09/19/2013 02:23 pm ET Updated Nov 19, 2013

What Lipstick Taught Me About Being a New Mum

Shephali Gupte

There were many things I learned from my daughter's nanny, including patience, gentleness and the importance of lipstick. The first day that Meera showed up to work, I was surprised that she was my age -- her demeanor was that of a much younger woman. She dressed in very fitting clothes and often shopped at Forever 21, the chain of clothing retailers that targets young women, men, and teen girls. Meanwhile, I was just about emerging from the emotionally intense but mind-numbing fog of the first four months of motherhood. Physically, I felt unattractive and dowdy. The peachy glow that came with a healthy pregnancy was long gone, replaced by pallor, dark circles that reached my toes and straggly hair that was diminishing by the minute. And here was Meera, wafting in each morning on a fragrant cloud of perfume, with her carefully coiffed hair and size 2 clothes.

What surprised me most was not that Meera arrived looking impeccable but that after a long and exhausting day of tending to an active infant, she had the energy and patience to reapply her make-up fully before heading back home on the subway. I wondered whether she perhaps had a date after work, but felt small-minded when I learned that like any working mum she rushed home to her family each evening so she could prepare dinner for her daughter and mother. There seemed to be no other motive to her painstaking grooming other than it felt good to her to look her best, no matter what. And in that there was a lesson for me. So for the next few weeks I decided to make an investment in looking more presentable. It actually made me feel better, perhaps because in taking that extra time and effort, I was finally paying attention to myself. Not just to my baby, not just to my home, and not just to my work. Superficial and vain? Perhaps. But we might just have underestimated the power of lipstick.

I have another friend who eschews all other forms of makeup but always sports a bright fuchsia lipstick that has now become her signature -- I cannot imagine her without it. So what is it about us mums and lipstick? Perhaps it is our armor against the world, the hue that boldly declares that even though every day is a bad hair day for us, even though our clothes have been graced with spilled milk and running noses, we still need to do that one simple thing -- whatever that may be -- that reminds us of our old selves. For some it may be the ritual of a glass of wine at night, for others it might be a dab of lipstick.