Mary Rae Cowles and Mikaela Judd

A Mother’s Lesson 33 Years in the Making: Smiling’s the Best Lipstick Money Can’t Buy

Some girls grow up with moms who teach them to match the sheen of their lipstick to the hue of their shoes. My mom taught me to chew with my mouth closed and smile when meeting someone new. While I undoubtedly got the more useful skills, the world of makeup was mostly foreign territory.

A seeming right of passage, I fumbled my way through my formative years and beyond smearing foundation and swiping mascara like a country bumpkin. Often, I forwent the process altogether. Not trying seemed safer than the inevitable clown face I had a tendency to create.

But as the years of sunshine and cocktails continued to take their toll, it became all too obvious my deep seeded desire to ‘know how to do my makeup’ wasn’t just a bucket list item. It was necessary.

Like a gentleman’s power suit, I needed a go-to look I could count on. One that instilled confidence, while preferably not requiring an abundance of product or time or skill.

I needed to know how to do my makeup.

mom and daughter in field

Which is how I found myself at 33-years-old toting the entirety of my face-smearing collection to a meeting with a makeup artist. (It fit in a small clutch.)

I’d asked Mikaila Willmott to work with me for two very important reasons. (Neither of which were the fact we practically share the same name, though that was a fun bonus.)

The first was that she was down to earth. I was desperately insecure about my lack of knowledge. I needed someone who would laugh with me when I learned things like why you can’t use the same brush for your bronzer as you do for your powder. (It’ll cause you to inevitably spread bronzer on your entire face.)

The second was that I didn’t want to waste money. If I had product that would work for now or I could buy a store brand that was just as good, I didn’t see the reason to completely empty my wallet at the makeup counter.

Ultimately, I decided to skip a few things like toner and eyeliner. I splurged on bronzer, which smelled (and tasted) like chocolate; a fancy lipstick-lip liner combo; and an eyebrow pencil. Mascara and highlighter I bought at the drugstore. Foundation, eyeshadow, and finishing powder came from my own collection. All said and done, it cost me a little less than $200 (and an embarrassing number of face washing sessions) to cobble together my ‘power face.’

Those lipstick-shoe matching girls may know how to contour and primp, but I was at least in the beauty ballgame. I was sure of it. Until several weeks later when I caught my reflection in a glass door. I stopped in the middle of a city sidewalk in the heart of Seattle’s South Lake Union district.

There was no way that beaten down woman was me. I was put together. I was polished. I was on top of my game. I had my ‘power face’ on!

Except the problem was, she was me. I was every inch of those sullen lips and cold eyes. As it turns out, a smile beats makeup every time.

Although, a smile with a little makeup doesn’t hurt either. So today my collection still fits in a clutch, although a sightly larger one. It takes me roughly seven minutes to apply. (Five if I’m being speedy.) And the thought of using the same brush for my bronzer and powder makes me chuckle — which is undoubtedly the best ‘product’ money can’t buy.

Thanks mom.

Curious which products Mikaila recommended I buy at the beauty counter and which ones to get at the drugstore? Check out my essential makeup tips for the 30-something who knows nothing about makeup.