My mother’s social life was a swirl of parties, rustling dresses, stiletto heels and hankies fragrant with perfume. While she readied herself for another Saturday night gathering, I’d sit cross-legged in the middle of my parents’ bed and leaf through the latest issues of Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar and McCall’s (we had magazines galore in our house, stacks in every room.)
I can still see my mother’s dresser top with the ivory-framed photos of her mother and aunts, the cut-glass powder jar atop a lace doily, assorted perfume bottles − a winged L’Air du Temps, a square beveled Chanel No. 5, a crystal Diorissimo − and the three-tier jewelry box whose open lid revealed a trove of brooches, bracelets and earrings resting on the velvet-lined trays.
On one of those evenings, I remarked on the beautiful women that graced the magazine covers strewn across the bedspread. Staring out at me were the faces of Audrey Hepburn, Grace Kelly, Sophia Loren and Mia Farrow who had just divorced Frank Sinatra.
“Do you know what real beauty is?” my mother said, her muffled voice floating out to me from the closet where she was searching for a favorite cocktail dress, the black crepe with the satin bow in the back.
“No, what?” I said idly, flipping pages.
“Perfectly-proportioned features … like Elizabeth Taylor’s face.”
“Like Elizabeth Taylor’s face,” I murmured under my breath, still flipping until I came to a Twiggy fashion spread and studied it.
Later, when my mother had gone down the hall in search of my father, I slid off the bed and went to the dresser to study my face in the mirror. Did I possess real beauty? Were my features perfectly-proportioned? They were not. My nose and forehead were too large and my mouth was too small. But I wasn’t bothered much. My life was too full and carefree to fret over such things.
(an excerpt from my memoir)