Mariah, Patricia (and Gogo)
I first discovered Mira Mariah Ceras via her Instagram account, @Girlknewyork, a photo gallery that showcases her ever-changing hair color and whimsical art. A Brooklyn based tattoo artist, Mariah is mother to 2 year old Margot, (who goes by the nickname Gogo), and is just impossibly cool with her baby on her hip and her latte in her hand. When I asked her to be involved in the project she told me that the timing was perfect as she had noticed that her mother Patricia had really begun to blossom as she took her tentative steps into the world of work after years as a stay-at-home mom.
Mariah is also an amputee. This isn't something I realized until right before we met. While she doesn't hide this fact about her, she is wary talking about the subject after receiving some unwanted press attention in recent years. "A leg doesn't define you" her mother Patricia told me, and that much seemed clear when I sat down with them on a Saturday morning before Gogo's trip to the park. We discussed body confidence, boundaries and motherhood blending with grandmotherhood.
Mariah: I have a tattoo studio on Broadway and Myrtle in Brooklyn. We used to lived on Long Island.
Patricia: I live in Albany. I work for the Department of Corrections. I work for the office of Special Investigations. We handle staff and inmate relationships, which are a lot more common than I would ever have thought possible.
Mariah: It’s very Orange Is The New Black.
Mariah: I was in fashion for a long time. I designed with Betsey Johnson, I did Macy’s American Rag. I studied at FIT. After I had Gogo I wanted to do something a bit more flexible and more personal, so I transitioned into tattoo art.
Ruthie: So you’re a very young Mum?
Mariah: Yeah I’m 24.
Patricia: It’s very young.
Mariah: Accidents happen, I mean, I’m married but - you know. I was married at 20. It’s funny because people think that being married and having a baby by your mid-twenties means that I have my shit together, but it’s not necessarily together.
Patricia: You just work on it as a couple thats all.
Mariah: You work on it with someone you really like.
Patricia: Her dad and I were married young too. I had her when I was 20 and got married that same year. For her it was just normal, but having done that myself I was like “maybe slow down a bit” and she said, “no, it worked for you, it’ll work for me.”
Mariah: Being young and having a baby is great because I’m very energetic, as is my two year old.
Ruthie: How did becoming a grandmother affect your relationship with Mariah?
Patricia: I try not to be demanding in telling her how to take care of Gogo, except when she cut her bangs. That was our worst moment.
Mariah: That was the only time she’s told me what to do.
Patricia: I saw the photo on Instagram and I tried for days not to say anything. I don’t want to be meddling because I want Mariah to handle things, but after a few days I couldn’t hold it in anymore and I said “what did you do to her?” That was a rough moment because I was angry.
Ruthie: That’s the line between being a mother and being a grandmother?
Patricia: Yes because I don’t want to interfere in her life as a mother, sometime I make suggestions, but with this I told her: "Don’t you ever do that again!"
Mariah: You also have things to say about Gogo being naked a lot of the time.
Patricia: Yes, Mariah is a little more free as a mother about nudity and I think that comes from body confidence.
Mariah: I wear whatever, I just don’t care.
Patricia: I realize that I have issues with this so it became important that I not pass this on to my girls. I taught them to do what makes them comfortable and set their own boundaries. When Mariah would try on clothes growing up and ask my opinion I would say “I don’t have to wear it, you have to wear it. How do you feel?”
Mariah: That meant she hated it.
Ruthie: My mum would say “Well, it wouldn’t be my choice.”
Mariah: Ha, thats so English.
Patricia: Well it wouldn’t be your mother's choice and it wouldn’t be my choice, but if you put an ensemble together and you like it, then clearly you are comfortable in it and you should go ahead and wear it.
Ruthie: Who were your style influences?
Patricia: I had a very fashionable aunt who was born missing part of her arm. My grandfather said to her, "You need to be educated because no man is going to marry you like that." So she was the only one in the family that went to college and by getting out of the home she learned to express herself and developed a fabulous style. She of course did get married and had a very successful life.
Mariah: She was a great influence to us both.
Ruthie: I understand you are missing part of your leg?
Mariah: Yes. It was a birth defect that resulted in an amputation. I try not to hide it. I feel comfortable in the way I look. I’ve had some bad experiences talking about my leg in the past. I was trying to be body positive. My spin was “Now I can wear high heels” because it was always uncomfortable before and the press twisted this to be “Girl cuts off leg to wear high heels.”
Ruthie: I'm so sorry that happened to you.
Mariah: Yes the British press were the worst.
Ruthie: Yep, they're pigs.
Patricia: At the time it was still very raw for us.
Mariah: My leg affects me, but it doesn’t affect my fashion.
Patricia: It was a decision that had to be made, it wasn’t an emergency situation. She was 17. They told us they could amputate her leg or she could continue on as she was which was no life for her. It was a decision that she had to make on her own. I couldn’t make the choice for her, she wasn’t a small child, it was her life. I wasn’t ready, but her dad and Mariah had a lot of faith in the procedure. She always wanted to be in the city and she couldn’t have done it with her leg as it was. It was her ticket to her new life. Not that she doesn’t have residual struggles with it, but that can be true in a lot of situations. It has allowed her to be who she wants to be.
Ruthie: Patricia, you seem to be a mother who respects boundaries?
Mariah: Yes she does. I think that’s the one mothering trait I am keen to adopt from her, maybe because I’m so loose. She always gave me the space to be myself. I actually wrote her note this morning that said, "Thank you for stepping outside of your comfort zone with me and encouraging me never to have one." I think that’s why I dress the way I do, I will wear anything because I feel like I can.
Patricia: It took me forty years to get to that point. I think being overweight was a hugely negative thing in my life, especially with fashion. They didn’t used to have the style available for plus size women like they do today.
Ruthie: It sounds like you didn’t have much time for self-explorations. You were in school, then married and then a mother. There wasn’t a time for just you.
Patricia: That is a fair assessment.
Ruthie: Do you shop together?
Mariah: We shop together sometimes, usually with my sisters.
Patricia: Mariah forces me to try things on. Especially lipsticks. She has given me confidence to do so many things. I only started working four years ago. I never worked before that, so coming into the work force I needed to build an appropriate wardrobe. She has given me the ability to say “Ooh yeah I’m wearing that skirt.”
Mariah: I show her bloggers, especially plus size bloggers like my friend Nicolette Mason who works with Christian Serriano. It encourages women to participate.
Ruthie: How do create balance between motherhood, work and life?
Mariah: I never needed a lot of sleep.
Patricia: I think family is a huge help. Mariah’s dad helps with the baby. She has a strong support system.
Mariah: I stay at home with Gogo in the day and I work at night and then her dad comes home and takes over.
Ruthie: How did you meet your husband?
Mariah: He’s a filmmaker and he hired me to be a costume designer on a project he was working on. I thought we were going out on dates, but actually they were just production meetings! But six weeks later he asked me to marry him.
Patricia: Her getting engaged was a......surprise. I met him for the first time at Penn Station briefly. As I got on the train with Mariah’s dad I said “Oh god, she’s going to marry that fool.”
Mariah: We had a traditional wedding in Puerto Rico, but we forgot our marriage license so we had to get re-married at city hall. This is the major difference between me and mom.
Patricia: Yes I’m a planner. She picked a wedding dress off the rack and bought it and that was that.
Ruthie: How are you two similar?
Mariah: We both love glamour. I get to do ultra feminine things with her. We love beauty products, we watch romantic comedy movies. My mom is very kind and I hope I’m kind too.
Patricia: The biggest similarity I see is, well let me say this, I think you should always share what you have. If it’s money that you have or talent, you must share it. I see Mariah donating clothing and it makes me proud.
Mariah: I work with a women’s shelter, my mom instilled it in me.
Ruthie: Is there anything off limits to talk about with each other?
Mariah: I think we’re pretty honest about things, but sometimes I don’t tell her in a timely fashion if I’ve gotten a new tattoo.
Patricia: Yes that’s my hot button.
Ruthie: How do you feel about tattoos?
Patricia: I’m not sure "hate" is a strong enough word.
Mariah: I have upwards of ten. But they are white girl tattoos.
Ruthie: What does that mean? A butterfly on your lower back?
Patricia: If she’d had that done I would have had it burnt off with acid!
Mariah: No, ha, I meant they're small. A needle and thread and the word "February."
Patricia: She’s destroying the body I created! I feel it’s unattractive. The flip side is, I’m very proud of her success in tattoo art. I always thought she would stay in fashion, but when she got there, she was unhappy. In many ways fashion is a cruel business.
Mariah: Yes and not just in a catty way. I mean, I’m down to be catty and then go feed the homeless.
Mariah: Yes, but I’m talking about the human rights abuses in the textile industry. I used to have to call women in factories who were already underpaid and ask them if they could make the garments cheaper. That was my job and it just felt awful. It’s taking women and putting them in a position that they can’t get out of.
Ruthie: What do you admire about each other?
Mariah: My mom’s kindness.
Patricia: She has turned out to be the person, in most ways, that I think people should be. She’s kind, she’s driven. She’s doing everything and finding a way to make it all work. I really admire the fact that she is taking care of herself and her needs as well as those of her family. When I was young, my whole life was being a mom and there was no space for me, so I admire that Mariah is finding that balance.
Ruthie: How would you describe your personal style?
Mariah: A lot like (the blogger) Man Repeller, but beaten with a sexy stick. Eccentric, but comfortable. I like vintage and ethical clothing.
Patricia: I think it has evolved tremendously. I used to be very conservative. I rarely dress that way anymore. I wear heels to work everyday. I curl my hair everyday. I feel that’s me now. Even in the park with GoGo, I always have a boot on.
Ruthie: Is there something that you wish the other would see about themselves?
Mariah: On our way here I told my mom, "I’m so proud of you, I feel like you’re so independent and confident." She is starting to see that’s she’s really quite beautiful.
Patricia: This is one of our more sensitive subjects because I think in relation to her leg, she often settles. Because she feels a lot of the time, and I’m sure she’ll hate me for saying this, she feels she is not as good as she could be. I’m her mother, but a leg doesn’t define you. You don’t ever settle. I suppose it’s like me with my weight. I always feel a little bit "less than." If someone labels you or says something mean to you, it doesn’t make it true.