this story.

At first, I wanted to share the photos — I made a pretty cool composite of the October participants — but of course I couldn’t do that without asking permission, and I didn’t want to put pressure on anyone to agree to be included, especially as many only played along because they knew the photos would be held in relative privacy.

Then I wanted to share the criticisms.  Because it was impossible, it turned out, for any of us to share our photos without including some kind of apology or self-critique.  I haven’t run the actual numbers but here’s a fake snapshot:

  • 47% of us hadn’t showered in the past two days
  • 20% of us never wear makeup
  • 18% of us are currently experiencing a break-out (70% of us thought we were too old for it, one person was brave enough to post a photo that included a big ol’ dab of Clearasil)
  • 100% of the photographs received some kind of positive feedback
  • 0% of the compliments were insincere

I thought, too, about posting some of those compliments, but in many ways they were as personal as the photos.

Tuesday night, I told the originator of the “as you are” photo challenge that she had made my day, and I meant it.  And last night, when I posted the composite in the October group, I said, “Thank you, ladies for playing along. If all the world had your beauty, spontaneity and fearlessness, we might just supernova from the awesome.”

I meant that, too.



  1. Heather Andrews Porto, CPT, US Army says:

    Jeni, youre fucking awesome. :-)

    • joyandwoe says:

      Aw, shucks. I say that about myself all the time but it’s nice to have someone else type it for a change!

  2. Love this!

  3. joyandwoe says:

    Thanks, Jo!

  4. Love this! Very well said!

  5. Jamie Bates says:

    So your other group has dhs who are addicted to porn?

    • joyandwoe says:

      Oh, find me a group of 75+ women and you’ll find this problem. I sometimes conflate the two groups, but if I focus a little, I can think of two guys who clearly demonstrated an unhealthy predilection, and both are now in the process of becoming xhs.

  6. Awesome!!!! Love it!

  7. Jamie Bates says:

    seriously, the composite pic is one of the most beautiful photos ive seen since i dont know when.

    • joyandwoe says:

      I love it, too. It has an authenticity that kind of takes my breath away. You can see the sleeplessness and worry on some faces, but also youth and optimism, age and experience … and in every case, a woman who has the balls/ovaries to put herself out there. It — we — are awesome.

  8. Jeni- I love you. Love the way you write, LOVE the composite pic. I want to print it out to put on the wall in my studio. I don’t know what I would do without my mama friends.

  9. joyandwoe says:

    Thanks, Susie. We should all remember that next time we want to whine about how we look in candid pics: “But we’re pretty enough for Susie’s wall!” And you get to look at E & J all day long — you know from beautiful.

If you think I’m talking about you here, yeah, you’re probably right.

If you think I’m talking about you here, yeah, you’re probably right.

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