An Interview With Mama Bella

When I decided to give tribute to a series of beautifully aging bellas, I thought long and hard about who influenced my style the most. Lena Horne, Eartha Kitt, Tina Turner, and Chaka Khan all provided inspiring images of strong black womanhood, but none of them could have had a bigger impact than my mother.

Peggy Aura Arlene Grell, this one is for you.

This photo was taken at her 67th birthday party in September and as you can see, my parents are still together (38 years strong), still partying, and on a Sunday morning if you creep downstairs early enough, you can still catch her and my dad slow dancing together in the living room.

Even though the signs of age are there – she is often plagued with arthritis and she’s past menopause, she’s still as gorgeous as always.

Some of my earliest memories of my mom involve her sitting at her fancy dressing table, putting her face on before going downstairs in the morning. She doesn’t go anywhere before she’s made up and looking pretty. “I don’t do it for anybody else. I do it for me,” she insists. She is dismissive of the so-called “duster women” who venture downstairs (or God forbid, outside) without showering, or in their pajamas (full disclosure: I am sometimes a duster woman!).

My mom has always been fastidious about grooming, and we have clashed over beauty issues many times and oft. But as I get older, I’ve become ever more like her.

Instead of getting annoyed when she insists that I pay special attention to scrubbing the back of my neck, or asks me if I’ve tried the Sally Hansen Hair Bleach for the fiftieth time, I find myself actually taking her advice.

In the course of interviewing my mother, I came to find out that years ago, she was just like me – sitting and watching an aesthetically fastidious woman apply makeup at their fancy dressing table. Her beauty icon was Auntie Ruby, my grandfather’s oldest sister who was a headmistress in Trinidad in the Forties.

“She would always have a huge flacon of 4711, and she would dab it behind her ears and on her neck. Being a six-year-old, sitting there and watching her was so different and fascinating. Everything she had was beautiful. That’s how I remember her,” she muses.

To this day my mother has a penchant for the centuries old cologne, and every time she comes to Miami she has to hunt down a bottle at this perfume store in Coconut Grove. For the record, I am NOT a fan of the citrusy scent, and I think she purchases it primarily for nostalgic value.

“I always loved Chanel. And I’ve always wanted nice things, even though I couldn’t always afford them,” she laughs. Now she firmly believes in pampering herself, and these days she uses products far more expensive than I would be willing to pay for.

When I tell her that her credo seems to be “the costlier the better,” she responds “No, but you do get what you pay for!”

I knew my mom would be a great source of advice for aging women, coming from a woman who still gets gushing compliments on her appearance from men and women. Here are Mama Bella’s top five tips to any woman aging beautifully.

1. “As you go into menopause, your skin gets drier and drier. Most of the older women I know use Oil of Olay. I bathe with the Oil of Olay body wash. I must use a body wash. Menopause is a drying process, I think, and I always need to drink a lot of water to stay hydrated. And after that I need a moisturizer – I hate the fruity smell of most cheap moisturizers, so I use either Coco Chanel, Chance, or Allure. There is a difference you feel with products of that quality.”

2. “You must have a good serum. I use Dior. The serum sort of makes your skin look supposedly younger.” (For the record, that’s an exact quote, even though it doesn’t fully sound like an endorsement to me!) “I use the Dior Capture Totale Serum first, then the Capture Cream under my eyes. The lines under my eyes have gone with the Dior. First you use the serum, then the cream, then you wear your foundation.”

As she got older, my Mom started to develop melasma, a skin discoloration particularly common in the tropics. “Because I’ve been constantly using the Tri-luma, the marks are faded. But the thing with melasma, if you forget to use the cream tonight, bet your bottom dollar the next day they’re showing up more. It’s brought on by sunlight, so I use Sothy’s SPF 30+ now.”

To cover up skin discoloration, my mom has been known to use Dermablend. I must say, if you have any kind of permanent facial discoloring, this stuff could be the miracle you are looking for.

“Then I dust with the Kamaflage Setting Powder by Sacha, and I use a setting spray. I used to use the Evian one, but I ran out. This is the regimen every morning, girl. Then I use Corn Silk.

Mineral powder hasn’t hit the Caribbean yet, and I’ll be taking some home for her for Christmas. She is going to freak out over this stuff!

3. “A magnifying mirror is crucial to an older woman. If you don’t have a very strong mirror, you can’t see a shit and you would wind up going out and looking like a fool.” (Yes, mama tells it like it is!) I have seen many older women who obviously don’t have one. The fact that you have to use glasses to read shows you that you don’t have 20/20 vision anymore, and you can’t see your face as clearly as you used to. The mirror is so important!”

4. “A woman of color looks terribly terribly untidy under their arms when they shave. Shaving darkens the skin under your arms. If you wax, you would have no marks. I use the Sally Hansen Creme Bleach once a week to lighten the skin there, and then I always use a dot of moisturizer before I put on my deodorant. It helps to prevent the white marks I notice on so many other people.”

5. “Beauty comes from within you. So don’t gossip. Don’t malign other women – it shows in your face, your demeanor, how you carry yourself. I have found that the women who always talk shit about other people – it shows in their face as they get older. And those who are at peace within themselves, they don’t have that problem. And therein lies their beauty. Beauty is as beauty does.”

And there you have it! I hope my mother’s words of wisdom are of some use, even though the products she swears by are out of my price range (My inner cheap-o-meter prevents me from spending more than $50 on most things).

I try to follow most of her advice, especially tip #5 – I had enough petty and painful run ins with gossip and bacchanal back in high school. These days I try to live according to the Desiderata and that gets me through the day. I am currently road-testing the Sally Hansen stuff that she so swears by, so expect a review in a week or two.

To end this tribute to beautifully aging bellas, I’d like to say this: Just as the saying goes – you’re only as young as you feel, you are also only as beautiful as you feel. So it’s important to take the time to look at yourself in the mirror, give yourself a big, brave smile, and instead of picking apart your flaws, embrace your best features before you face the world. Gray hair and wrinkles don’t make you any less gorgeous. They just prove that you’ve lived life, and that you have valuable experiences to share with others.

** It’s 10:30 a.m. and I just wanted to add this: One of the main side effects of age for women is that they no longer feel attractive. If you’ve got an older woman in your life, there is no time like the present to let them know that you think they’re still absolutely gorgeous, and that you love them!

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Comments

  1. Your mother is gorgeous and her number five tip is right on the money! Beauty is and beauty does.

  2. what a wonderful tribute! it’s great to see a spotlight on your beautiful mother. cheers to her for her frank advise! i love it!

  3. jerseybred says:

    Your mom is so beautiful and she has great tips. Thanks for sharing them.

  4. Wow . . . I love your mom’s tips and wisdom. Beautiful thoughts from a beautiful woman!

  5. I am so glad that I read this! I have endometriosis for which I take a medicine that makes me have temporary menopause (6mos-1yr.) The winter is approaching and I’ve never experienced winter like this.. super chapped lips, face and skin very itchy and dry, feet, hands and cuticles deadly. I attributed it all to the changes you experience after having a baby. Low and behold, it’s another ill side effect of this medicine/menopause… Being in your twenties and experiencing this is not fun (nor the hotflashes.) I’m glad your mom was able to share this and some wonderful tips…beautiful!

  6. Your mother is beautiful! Goes to show you that women of color age so gracefully when they take the time to do those little extras!

  7. Patrick Jnr says:

    Thank you Patrice for your interview with Mom and sharing a bit of her wisdom with the world! We are truly blessed to have parents like we do!

  8. your mom is so beautiful, and her tips right on point.

  9. Your Mom is gorgeous!
    When I grow up I want to look just like her.
    Beautiful – just lovely!

    WOW that word “bacchanal” spoken like a true West Indian!!!

    Unfortunately, there are still silly people who make it their life’s ambition to go on like that – sad, sad, sad!!!

    Cheers me dear for caring to share your thoughts with us all.
    Besos
    Anita

  10. How could she not be beautiful with a daughter who brings such beauty into the world every day? Brava, Bella and Mama Bella!!!

  11. Hey I just stumbled onto your sight and what a treat it is! From the layout to the thoughtful writing it is really refreshing to read so please continue blogging. I live in Vermont where it is mostly white communities and reading this helps me connect and reminds me about the beautiful pleasure of other cultures. Thank you

  12. It’s been one of those days and I just tuned in for a much-needed Afrobella break. What a great post, and what a great tribute to your Mom!

  13. Your mommy is a very smart and very beautiful lady and I am sure some day a little one will get the same beauty and wisdom from you.

  14. Thanks Patrice for an excellent piece on Mama Bella, who incidentally, happens to be my dear, dear wife. While I am aware of all the stuff used for her to retain and maintain her beauty, I was really pleased to see reinforced the fact that beauty comes from within. Your mother exemplifies beauty both inside and outside, but there is no doubt that it is her good heart,which is her inner beauty, that really projects what we see on the outside.She is very young at heart. I would add to your list of tips, however, a good, loving and caring husband. What do you think?

    Love, Dad

  15. you better get your dad! haha

    what a sweet tribute to your mom. thanks for sharing.

  16. Now I see where you get your beauty from! Great tips, say ‘thank you’ to your mom from me!

  17. LOVE THE AGING BELLAS…!! rock on mummy!

    And papa bella seems right on the money too…

    strong family is a blessing-the love of good family and friends keeps one beautiful…that would be my beauty tip!

  18. She is absolutely stunning. Now I see where you get it from. Excellent interview, I am loving this series.

  19. Grace and Peace

    I came by your house today and sat here for a while. Thank you for the insight.

    Grace and Peace

    Bliss

  20. You’re mother is absolutely gorgeous, I never would have guessed her to be 67 years old. No wonder you have such an eye for beauty.

  21. Beautiful, beautiful. How blessed you are to have such wisdom in your life. Hug her one time for me!!!

  22. Bella your mother is beautiful and very inspiring. I agree with everything she says.

  23. Your mom is an inspiration to bellas of every age. Brava Mama Bella!

  24. Well well well…we finally see the source of your beauty! Both of your parents are such beautiful people and they have great skin!

  25. 70ssoulchild says:

    I must add my two cents and say that your mother is absolutely beautiful!! I love that picture..it looks like your dad is reaching over to refresh her beverage. That’s what I’m talking about..catering to each other out of deep-abiding love!!! Mom Bella’s beauty points are great, especially number five. She sounds like my mother and grandmother. I printed that poem you linked to the post and have it posted in my cubicle at work. Blessings, peace and love to you and your wonderful family!

  26. Triniprincess says:

    Afro: I was just reading and thought damn she looks Trini – sorry but a beutiful black Trini woman will always shine. She looks gorgeous you have excellent genes

  27. I found this blog on Concreteloop.com and I thoroughly enjoyed reading about your mother’s and your beauty secrets. I’ve been stuck in tomgirl mode and now at the ripe old age of 35, I want to get my skin and face in check. I have no clue what to use for makeup. I’ve purchased $200 worth of stuff from Sephora that did absolutely nothing and I’m just lost.

    If you can give me some serious pointers on what to use on the outside (as I’ve got the inside pretty much covered) I’d be forever grateful. Please email me if you like.

    Naomi

  28. Oh my! What a wonderful article! I see from where you get your innate jazziness! Your mom gave some many useful pointers, but “beauty is as beauty does” was SO on point!

  29. You mentioned how drying menopause can be…I absolutely agree. My mother is currently experiencing that same problem. She even developed adult acne when prior to this stage, she had flawless skin. But I suggested she use the Murad Hormonal Aging Line. It combats all those signs of aging (dehydration, acne, wrinkles, etc.) in those who are either in the perimenopause or menopause stages. It’s worked really well for her. The products contain plant-based estrogens, skin-firming ingredients, and tons of antioxidants. I believe her favorite is something called, “Age Balancing Night Cream.” You can find all the products at http://www.murad.com/hormonal-aging-products.html

  30. YOUR MOM HAS GREAT TIPS. SHE IS ABSOLUTELY GORGEOUS.YOU HAVE GREAT GENES HONEY.

  31. Suburbanbushbabe says:

    5. “Beauty comes from within you. So don’t gossip. Don’t malign other women – it shows in your face, your demeanor, how you carry yourself. I have found that the women who always talk shit about other people – it shows in their face as they get older. And those who are at peace within themselves, they don’t have that problem. And therein lies their beauty. Beauty is as beauty does.”

    This is indeed the fountain of youth. Bless your mom’s heart for her wonderful outlook. As a “bella of a certain age” I can attest to perimenopause causing major changes in skin. Loss of hormones is drying. My face would be in much worse shape without the use of a serum, and I don’t have to spend $50 either; Source Naturals Skin Eternal Serum gives me alpha lipoic, DMAE and glycolic acids in a serum in the $20 range. And as I too suffer from melasma, I’m off to make a dermatologist appointment and ask about Tri-Luma.

  32. Bella,
    This was great. Your mom looks wonderful. I can tell that her inner and outer beauty has been passed on to you. This would also be a great mothers day clip. Young women need to know that beauty is not just what you see on the outside and it shows that if you take care of yourself from a young age you can still look great as you get older.
    Fantastic article!

  33. Marcia Haskins says:

    I have read read this whole afrobella article. It was quite interesting and I am very pleased to know that other women are pleased with Tri-Luma fade cream and retin-A. I am currently on my third week and my skin is amazing. My facial wash is by Mary Kay for normal to oily skin and this combination works very well. I am so into looking good because the outer appearance is what a person see’s first. I am going to continue using Tri-Luma because I am an African-American women who is satisfied with the results thus far.

  34. I have read this whole afrobella article. It was quite interesting and I am very pleased to know that other women are pleased with Tri-Luma fade cream and retin-A. I am currently on my third week and my skin is amazing. My facial wash is by Mary Kay for normal to oily skin and this combination works very well. I am so into looking good because the outer appearance is what a person see’s first. I am going to continue using Tri-Luma because I am an African-American women who is satisfied with the results thus far.

  35. Jacques Tosh says:

    I really like your writing style, excellent info, thank you for posting :D. “I hate mankind, for I think myself one of the best of them, and I know how bad I am.” by Joseph Baretti.

Trackbacks

  1. [...] This might seem odd, but I gotta include Secret Sparkle Deodorants for everyone. The stuff my dad buys in Trinidad is less than sub-par, and this stuff comes in cool scents like Peach Shimmer, Berry Sparkle, Tropical Radiance, Luminous Lily, and my fave, Vanilla Sparkle. Plus it’s $2.99 at Walgreens! For my mom I might get the Secret Platinum and Olay Conditioners. It claims to ” Noticeably improve the condition of underarm skin by using Provitalin – a revolutionary blend of skin conditioners including ProVitamins B5 and E”, and she’s obsessed with underarms as you realize from her five beauty tips. [...]

  2. [...] Amen to that! I have teetered close to being that “nappy-nazi.” Ask Mama Bella ’bout that. Whenever she complains about her hair, I always tell her she should just go natural. And her response is often along the lines of “no,” and sometimes a four-letter-word gets thrown in there just for fun. [...]

  3. [...] I first mentioned this over-the-counter ointment when I interviewed her, and she uses it every day to combat her melasma. [...]

  4. [...] I just got off the phone with Mama Bella and my mother-in-law, so now I’d like to wish a happy mother’s day to all of the hardworking, beautiful mothers who read Afrobella. Lots of love to you all on your special day, and I hope you spend it in the company of family and the spirit of love and happiness. [...]

  5. [...] time I have, I get requests from readers for her to share her beauty tips. I did a post like this, featuring Mama Bella’s top five beauty tips. I still love number 5, and I try my best to live by [...]

  6. [...] My mother’s first beauty memory was one of observation. She remembers watching my grandfather’s sister, Auntie Ruby, as she sat at her dresser getting ready. [...]

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