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What My Ukrainian Grandmothers Taught Me About Beauty

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I’m first-generation Ukrainian American. For me, that means a few different things.

Like the fact that the smell of garlic and onions frying in a pan always reminds me of home. Or my heart breaking everytime I watch the news as of late. When I was little I remember reading “Nana Upstairs & Nana Downstairs” by Tomi dePaola, a children’s book about a child who had one grandmother who lived upstairs and one who lived downstairs. I had a similar story, except I had a Babushka (Russian for grandmother) Liza and a Baba (short for Babushka, or a variation on the Yiddish word for grandmother Bubbie) Roza. These women had very little in common except that they liked to cook, they loved me, and they always took great pride in their appearance.  

When my family immigrated from Kyiv to the U.S my grandmothers and mother initially worked as housekeepers. One of the first beauty tips I remember ever getting from my Babushka Liza was to keep my hands well-moisturized so they would remain soft and supple. Her hands, which I always looked at with pride for how she was able to care for her family, she felt, looked old from years of having cleaning supply chemicals on them. 

One of the key lessons both my baba and my babushka taught me was to take pride in my appearance and to mind how I presented myself to the world. Here are a few lessons my Ukrainian grandmothers gave me:

It’s All About The Nails

On top of constantly keeping my hands moisturized, my grandmothers always taught me to keep a nail file, particularly a metal one, and other supplies on hand to touch up my manicure. I learned how to do nails by helping my grandmothers with theirs when they needed a touch up. Now I can proudly say that people have asked me where I’ve gotten my manis done and tell them no professional was needed. 

Keep Your Hair Healthy and Hydrated

I have naturally thick, fairly curly hair thanks to my Ukrainian-Jewish heritage and an… interesting trick my Babushka taught me was to use mayonnaise in my hair as a mask for extra moisture. If you want to avoid smelling like a Russian potato salad, we recommend trying out this argan and macadamia-infused deep conditioning mask

Be Careful With What You Have

One of the most important lessons both my grandmothers taught me was to be careful with what I have, from my skin to my clothes. These women’s lives were defined by so many difficult circumstances, but it was also enhanced by their love of beautiful things, like a fresh vase of flowers or the faces of their loved ones. Whether it’s making sure to keep your skin soft with a deliciously-scented lotion to buying a few expensive, but quality clothing pieces that you can wear over and over again, to take pride in yourself and what is yours.

To this day, I still remember the scent of my Baba’s perfume though, sadly, she passed away several years ago. I’m grateful for my Babushka who’s still around, who always looks so pleased whenever I dress up or show her my latest makeup look. While I shake my head at her frequent reminders to “find a nice boy”, the motto for many a Jewish grandmother, it warms my heart to give her moments of joy through our shared love of beauty. 

A beauty memory I’ll always have is how both of my bubbies always made sure to leave for their appointments and evenings out with their nails done and a fresh coat of lipstick on. I try my best to follow their glam example. 

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Nicole Kirichanskaya
Nicole Kirichanskaya is a born-and-raised Brooklynite with a passion for fashion, feminism, and the fanciful. Her love of beauty stems from when she was taught the importance of a good manicure at an early age from her Ukrainian babushka. She has written for a number of publications including Global Glam Magazine, CEW, Footwear News, and more.