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28 Smart Things My Mother Taught Me

My mother was a MILF.

Of course, she didn’t know it at the time. It was, after all, in the 1960s, and MILFs were 40+ years down the road. When I was in my teens, she would have been referred to as “hot,” or “a fox.” Suffice it to say, she was stunning and all my teenage boyfriends loved her.

Mom grew up in the 50s. She was slender, wasp-waisted, with a perfect, blonde beehive hairdo, and smelled like Youth Dew from Estee Lauder (before the unfortunate change in formulation). She wore slim skirts and stilettos, and always “freshened up” by fixing her hair and her makeup before Dad came home. This was not a home that fostered tomboys. My sister and I grew up, not surprisingly, to be girly-girls, with a love of fashion, makeup, and all things beautiful.

Sissy and I learned very early that beauty was work. One had to pay attention, so nothing slipped through the cracks and pronounced us as “lazy” or “tacky,” or worst of all, like we came from the “Squattley family.” (Nobody ever actually met a Squattley, but you didn’t want to be mistaken for one. Ever.)


Beauty came with rules, and Mom knew exactly how to deliver them with the conviction of Moses reading the Stone Tablets.

With 6 kids at home (3 hers and 3 his), she had no time for chatty mother-daughter discussions and lessons on how not to disgrace ourselves and ruin the family name for future generations. Mom had a quick, dry wit, and a scathing sense of humor, and she delivered most of her advice on the fly. One-liners or pithy instructions would spring forth spontaneously at home, in the car, or in the produce department of the local supermarket. At a young age, I learned to carry a pencil and a notepad in anticipation of her sidelong glance that told me something I needed to know was forthcoming.

By the time we were in our teens, Sissy and I had memorized The Rules, through repeated daily reminders from our personal Beauty Sherpa. Some have been easier to follow than others, and a few are now more relevant to an earlier time, but at 70+ and still fabulous, Mom has a certain credibility that can’t be denied.

Mentally reviewing The Rules the other day, lest I find myself dropping the ball, I wrote down my favorites:

1. You have to suffer to be beautiful. I learned this one at 14, while getting braces put on my teeth. 40+ years later, it’s about stilettos, Spanx, skinny jeans, and Botox injections. Some truths never change.

2. At a certain age, a woman has to choose between her face and her ass. A little fat softens facial lines, but you’ll have a horse’s patooty-size backside. Too thin and your butt might be smaller, but your face will be lined like a Texas saddle. (Repeat after me, “Life is not fair.”)

3. The difference between a beautiful woman and an ugly woman is either God or a ton of money.

4. Beauty comes from within, but the outside needs a little makeup. And a good bra.

5. If you must smoke, do so only while seated. Walking with a cigarette makes you look like a Squattley.

6. If you think you’re fat, you probably are.

7. If you’re wider from the side view than from the front view, you’re definitely fat.

8. Walk lightly, and don’t tromp. You’re a girl, not a Clydesdale.

9. When a man insists he likes his wife “natural,” without makeup or any visible effort, you can bet his mistress is anything but.

10. If you drink, do so in moderation. Drunk is never a woman’s best presentation. (Mom always insisted that if a woman could see herself on video while drunk, she’d never make that mistake again. YouTube would agree.)

11. A woman is instantly judged by her shoes and her handbag. Economize somewhere else.

12. If you paint your nails, no chips. If you color your hair, no roots. It looks tacky. (She thought the hombre hair color fad was just plain stupid, and we almost lost her during the grunge era.)

13. If you keep frowning, your face will freeze like that. (Fortunately, Botox freezes it back.)

14. Don’t curse. It makes you sound like a trucker, and only a certain type of man wants a trucker.

15. Keep your nails short. Men find long red nails scary. A woman can’t have long red nails and a good sex life.

16. Men are visual. That’s why they like stilettos. And porn. That’s also why they don’t need to see you toileting, plucking your brows, or shaving anything but your legs.

17. Stand up straight. It projects confidence. Besides, hunching makes your boobs look droopy.

18. Never chew gum. People who chew gum look like cows chewing cud.

19. Know how to be a lady. If you want to be a tramp, do it in the bedroom, but you should always be a lady in public.

20. Whenever you’re trying to change something about yourself, be realistic. Only God can make a tree.

21. A woman has the face God gave her at 20 and the face she’s earned at 50. Wear sunscreen. And don’t squint.

22. Learn to walk in stilettos, even if only in the bedroom. Men love them. Always have, always will. Get used to it.

23. Be careful when wearing prints, especially on the bottom. Nobody ever looked at the wrong end of a zebra and said, “Wow. That zebra sure has a tiny ass.”

24. Be sparing with cosmetic intervention. Your face should never look younger than the rest of you.

25. When your makeup is done and you’re ready to go out, take half of it off. Less is more.

26. Look good when your husband gets home, and look happy to see him. If you don’t, someone else will.

27. Get your hair off of your face. You look like a sheepdog.

28. SMILE. It’s the most beautiful thing you can wear.

Thanks, Mom, for these pearls of female wisdom over the years. Some make me think. Others still make me snort-laugh out loud (which I know is terribly unladylike). But most of these have stood the test of time and I’ll be passing them along to my granddaughter when she’s ready. Until then, I don’t chew gum, but I still can’t master those damn stilettos.

Read more from Vikki Claflin on her blog, Laugh Lines

Vikki Claflin

“Vikki is an author, humor blogger, public speaker, and former newspaper columnist. She can be found in "Life Well Blogged, Parenting Gag Reels," available at She has been regularly featured on Erma Bombeck's Writer's Website and Better After 50 online magazine. Vikki shares her most embarrassing moments as she comes to terms with middle age, and she laughs as hard as we do. So pour the wine, grab your Spanx, and check her out at Laugh Lines!

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