ExperimentI listened to my mom for a week and stopped wearing all black everything
Hopes&Fears challenged a friend to obey her mother for a week.
When Hopes&Fears challenged me to follow my mother’s advice and instruction for a whole week it didn’t seem like much of a challenge immediately. I’m close with my mother but usually our conversation is confined to secondhand recaps with my dad, her husband—with whom I speak almost daily—as the medium. We do exchange emails and occasionally chat on the phone, but most of our catching up is done in person over copious glasses of iced red wine (I know), sprawled across my parents’ carpeted living room floor while some garbage Katherine Heigl film plays, mostly ignored, save the occasional jab. Anyway, immediately after accepting the assignment, Mom answered her BlackBerry the same way she usually does when I call without warning. She sounded excited but suspicious—and both feelings doubled-down in her inflections when I explained the project.
Beca Grimm is a culture writer at Bustle. Her work has appeared in Refinery29, VICE, and the Village Voice. She currently lives and works out of Atlanta, Georgia.
“Well,” she said in a measured, Southern-tinged cadence so it sounded almost like "whale". Her accent flares up more when she’s excited, and that afternoon she didn’t bother masking the fact she was totally tickled at the prospect. “I guess I’d say you should drink less, but that seems hypocritical.” Ice cubes clinked in her glass. “I definitely think you should work on sleeping more, but I know the girls’ll be in town. So not that, either...”
She meant a trio of visiting college friends; women I’ve known for almost a decade. We’d planned a sort of soft reunion accidentally following five years since we’d last lived in the same North Florida city. My mother, in all of my memory, has been agreeable, generous, and humble above all else. She would never feel OK restricting me from fully enjoying my pals flying in from all over. Mom struggled to set some hard ground rules.
I offered maybe I could take the week off from smoking marijuana and participating in premarital sex—the only two regular activities in my life I could imagine her not absolutely loving. “No…” she said. Which was fair as I make those two potentially scandalous acts infinitely more vanilla with the details like "I really only get high while reading in my bathtub at home" and the fact that I exclusively sleep with my monogamous partner.
About an hour later, I got an email with my assignment. I let a finger hover over the subject line before flicking it open on my phone. It read:
“Wear at least two colors each day for a week. Preferably bright colors, if possible... You may still wear black, but no more than one item per day. Also, for good measure, wear lipstick every day (I know you do sometimes, anyway).”
I spent a small tenure in New York recently and while there, I underwent the horribly cliche transformation and began wearing almost exclusively black. In my defense, I didn’t have a lot of extra dough so re-wearing fairly plain, simple items flew under the radar a bit more easily that my previously pattern-heavy, very loud pieces (people tend to notice zebra print thrice in a week). At one point circa age 19, my big sister lovingly ribbed something about me “dressing like rainbow vomit.” Regardless, Mom always supported my ridiculous styles and continued to chase me down with brightly colored, flamboyant tops while shopping together in post-Christmas sales for years.
I opened the sliding door to my closet to survey options. I paused and—as if we were linked by telepathy—felt my phone buzz with an addendum. From Mom: “Except underwear. I know you love your black underwear.” She had a point.
"I know you love your black underwear.” She had a point.
I swapped a black hoodie for an eggplant racerback tank top, slicked on some alizarin lip hue (honestly, only one of two colors I own) with a wand and greeted the first of three friends to arrive. Daisy and I drove to pick up Cay from the airport. Daisy, the first friend I made of the three—back when we were 19 and wore fake birds from the craft store pinned to our hair out for the hell of it, leaned over. “Hot lipstick!” she said, giggling. We scooped up Cay then and Brecken later. No one made a major comment on the lipstick or non-high-school-theater-tech uniform.
It felt really good and warm and easy. An effortless escape back to the past. Although the four of us kept in touch—some better than others, but usually with ebbing consistency and intensity—we fell right back into patterns and it almost felt weird I wasn’t wearing feathered earrings or body glitter or something else insane that used to be routine back when these nights leaning and laughing in this exact grouping over cheap wine was an average evening activity.
I can’t recall a very constant stable of my mother’s friends growing up. She has always been a hugely gregarious, charming woman—more than once admired for her ability to befriend people even in line for a public restroom. Mom definitely had and has some special forever-type of friendships but I seem to remember her always pouring leaps and bounds more effort and energy to maintain these than she ever collected in return. She is kind and sometimes, unfortunately, unkind people take advantage of that. Mom has made it a constant refrain to remind me how lucky I am for various friendships and the three women in Atlanta that weekend were some of her favorites. Once, following an especially catastrophic breakup, she broke through my sobs with the quiet consolation that I had a really top-notch crew of friends who’d surely stick around for the long haul. Wine-buzzed and platonic love-drunk, I crouched over our ravaged spread and I knew she was right. The quiet pop of my purple top and smeared magenta mouth seemed an appropriate uniform for checking in.
She is kind and sometimes, unfortunately, unkind people take advantage of that.
Our family never had a lot of money but every so often we’d catch a weekend matinee. Popcorn happened, as that’s a non-negotiable in the unspoken Grimm clan contract. Mom was sneaky, filling and folding a napkin with salt to keep the snack at peak tastiness. And when she had her popcorn fill, she’d keep her gaze fixed ahead—a thin trail of silver defining her profile—as she wordlessly reapplied her Revlon Heather Frost lipstick. It was dim so it wasn’t easy to tell, but I could see the iconic emerald and gold case cutting through the dark.
Not necessarily picky about any other glamour or luxury type of item, but lipstick and well-maintained nails were always the exception. This somehow translated in my little kid brain that painted lips and clicky fingernails equated to womanhood. Although I learned to swap my nail-gnawing for cigarettes and then later peppermint gum, I never quite got the lipstick part down to routine status. Instead, the special color seemed... special. A nice pencil I bought at Sephora on a whim I’d wear if I felt like playing dress-up. I never even had a quick lipstick-everyday spell. It never felt natural and made sparing cameos.
The special color seemed... special.
Throughout the weekend and onward I stayed mindful of my mouth.
The wardrobe color inclusion thing wasn’t so hard once I cleared a minor hump and just decided to stop caring so much how the entire outfit looked. It’s easy to look put together in all black but colors presented other challenges and instead of trying to navigate new waters in the sea of coordination, I lowered my expectations. I was only following rules and it was remarkably easy once in the swing.
But yeah, the mouth. I remembered again my mom and the theater and Heather Frost and frowned in a brightly-lit bathroom with a mirror. A narrow twist of TP erased my numerous mistakes. It transferred to sandwiches, forks, my chin. I figured throughout the week, I’d ingested about half of what I wore.
Conversely, though, the fuschia shock marked countless wineglass rims and seltzer cans. It was a surprisingly cool, feminine way of marking territory—or least helping to make sure you didn’t forget what was yours.
The ghost of Heather Rose perhaps permanently stained my cheeks throughout repeat childhood tangos. Mom didn’t know she was tattooing her daughters’ faces with affection. Dropping the girls at the airport, I tattooed their faces, too. On accident, of course. We all cried and then I remembered to text my mom.
I figured throughout the week, I’d ingested about half of what I wore.
Me: “I forgot to ask.”
Her: “Uh oh. What?”
Me: “I got a tattoo. With the girls. Is that OK? Brecken and Daisy and I all got one. Little oranges—for Florida.”
A moment, then:
Her: “Why didn’t Cay?”
I loved that my sweet, ink-free mother’s first reaction was, Why didn’t everyone participate? I asked if she was mad and her “LOL” response seemed sincere.
I drove right to my partner’s and mauled his face, totally forgetting the lipstick. He pulled away so I could see his tie-dyed mouth, all vermillion and totally unaware. I helped him wipe clean before venturing out but I knew there’s no point in really trying to erase something permanent. Even though with him, unlike the familial and friendly relationships, there’s less guarantees for that permanent kind of affection or love. However, the small mark would continue to exist.
By the end of the experiment—when I was free to return to my all-black, lip balm-only cave person ways—I felt a weird mixture of relief and reconnection. My mom didn’t assign me an impossible scavenger hunt of empty duties or unrealistic expectations. She didn’t ask I start half-marathon training or go to church or count calories or call my grandmothers. Her request was much more simple. The weight of its findings was likely very unintentional.
I felt like I better understood why my mother still applied lipstick even when no one else could see it—even when she could not see it. It was more of a symbol. A pulse or reminder, maybe. An effort and a baseline. Something to continue showing up in subtle or obvious hairline and freckle formations for a long time to come. It was, in a sense, her way of showing love.
And a way maybe I could too.
It was more of a symbol. A pulse or reminder, maybe.
Images by flickr.com/ana_ng