My Hot-Pink-Loving Santa Claus Father Taught Me What Beauty Is
Through dad I learned the importance of self-love — and ‘anodized titanium’ hair.
When I write about beauty, I often mention the women in my life. That’s as it should be; cosmetic practice is a primarily feminine undertaking and has long served to bond me more closely with other femme people in my life. There are exceptions to every rule, however, and as Father’s Day approaches in the United States, I’ve been thinking about the myriad ways in which my own Dad’s attitudes and actions have influenced my adult conception of loveliness. I wish everyone had a Dad like him.
Once when I was an itty-bitty kid, toddler-aged, Dad made some sort of jokey comment about my sticky-outy little kid belly, probably something as innocuous as poking me in the tummy like the Pillsbury Doughboy. I don’t remember exactly what he said, but I DO remember that I had already absorbed enough brainwashing from our woman-hating culture to lose my entire toddler mind over the teasing and insist my mom take me to the grocery store to buy “salad foods” because I was going to “go on a diet.” (This is how I know how young I was when this all went down — I recall riding in the kiddy seat in the grocery cart while I pointed out a zucchini and several selections of greens I intended to consume as the entirety of my new eating plan.)
Predictably, this “diet” only lasted for about three bites of zucchini and spinach (maybe just one?) and I quickly resumed my usual eating habits of vanilla-flavored baby oatmeal and Velveeta Mac & Cheese or dry Cheerios or whatever I preferred then. But thinking back, I realize that my brief baby “diet” attempt might have rattled my dad more than I ever realized.
To my memory, Dad has never made a single comment, either negative or positive, about the shape of my body for the rest of my life, instead only ever complimenting my styling (“You look great, honey!”) or physical strength (“Check this out, Jane!! She can jump over the length of my whole body from head to feet!”). Growing up, this never seemed strange to me in the slightest — like, why would your dad have anything to say about the dimensions of your physical form? Wouldn’t that be weird?? It wasn’t until I got older and made friends with girls whose fathers habitually made snide remarks about their eating habits, their “extra pounds,” the way they fit into certain garments, that I began to comprehend the enormity of my own father’s gift of silence on the subject. Never, EVER any “you look too big in that dress” from my dad, never ever any vociferous approval of thinness that I could use to bludgeon myself when my shape shifted, as it always will. Such a simple thing, to provide such a lasting impact on my life! That refusal to feed into the constant stream of entitled commentary on women’s bodies that we all hear and read and infer from everything around us all of the time, every day.
Why would your dad have anything to say about the dimensions of your physical form? Wouldn’t that be weird?
I don’t know that Dad even realizes how profoundly this absence of opining affected me, this precious Shield of Shutting Up About Size, his continual lifelong maintenance of a safe space in which, with him, I can take shelter from society’s constant critique of my physicality. I don’t even know if he did it on purpose, but why ever he went that path, I’m so thankful he did.
If I could give other dads any bit of advice, it’s definitely to emulate mine in this arena. Every other bit of my celebratory outlook on beauty rests atop the foundation built on this constant omission of comment about my corporeal form, which in its very absence managed to impart a message: You look fine already, just as you are. The rest is just decoration.
Dad was not so wild about my sudden third grade desperation, after discovering the Babysitters Club book series and its descriptions of Claudia Kishi’s style, to get my ears pierced. But when his dire warnings about fungal infections failed to dissuade me and, with Mom’s permission, I got my lobes pierced anyway, Dad’s respect for his daughter’s bodily autonomy and aesthetic choices once again emerged at the fore. Especially once the initial six-week healing period passed and he realized I needed the piercings in order to rock mismatched fishing lures (minus hooks) in each ear: “You know? That actually looks pretty cool.”
This attitude of non-grudging acceptance toward beauty experiments I initially imagined he’d loathe has held steady across the decades. Hot pink lip crayon as eye shadow paired with matte orange lipstick during senior year of high school once again received the dawning acknowledgement of, “Hey….that looks cool! Really cool!” And when last year’s declaration of intent to return to a more “natural” hair color ended in a black-dyed bob with vivid turquoise roots? “Wow! Your hair looks like anodized titanium!”
A fervent fan of bright color, especially red, Dad was much more enthusiastic about my first forays into the lip product aisle than my initial assay at body modification. Dad is a bit of a flamboyant figure himself and, rather than dismiss cosmetics as an inferior “girly” thing, he took every chance he could get for a straight cis Southern family doctor circa 1995 to socially acceptably wear lipstick and false lashes, performing as a supremely dragged-up stilt-sashaying “Mother Ginger” in my childhood ballet school’s rendition of The Nutcracker. (Also the Mouse King and Clara/Marie’s father in Act 1. Like I said, flamboyant.)
When I was 14, he actually won a charity drag pageant in rural Mendota, Virginia, wearing red sequins and an enormous blonde wig boasting an arrangement of plastic flamingos! Other contestants who took the enterprise more casually didn’t stand a chance—Dad came to slay, and I have rarely felt prouder in my whole life than I did in the moment when he was crowned Queen of Mendota.
Dad’s personal favorite styling products are mustache wax and beard whitener, his accessories of choice sharp hats, bright ties, and shiny boots, OR a sassily sloganed t-shirt paired with vivid sneakers, depending on occasion. He takes his resemblance to Santa Claus very seriously for the sake of kids who are delighted to see him out and about busy with regular-person, non-North Pole activities; his “HO HO HO” is quite impressive and has slowly crept into his genuine laugh.
It’s pretty cool to be Santa’s daughter, I gotta say. Occasionally when we’re all together, he’ll take my sister-in-law and me out for a mad drugstore makeup binge, letting us just tear through all the sales and buying us whatever we want. Then, once we take it all home to experiment with our haul, Dad is always willing to serve as a guinea pig for new product. When we were all happily occupied with the aftermath of one such outing, disaster struck: Caught up in cosmetic-induced frenzy, I’d become entranced by a new shade and painted my nails before opening the package of Oreos I’d acquired for the occasion, dooming myself to an indeterminate Oreo-deprived stretch of denial til the polish finally dried.
My father, a true hero with mismatched shiny shadows smeared on each of his eyelids, refused to let this untenable situation stand! Nobly, he opened the package of cookies with his lacquer-free fingers, and proceeded to hand-feed me as many Oreos as I wanted until my nails were safely set and smear-resistant.
I know it’s stupid, but I’m tearing up now just thinking about my dad’s easy determination that my beauty routine need not interfere with my enjoyment of cookies, or vice versa. Not on his watch, anyway! That’s the kind of dad we all deserve.
I know Father’s Day is tough for a lot of people. There are dearly departed, sorely missed Papas; there are fathers who abdicated the responsibilities that come with the title; there are dads who were never even there at all. There’s a lot of Dad-disappointment in the world, and it can be really acute on a holiday meant to celebrate the deserving dad, the dad of our dreams, the dad we still love and miss so much it aches.
On any old day, this weekend or whenever, if you need a Dad to tell you that you look great in that unconventional lipstick, or just a Dad to tell you that you *are* great, lipstick or no, feel free to borrow mine. That guy’s so full of beauty he always has plenty to share.
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