A few weeks ago on twitter the writer Nicole Cliffe asked her followers to imagine explaining their lives to their therapist in one song from a Broadway musical. I chose I Put a Little More Mascara On from La Cage Aux Folles. In case you aren’t familiar with this particular tune (and why aren’t you?) it’s about seeing life through the lens of your self created fabulousness. I recognize that to some people this is the ultimate in shallowness. How unfemininist of me to believe that a little lipstick and mascara can change my life. And yet...
I have to start this story with my mother. Mom was born with a very rare disease of the connective tissue called Marfan’s Syndrome (both Jonathan Larson and Abraham Lincoln had the same condition), it caused her a number of issues throughout her life, early onset glaucoma and osteoporosis, malformation of certain bones, and heart problems. She died, as many Marfan’s patients do, of an aneurysm at age fifty-nine. From the moment she was born she was the object of curious doctors who often treated her more as an object that a human being. She loathed, more than anything else being seen by the world as a “sick person.”
In my entire life with my mother she NEVER left the house without being perfectly made up and immaculately dressed. This was not vanity, this was survival. She could not control what other people thought of her, she couldn’t control what was happening in her own body, but she could control this. She could choose the face she presented to the world. It was her rebellion against a world that could not look past the disease to see a brilliant, witty woman, who had endless compassion and empathy for everyone she met.
I think maybe this is one of the most important things my mother taught me. I would rather my life be seen as musical comedy than Shakespearean tragedy. In musical comedy you know the plucky heroine may be faced with serious and seemingly insurmountable obstacles but she will triumph in the end and along the way there will be sequins, great songs and at least one fabulous dance number. Unlike in Shakespeare where the costumes are lovely but by the end of act III not a soul is left standing.
The actress Ann Miller said “I’ve tried to live my life like an 8 x 10 glossy”. There will be those who read this and think I’m talking about fakery, about not being “authentic”, and I would have to disagree. There is nothing wrong with wanting to chose what you put out into the world. Putting your best face forward is not a denial that life is hard, but a celebration of what makes life wonderful. There is joy in becoming who you are and sharing that with the world. In the words of La Cage’s Zaza 'Cause when I feel glamorous, elegant, beautiful, The world that I'm looking at's beautiful too!