In our new series "What Beauty Means to Me," women from different backgrounds share their thoughts on aging, modern challenges, and of course, their makeup and skincare secrets. In our first edition, we interview the insightful and inspiring Meg Zucker.
As a freshly-engaged bride eager to share the news, one of Meg Zucker’s first stops was the nail salon where, like many other women, she sought the perfect color to complement her most special diamond accessory.
The confusion that arose about her manicure was comical and anything but typical.
“I think they all were speaking a different language,” Zucker recalled about the Manhattan salon employees. “They probably were thinking, ‘What a nut-job.’”
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Zucker, 43, was born with a genetic condition called ectrodactlyly, which caused her to have just one finger on each hand and one toe on each foot. Yet she requested that long tips be applied along with a pretty shade of pink.
“Everyone gets their nails done to show off their ring,” she said. “For me, this was so much deeper … maybe — just maybe — if my nails look good they’re just going to look at my ring and my nail and not even look twice at my hand.”
Nearly 13 years later, the financial executive writes a blog with an international following, Don't Hide It Flaunt It, that celebrates the differences that make people unique. Zucker, who lives in New Jersey, aims to inspire the self-acceptance she says she did not have herself until she became the mother of a daughter and two sons, both of whom inherited the same condition.
“Because I had to grow up with imperfection, I could never, ever have the perfect beautiful body in any way,” she said, “and as a result, to me the concept of beauty has always had to be something that went beyond the superficial.”
Zucker spent much of her childhood living in foreign countries as well as in Illinois. Her parents treated her the same way as her two brothers, not allowing her to have “pity parties” about her differences.
“How they shaped my opinion of beauty was allowing me to develop and be not overprotective at all,” she said, adding, “it really resulted in a fantastic family life and support life. I always felt completely normal because of their parenting. I hated when people said, ‘Oh, you know, you’re special.’ I hated that.”
But others were not so kind. She recalled a time a homeless woman in Pakistan approached her family to beg for money “and she sees me and literally, physically runs away. It’s very, very hard to live in places where physical imperfection really, at the time at least, meant pity. I had to endure that. Quite frankly, I think it made me who I am.”
Her “don’t hide it, flaunt it” philosophy is a long way from the days when she would shield her hands in photographs. “I wasn’t born with that attitude, that’s for sure,” Zucker said. “I noticed that just by being me, people seemed to be inspired. To me, I was not doing anything, just living my life and being me.
“It’s really that notion of what you think of me is none of my business,” she added. “It’s the ability to not worry about what other people are thinking of you. I have to live like that. If I don’t, my life is consumed by people’s judgment, people’s pity, people’s curiosity, people’s fill-in-the-blank.”
Zucker said she hopes to help her sons navigate those insecurities earlier in life.
“One of the things that I teach them is people stare at strangers, they don’t stare at friends,” she said. “It gives them this notion and understanding that you may look different than something most people have ever seen, but at end of the day you have the ability to talk and share stores and have fun just like everybody else. It’s the concept of becoming a someone instead of a something.”
And while she now laughs at the time she thought a manicure would help her feel good about herself, Zucker said her husband, John, gets the credit for making her feel attractive.
“The first time I ever felt beautiful was the end of my first date with my husband,” she said. “I was getting into a taxi in Manhattan. He was looking at me so enamored. Here we had just met but he clearly could look at me in sort of this unconditional way, and I just felt beautiful.”
Meg's beauty lowdown:
What are your favorite beauty products?
"After playing trombone as a kid and teen, I used to hate how big my lips were. In fact, I was convinced that years of practicing my trombone swelled my lips. Now, as an adult I am grateful for my full lips and I love to wear lipstick crayons and gloss by Bare Essentials. Their Buxom line is particularly colorful and I always receive compliments — no matter the time of the day.
"Also, Eau de Peau has the best concealer. It is pricey, but lasts forever so it is worth it. As for creams, I love a German product line called Babor. Although never one to try anything offered on TV, I am a changed woman ever since I used Cindy Crawford’s Meaningful Beauty Wrinkle-Smoothing Capsules and Lifting Eye Cream — her products generally lived up to my expectations and more!"
What’s your makeup routine like?
"It depends on whether I am going to work or not. If I am going to work in New York City, then I use Bare Essentials Mineral Mix with some blush, mascara, lipstick crayon and gloss. If I am home with my family, I might add mascara, but often I go without.
"At nighttime when my husband John and I have plans — then the 'artist' in me comes out and I have tons of fun with eye shadow and more extreme colored lipstick. Nora Ephron once mentioned that she wouldn’t miss washing off her make-up. This is definitely a daily routine that is a must, but I wish I could live without. My secret to washing off eye make-up is Maybelline Expert Eyes. I have tried every brand practicallyand always go back to this awesome, inexpensive product."
Is there one thing you absolutely must do before ever leaving the house?
"Yes, make sure I have at least SPF 20 on my face and neck. My hair might be a mess, but at least my skin is protected."
Who’s your style icon?
"Duchess Kate. What I love about her fashion sense is that she can look equally beautiful whether she is dressed up in a gown, wearing a tailored suit or simply walking around in jeans. Also, I just love that I have seen her have the confidence to wear the same outfit more than once, and even saw her wearing her sister’s clothes!"
Slideshow: Duchess Kate's royal style
How do you manage your hair?
"One great secret I learned from my stylist is use only a cotton T-shirt or paper towels to reduce the dampness [to reduce frizziness]. For special occasions, I am lazy and get my hair blown-out. Although I can do it myself, drying the back can be challenging for me, and so it never seems to come out as well. OK, I actually can dry it straight quite well, but I just enjoy a good blow-out."
Skincare tip to live by:
"I get a facial four times per year. It hydrates my skin and revives after every season."
What’s one beauty trend we likely won’t ever catch you in?
"I know this will shock you all, but I will not be sporting the latest nail color for the season!"
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