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Editor’s note: This is the first in a four-part series in which writer Lizzie Simon will examine the ways that radically upping her grooming game impacts her life, her sense of self, and her interactions at home and in the world. 

There is no paid consideration involved in this series.

This spring my daughter turned one, I turned 40, and for the first time I stepped into a tiny salon on my block called Joli Beauty Bar to inquire about a deal they were offering: unlimited blowouts and makeovers for a month for $250, “The Ultimate Zsuzs.”

I had walked by this place every day, multiple times a day, since it opened in September, and it had me thinking a lot about grooming. It’s an area in which I’ve never been particularly high achieving, and one that had really taken a hit since having a baby.


Brushing teeth, showering, shaving, moisturizing, tending to my roots, toenails, brows, pubes, putting on a little lip gloss and mascara, wearing clothes that are clean and that fit, adding a key piece of jewelry to the mix— some of these things happen some of the time, some of them happen none of the time. 

There have been few apparent consequences to my shlubbiness. I work in a co-working space as an author and freelance arts reporter for the Wall Street Journal and I Airbnb a home in upstate New York. Both professions require no fuss, no muss.

I live in a neighborhood – the East Village — where there are indeed glamorous people, but I don’t actually know any of them. The hiking sneakers I wear almost every day are sneered at in exactly none of the places I typically inhabit. 

I think of myself as someone who has a pretty decent self-image, which is to say, I feel I am good looking enough. It was agonizing to me in middle and high school to not be one of the beautiful girls but I got over it. That existential achievement occurred a long time ago.


Yes, perhaps sometimes it’s dispiriting that men flirt with me about 10% as often as they did when I was in my 20s, but it’s also nice to not be sexually harassed on the street. I know for sure, from the various playful grabs at my body in the kitchen and living room and bedroom, that I’m attractive to my husband. There is no crisis.

Still, from time to time as my 40th birthday beckoned, I thought: Maybe it’s time to up my game, put a little time and energy into self-presentation, to walk proudly through the world. Invariably, several minutes later, that aspiration has dissipated and others prioritized — writing projects, time with my husband, baby, 13-year-old stepson, friends, self, bed. 

Which is why it was interesting that Joli and the notion of unlimited upkeep persisted in my consciousness. How would my life change if I got my hair and makeup done a few times a week for a month? Would I feel energized by it? Would people flirt with me more? Would it send me out into the world more, wrest me from the couch and Netflix into adventure and pleasure? Would it lead to career opportunities? Or would it be a colossal waste of time? 

And so I found myself wandering into Joli Beauty Bar where I encountered its co-founder, Zsuzsi, who welcomed my experiment. “Most of the women coming in are childless,” she said. They’re prepping for dates or wedding-related events or they’re married with extremely active social lives. “Once a client tells us she’s pregnant we know we’ll probably lose her.” Oh dear.

Day 1

Before and after

My stylist, Chardé, gave me an iPad with a Pinterest board to choose from dozens of makeup and hair looks.

“Why don’t you do whatever you think is best,” I said.

I realized I was entirely out of touch with any of my own instincts about personal style and overwhelmed/intimidated at the invitation to make aesthetic decisions.

Chardé decided to go for the “lived in” look for my hair which, fortunately for me and other time-strapped moms, is apparently on trend.

I tried following her every makeup move on my face but quickly lost track. The thing about professional makeup artists is that they utilize techniques and tools and products that you don’t have — lots of them. I’m pretty sure she used 20 different products on my face, and that was for something “easy and approachable.” 

A second generation aesthetician, Chardé is a single mother to a seven-year-old. “It’s really easy to let yourself go as a mom,” she said. “You don’t remember that when you’re good, everyone’s good.”

So true. But grooming demands a shepherding, or hoarding, of one’s time – mind and body. Family life demands relinquishing control and sharing time – mind and body. But what our home actually requires, the thing that makes it all work, is me toggling between sharing and hoarding my resources to my own sense of satisfaction.

It wasn’t clear to me whether fancy hair and makeup had anything to contribute to my feeling satisfied. Because after Chardé finished her work on me, I was all dolled up with no place to go.

Eventually the baby woke from her afternoon nap and we strolled to Rite Aid where, among other things, I bought a palette of eye shadow, some makeup remover, and some cookies in the shape of teddy bears. Then I took my daughter to the park because she loves to see dogs and she loves the swing. Then we sat outside a tiny restaurant next to our apartment because she likes to watch the dinner service unfold and flirt with the servers.

Did it matter that I was done up? It did not.

Who was this beauty for? Unclear.

Day 2

One of my recurring nightmares is that I have a second apartment somewhere that I’ve forgotten about that’s in horrid disarray. In the 24 hours following my first beauty appointment, my appearance felt like that second apartment.

A sense of defeat had set in. Grooming was a domain that required vigilance and attention to detail. I was already tracking the bits and bobs of a baby, a 13-year-old step son, two homes, a book-in-progress, the New York dance and theater community, my friends and family, and a digestive condition (don’t ask) that requires a rather elaborate attention to nutrition. I needed fewer things to be vigilant about in my life – not more.

My resistance to taking on hair and makeup was, in part, the resistance of someone who didn’t want two new domains of responsibility in which I might fall behind on a regular basis.

This experiment can’t turn in to something punishing, I kept thinking, later in the day, while strolling with the baby post-afternoon nap. We were on our way back to Rite Aid to pick up some more product Chardé recommended, plus bleach for the dark mustache hairs I discovered while sitting in the salon chair.

Those hairs weren’t the only unpleasant discovery I made there. I also noticed chin hairs in need of plucking and a new mole on my left cheek. It was a small mole but it told me something big: I hadn’t really looked at myself in the mirror for very, very, very long time. 

I thought that having polished hair and makeup would be fun but instead it brought about a mildly agonizing self-consciousness and guilt for spending my time/energy/resources on something so trivial when I had so many other things to get done. Not to mention the world is full of so many more worthy opportunities and problems.

But is it trivial? There are indeed sad and wasteful and small-minded aspects to devoting oneself to one’s appearance, but there’s also something sad and wasteful and small-minded about abandoning one’s appearance.

I wanted to stay resolutely on the life-affirming side of things. I hoped to discover that grooming can inspire a lively way of engaging the outside world, it can contribute a sense of dignity to the identity narrative you’re telling yourself and other people, it can nurture the friendship with self (the greatest love of all, as Whitney said).

Beauty on my terms, for my own satisfaction. It was worth discovering and defining.

Day 3

Meg, who co-owns the Beauty Bar with Zsuzsi, styled my hair and makeup in my second appointment at Joli. Several times she called what she was doing “the effortless look,” which tickled my funny bone because effortless is exactly what I’d been doing on my own.

I really liked supporting Zsuzsi and Meg and their small indie business. They came across as smart, real, immensely knowledgable about hair and makeup, and empowering. They were not at all oppressive about beauty. And they weren’t constantly trying to upsell me.

But I wasn’t having fun. The night before I’d been to a Passover seder with my aunts, uncles, cousins, husband, and baby in Harlem, where we drank and ate and read and sang and talked together for hours about the meaning of life and love and suffering. That was fun. The beauty parlor was more like school or work.

I’ve been thinking a lot about fun recently – about how shitty women, particularly mothers, are at identifying what is pleasurable to them outside of their domestic role, and then carving out time and space to partake in it. In the whole ecology of self-care, I think fun is hugely important. The fact that I wasn’t having fun at the beauty parlor made me worry that something deadeningly un-fun had unfurled inside of me since having a child.

Regardless, at the end of the day it felt silly, wasteful, even a little tiring, to have logistiticated for this time in the salon when all I was going to do afterwards was stroll my baby to Tompkins Square Park. 

Who was this makeup and hair for? Certainly not my husband. His knee jerk response to seeing me all done up was: “Can you wipe it off?”

I had room in that day for one activity to myself and it ended up being the beauty bar. Seeing a friend, working at The Writers Room, or taking a yoga class all would have been far more fulfilling.

Day 4

This morning on my walk to work I clarified for myself what I wanted from this experiment: to develop three looks – daily, professional, and special event. I planned to tell the beauty shop ladies this, plus the fact that I didn’t want to deal with foundation any more. Somehow it was foundation that felt the most false, the most like a mask.

At sunset I walked across town with my husband and my baby to an art opening. My hair was still done from the zsuzs the day before and I applied makeup — lip gloss, blush, eye shadow, mascara, eyeliner — that I felt good about.

It was fun to walk across town as a family with the feeling of being put together, to encounter at the opening, held in Diane Von Furstenberg’s garage, particularly glamorous friends, and feel the dignity and freshness of having spent a little time and attention on myself.

Afterwards, my husband took our baby home and I met up with my best friend from high school for a swanky drink at 11 Madison Park. She’s a curator, poet, and Buddhist scholar, and actually a pretty glamorous person, too. She’s always dressed in a way that I admire — stylish but completely individual, and her makeup is the kind of minimal that I’d like to espouse.

She was excited to see me “upping my game.” I was just excited to look at her. We love each other’s faces, these faces we’ve confessed to and sought out and humored and challenged and cracked up. Seeing her face, I realized how much I like the look of real skin on an adult woman.

My skin has lines, creases, dark spots, acne scars, and unevenness in tone, but I like that my history shows up on my face. I want it there, I just want my eyes and lips to pop out as beautifully as they can from that complex, not entirely tamed, imperfect terrain.

It occurs to me that all of the models on the Pinterest boards were in their teens and early 20s, how terrific it would have been instead to look at dozens of photographs of middle-aged women, how much I like looking at older women’s faces, to see idiosyncratic examples of beauty and identity on a face bearing experience, care, and damage.

Who might this beauty be for? Each other.

Day 5

My husband and I went to see a brilliant, spectacularly inventive, invigorating performance by a tap choreographer, Michelle Dorrance, who I’d just written about for the Journal. I dressed up and applied makeup and it felt really good to show up in my professional world looking put together.

Afterward we had a drink and a bite to eat in the restaurant next to our house. My husband brought up my experiment with makeup and hair. He said that he didn’t get it, that when he saw me after the salon the first two times, it freaked him out, he didn’t recognize me.

It gave me the opportunity to talk about why I was doing this, to talk about self-care and beauty rituals and identity as a new mom and a woman on the other side of 40. I was grateful to be in a marriage where grooming didn’t matter but it felt good to enroll him in what I was doing, rather than have him be alienated by it.   

Day 6

I explained my new take on foundation to the aestheticians at Joli — which they happily ceded to — and the whole enterprise of getting done up felt more fun, less charged, less estranged.

Day 7

I think I have found my day look. It’s very simple — a kind of white silver incandescent eye shadow, mascara, blush on the apples of my cheeks, and a colorful lip. It’s a simplified version of what Meg showed me on day three. It’s fast, fresh, understated, and pretty.

When I left the house today my husband said, “Bye Lizzie-upping-her-game!”

Day look

Clothes are the next frontier. I don’t know where to shop or what size I am or what my style truly is, but I don’t have the money to explore that right now. So I’m just taking an extra couple of minutes to find things in my closet that I like, to wear flats instead of hiking sneakers, to put on a necklace. The necklace, I mean. I own one necklace that I like.

But a shift has occurred. I’m starting to feel more than just good looking enough. At no other point in my life would I have chosen my face from a Pinterest board, but that’s changing as I think more and more about how marked my face is with all that I’ve seen and experienced.

The kind of honesty, hard work, and grace I know I’m capable of at age 40 is really quite beautiful. I’ve survived a variety of heartbreaks, failures, tragedies, and traumas with hopefulness and empathy intact. That’s beauty and it’s in my face. That’s only occurring to me now because of the wrestling with and contemplation of my appearance demanded by the Ultimate Zsuzs. 

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When it comes to holiday gifts, we know what you really want, mama. A full night's sleep. Privacy in the bathroom. The opportunity to eat your dinner while it's still hot. Time to wash—and dry!—your hair. A complete wardrobe refresh.

While we can't help with everything on your list (we're still trying to figure out how to get some extra zzz's ourselves), here are 14 gift ideas that'll make you look, if not feel, like a whole new woman. Even when you're sleep deprived.

Gap Cable-Knit Turtleneck Sweater

When winter hits, one of our go-to outfits will be this tunic-length sweater and a pair of leggings. Warm and everyday-friendly, we can get behind that.


Gap Cigarette Jeans

These high-waisted straight-leg jeans have secret smoothing panels to hide any lumps and bumps (because really, we've all got 'em).


Tiny Tags Gold Skinny Bar Necklace

Whether engraved with a child's name or date of birth, this personalized necklace will become your go-to piece of everyday jewelry.


Gap Brushed Pointelle Crew

This wear-with-anything soft pink sweater with delicate eyelet details can be dressed up for work or dressed down for weekend time with the family. Versatility for the win!


Gap Flannel Pajama Set

For mamas who sleep warm, this PJ set offers the best of both worlds: cozy flannel and comfy shorts. Plus, it comes with a coordinating eye mask for a blissed-out slumber.


Spafinder Gift Card

You can't give the gift of relaxation, per say, but you can give a gift certificate for a massage or spa service, and that's close enough!


Gap Stripe Long Sleeve Crewneck

This featherweight long-sleeve tee is the perfect layering piece under hoodies, cardigans, and blazers.


Gap Chenille Smartphone Gloves

Gone are the days of removing toasty gloves before accessing our touchscreen devices—thank goodness!


Ember Temperature Control Smart Mug

Make multiple trips to the microwave a thing of the past with a app-controlled smart mug that'll keep your coffee or tea at the exact temperature you prefer for up to an hour.


Gap Flannel Shirt

Our new favorite flannel boasts an easy-to-wear drapey fit and a flattering curved shirttail hem.


Gap Sherpa-Lined Denim Jacket

Stay warm while looking cool in this iconic jean jacket, featuring teddy bear-soft fleece lining and a trendy oversized fit.


Gap Crazy Stripe Scarf

Practical and stylish, this cozy scarf adds a pop of color—well, colors—to any winter ensemble.


Nixplay Seed Frame

This digital picture frame is perfect for mamas who stay up late scrolling through their phone's photo album to glimpse their kiddos being adorable. By sending them to this smart frame to view throughout the day, you can get a few extra minutes of sleep at night!


Gap Crewneck Sweater

Busy mamas will appreciate that this supersoft, super versatile Merino wool sweater is machine washable.


This article was sponsored by GAP. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and Mamas.

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There's a lot of discussion about the importance of early education—but what about soft skills like respect and kindness? How can mamas teach children important values like cooperation, gratitude, empathy or politeness?

These values are basic, foundational beliefs that help us know right from wrong, that give balance and meaning to life and that enable us to form community bonds with one another. These soft skills are crucial for kids to learn at any age, and it's important for them to be reinforced, both in the classroom and at home, throughout their childhood.

Here are fundamental ways to build character in your young children:


Performing random acts of kindness can have a positive influence on both the individual showing and receiving the kindness. As a family, think of ways that each one of you can show kindness to others. Some ideas may include baking cookies for the mail carrier, donating an unopened toy to a local charity, purchasing canned goods for a homeless shelter or leaving notes and drawings for the neighbors. Include your child in the process so they can see firsthand the joy that kindness can bring to others.



Children have a strong desire to mimic adult family members. Encourage your child to help complete simple chores in and around the house. Children feel a great sense of accomplishment when they can do their share and feel that sense of responsibility. Two-year-olds will enjoy folding towels, putting books away, putting paper in the recycling box and tending to the garden. Older children may enjoy helping out in the kitchen or with yard work.


Patience is the ability to demonstrate self-control while waiting for an event to occur. It also refers to the ability to remain calm in the face of frustration. This is a skill which develops in children as they mature. While it is important to practice patience, adults should also be realistic in their expectations, evaluate daily routines and eliminate long periods of wait time from the schedule.


Schedule a time when the whole family can sit down together for dinner. Model good manners and encourage older siblings and other members of the family to do the same. Use phrases such as, "Can you please pass the potatoes?" or "Thank you." Be sure to provide your child with guidance, by explaining what to do as opposed to what not to do.


Change your routines at home to encourage children to be flexible in their thinking and to try new things. Try being flexible in the small things: enjoy breakfast for dinner, eat ice cream with a fork, have your child read a bedtime story to you or have a picnic in the living room. Let your child know it is okay to do things in a different way.


Children are beginning to understand different emotions and that others have feelings. Throughout their childhood, talk about their feelings and share one's own feeling with them as well. By taking the time to listen to how children are feeling, you will demonstrate to them that you care and reinforce with them that you fully understand how they are feeling.


Coordinate playdates or take your children to events where they can practice introducing themselves to other children, and potentially with adults. Find games and other activities that require turn-taking and sharing.


Encourage your child to spend five minutes every day listing the things they are grateful for. This could be done together just before bedtime or after dinner.


As parents, our goal is to teach children to recognize that even though people have different likes and dislikes or beliefs and ideas, they must treat each other with manners and positivity. Respect should be shown when sharing, cleaning up, and listening to others. Always teach and model the Golden Rule: treat others the way you would like to be treated. Also remind children that respect can be shown towards things in the classroom. Treating materials and toys correctly shows appreciation for the things we have.
Learn + Play

Medical researchers and providers consider a woman's postpartum period to be up to 12 months after the delivery of baby, but too often, health insurance doesn't see it the same way. Nearly half of the births in the United States are covered by Medicaid or the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) and while the babies who are born during these births are eligible for Medicaid or CHIP for a year, their mothers often lose their coverage 60 days after delivering their child. There is clear data showing 70% of new moms will have at least one health complication within a year of giving birth.


This week, members of Congress' Subcommittee on Health met to mark up H.R. 4996, the "Helping Medicaid Offer Maternity Services (MOMS) Act of 2019, and it was favorably forwarded to the full Committee.

What does this mean? It means that while this bill still has a ways to go before it potentially becomes law, its success would see states get the option to provide 12 months of continuous coverage postpartum coverage to mothers on Medicaid. This would save lives.

As we at Motherly have said many times, it takes a considerable amount of time and energy to heal from birth. A mother may not be healed 60 days out from delivering. She may still require medical care for perinatal mood disorders, breast issues like thrush and mastitis, diabetes, and the consequences of traumatic births, like severe vaginal tearing.

Cutting off Medicaid when her baby is only 2 months old makes mom and baby vulnerable, and the Helping Moms Act could protect families from dire consequences.

The United States has the highest rate of maternal deaths in the developed world, and according to the CDC, "about 700 women die each year in the United States as a result of pregnancy or delivery complications." This is not okay, and while H.R. 4996 is not yet signed into law this bill could help change this. It could help address the racial disparities that see so many Black mothers and Native American mothers dying from preventable causes in the first year of motherhood.

A report from nine American maternal mortality review committees found that there were three leading causes of death that occurred between 43 days and one year postpartum: cardiomyopathy (32.4%), mental health conditions (16.2%), and embolism (10.8%) and multiple state maternal mortality review committees have recommended extending Medicaid coverage to one year postpartum in order to prevent these deaths.

Basically, making sure that moms have have continuous access to health care the year after a birth means doctors can spot issues with things like depression, heart disease and high blood pressure at regular check-ups and treat these conditions before they become fatal.

The Helping Moms Act is a step forward in the fight for maternal health and it proves that maternal health is truly a bipartisan issue. Republicans and Democrats alike recognize the value in providing support for mothers during the postpartum period.

The Helping MOMS Act was was introduced by Democratic Congresswoman Robin Kelly of Illinois, chair of the Congressional Black Caucus Health Braintrust. It was co-lead by Texas Republican Michael Burgess (who is also a medical doctor), as well as Georgia Republican Buddy Carter, Washington Republicans Jaime Herrera Beutler and Cathy McMorris Rodgers and Ayanna Pressley from Massachusettes and Lauren Underwood of Illinois (both Democrats).

"Incentivizing postpartum Medicaid expansion is a critical first step in preventing maternal deaths by ensuring new moms can see their doctor. I'm proud that my colleagues, on both sides of the aisle, came together to put an end to the sad reality of American moms dying while growing their families," said Kelly. "We can't allow the perfect to be the enemy of the good. This is a good, bipartisan first step, but it must be the first of many."

It doesn't matter what your political stripes, reducing America's maternal mortality stats should be a priority.


Whether you're having a low-key Friendsgiving with your closest friends or prepping to host your first big Thanksgiving dinner with both families, figuring out all of the menu details can be the most overwhelming step. How much should I cook? What ingredients do I need? How does one actually cook a turkey this big?

But, don't worry, mama—HelloFresh is lending a helping hand this year with their Thanksgiving box in collaboration with Jessica Alba. Because you already have enough on your plate (and we're not talking stuffing).

Here are the details. You can choose from two Thanksgiving boxes: Turkey ($152) or beef tenderloin ($132). The turkey box serves 8-10 people while the beef one will serve 4-6 and both are $6.99 to ship. We got to try both and they're equally delicious so you can't go wrong with either one, but the turkey does require a 4-day thaw period so keep that in mind. And if you're wondering what the sides are, here's a sneak peek:

  • Garlic mashed potatoes
  • Green bean casserole with crispy onions
  • Ciabatta stuffing with chick sausage and cranberries
  • Cranberry sauce with orange, ginger and cinnamon
  • Apple ginger crisp with cinnamon pecan crumble

While someone still has to do the actual cooking, it's designed to take the stress out of Thanksgiving dinner so you can focus on spending time with your loved ones (or watching Hallmark Christmas movies). You don't have to worry about grocery shopping, portion sizes, recipe curation or forgetting that essential thing you needed to make the meal perfect. Everything is super simple to make from start to finish—it even comes with a cooking timeline.

Orders are open through November 21 and can be delivered anytime through November 24. Even better? You don't need a subscription to order.


We independently select and share the products we love—and may receive a commission if you choose to buy. You've got this.


My mother's death propelled me to start the process of becoming a parent as a 43-year-old single woman. As my connection to her remained strong in spirit after her death, I was ready to experience the same bond with my own child. I began the journey with Intra Uterine Insemination (IUI), and after three failed attempts at getting pregnant, I decided to adopt.

The adoption process is a lengthy and humbling one—one that includes fingerprints, background checks, references, classes, doing a profile of yourself and your life that birth parents eventually use to choose adoptive families.

After my application was approved, a young couple chose me just a month later. I couldn't believe my fortune. But I had to get to work and prepare the house for my baby's arrival. I bought the best of everything—bassinets, clothes, diapers, car seats… the list goes on. I told close friends and family that it was finally happening.


But all of this was in vain. The day I was supposed to pick my daughter up, I learned that the birth parents had changed their minds. They no longer wanted to give their daughter up for adoption. As time passed, it was difficult to endure no interest from potential parents but the faith in believing what is meant to be continued. To increase my potential, I enrolled with a second adoption agency.

A few months later, as I was getting ready to try IVF for the first time, I received a phone call to let me know that a woman had selected me to adopt her child. So I opted out of IVF and found myself in a hospital delivery room with the birth mother, assisting her in the delivery of MY child. It was a boy! I was so thrilled, and he was just adorable.

After six years of losses and disappointments, I was able to bring him home and awaited the final word that the mother and father have given the needed consent. I was getting ready to watch the Super Bowl with him dressed in football gear, I got a phone call.

Once again, the adoption agency informed me that the birth mother had changed her mind. That evening, I had to return the baby to his birth mom. I was heartbroken, and my hopes were shattered.

What now? Going back to IVF meant starting from scratch, and that would take a minimum of six months before being able to really start getting pregnant. I was 49 years old, and the clock was ticking. I really wanted to be a mom by the age of 50.

I was in Chicago, recovering from a collapsed lung, when I received yet another phone call from the adoption agency. An expecting mom had chosen me and had already signed over all of her rights. This little girl was mine. For real, this time. But I had to get to Southern New Jersey by Thursday to pick her up from the hospital.

After negotiating with my doctor to give me the green light to leave while recovering from my condition, I hopped on a train, and 22 hours later, I arrived to New York City in a massive snow storm. I took longer than expected to get to her, but after navigating the icy roads of New Jersey, I met my daughter!

She is now 2 years old, and she has changed my life in ways that just can't be fully described. What I can say is that I now understand my mother's love even more and her devotion to me and my siblings, and as I am sharing the same with my daughter, my bond to my mother keeps on growing.

Becoming a mom at 49 was never what I had envisioned. But whether you are trying to conceive or have decided to adopt a child, the road to becoming a parent is rarely easy. I know that inner strength and believing in what was meant to be kept me moving forward.

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