By DENENE MILLNER
My mother was incredibly beautiful—had this fiery red hair and high cheekbones and the smoothest, most flawless skin you ever did see. With her hair just so, she looked so much like Whitney Houston (the pre-Bobby Brown/crack-is-wack version) her co-workers on the line at Estee Lauder regularly used to ask her to bust a tune. (Um, just for the record, my mother couldn’t hold a note if someone tucked it in a Birkin bag.) She was, in a word, stunning.
What made her more beautiful to me, though, was that she was fly without make-up. She just didn’t wear a lot of it. A little mascara, some lipstick, and maybe some blush, that was it. I remember standing in the doorway, watching her blot her Fashion Fair maroon-ish red lipstick on a tissue, wishing for the day that I could slip a little of it on my lips, too. She’d smile—always that beautiful smile—and tell me, “If you want to keep that pretty skin, don’t wear make-up. Just keep your face clean and you won’t have to worry about bumps and all of that stuff.”
And, like a good daughter, I listened to my mother, because that’s what you did when you were Bettye’s child. I don’t think I wore much more than lip gloss until I was well into my sophomore year in college, and even then, I used it sparingly, and only on special occasions. And even now, as a mom with three brown babies of my own, I pretty much operate under the same philosophy: A bare face is the best face.
Well, I made the mistake of saying this to one of the most beautiful women in the world—the legendary actress Diahann Carroll. I had the honor and pleasure of interviewing Ms. Carroll for Essence magazine’s annual Hollywood issue, which hit stands just in time for their Essence Black Women In Hollywood Luncheon, going down at the Beverly Hills Hotel tomorrow. In the story, she dishes on her ground-breaking career, her roles as the devilishly delicious Dominique Deveraux on my all-time favorite soap, “Dynasty,” and how she, an African American woman, survived—and prospered—in the unforgiving, extremely white American film industry.
Needless to say, the glamorous Ms. Carroll stopped me mid-sentence when I flippantly said, “I don’t really wear make-up unless it’s for special occasions. I’m mostly bare-faced unless there’s something special happening.”
She fell silent—I’m guessing so that she could make sure I heard her gasp.
“Stop thinking of it that way,” she scolded me with that magnificent voice. “Think of the person you run into. You’re taking you! And that little attention you give to you means you really like you.
“Barefaced to me,” she sniffed, “does not mean you like you. I understand taking a holiday, but you must like you. It’s important.”
I tell you, by the time I finished that interview, I was so smitten by Ms. Carroll, I was naming her as one of my favorite celebrity interviews ever—up there with Lena Horne, Ossie and Ruby Dee, and yes, even the in-persons with Idris Elba and George Clooney. Um, yeah—that says A LOT about Ms. Carroll. Anyways, after I hung up with her from our hour-long interview, I literally ran into my bathroom and dusted my face with my amazing-but-hardly-ever-used set of Bobbi Brown foundation, blush, and eye shadow, applied my trusty waterproof Maybelline mascara and eyeliner, and finished it all off with my Aveda lip tint. And then I stood back and admired the work.
And Diahann Carroll was right: I liked me.
I put on a nice top, and some hot jeans, and even traded up from my Crocs to a pair of high-heeled mules because all that work deserved something adorable to go with it. And then I walked out the door tipping—you know how it is… like I was too cute. Nick loved it. And my girls did, too.
Later, when I took my daughters to Mandarin class at Angelou’s house, she opened the door and immediately asked me where I was going. “You got make-up on,” she said. “You got a hot date or something?”
I cracked up.
And told her, simply, that if only for today, I was practicing liking me.
That one was for you, Ms. Carroll.
To read my profile tribute to the incredible Diahann Carroll, as well as my domestic violence piece on two of the stars of The Real Housewives of Atlanta, pick up the March 2009 issue of Essence.