The Price of Beauty: Why I'm Swearing Off Primping
What's worse, my eyebrows seemed to be dying out, like a crop decimated by blight or fungus. Yet those lovely black hairs were growing on my chin and jaw. Why was this happening? Why couldn't there be some kind of eyebrow hair surge at midlife? Why taunt us with hair loss in one place and hirsuteness in another?
Another contradiction: My face was getting thinner while my thighs grew fatter. I always wanted cheekbones, but I didn't want the skin to start pooling around my jawline instead. It's like the skin said, "Let's cut her a break and go somewhere else now." It did, slipping downstream to my chin so that I had jowls. I felt like that old cartoon character, Deputy Dog.
The thighs -- wow. Believe me, I've dieted and exercised and all that, but under the skein of skin, the fat still rippled in its happy fluidity. I walked, it moved.
Sometimes, I'd stand in front of the full-length mirror in my bedroom, making sure the sunlight was flooding the room, and I'd shake, watching my jiggling reflection. And then I'd stop, wondering what in the hell I was doing. Self torture?
All the things I was supposed to be doing in the name of beauty seemed to backfire. Last week, I had a facial. The aesthetician decided I needed some "fur" removal from under my eyebrows and lip. The lip part went fine -- a couple of clean, waxy jerks followed by smoothness -- but the eyebrows? Let's just say that I ended up with two red puffy strips under what remained of them and a broken blood vessel in my left eye.
The beautician also took to my face with that harsh little metal extraction implement, leaving me looking as though I had the chicken pox or measles. I was covered in red dots. Between that and my eye, I looked as though I'd gone a couple of rounds.
Ding! Round Three.
On to the hair salon, where I thought (operative word "thought") I was ready for a new haircut. My longtime stylist Nathan looked skeptical but then did what l told him to do, against his better judgment. My hair was trimmed, highlighted and blown dry. I stared at the mirror, wanting to laugh. Can you say Doris Day? I can. I can even sing it. Oh, Do-ris? Do-ris Daa-ay?
When I showed up the next month, he decided that all bets were off. He colored my hair red. Can you say Strawberry Shortcake?
Then there were my feet. The saga began in a lovely spa in Lafayette, California, my mother lounging in the next chair over. Except for a nail polish smudge on my big toe -- fixed by Candy, the happy pedicurist -- all was well until I went home and dropped a fork on it. But I didn't just drop a fork on it. I punctured my toe with the fork. The tops of toes like to bleed. The good news? Blood matched the color I'd chosen for my polish.
When I opened the door that day, limping from my two-pronged injury, my husband told me I could say I had tine-y toe. Cute. I later thought it looked like an amateur vampire had been biting me, thwarted before it got to my ankle.
The most painful part may not have been the hole in the toe: The entire makeover process cost about 320 smackers. Except for my gleaming red toenails (ignore the bloody bandage), I was definitely worse for the wear. And I wasn't that great to start with. I looked like the Bride of Frankenstein, let out on a good day.
It made me wonder, would I ever just let it all go? Would I ever capitulate and call out, "Hair grow where you want to and don't grow where you don't. Gray hair, come as you may. Toenails, go back to nature. Body, I've done enough to you already, so now you can succumb to the ravages of time and the breakdown of collagen."
When I am in a particularly masochistic mood, I skip the big mirror and go straight to the magnifying one, which my husband warned me not to buy -- certain I would be devastated by its unflinching vision, sucked into it in an anti-Narcissus stupor. Nothing about my face looked good, really. But after staring at it for a while, I started to think it was sort of interesting: the wrinkles, the broken blood vessels, the overly large pores, the hair poking out like straws from my chin. It reminded me of my high school biology explorations of various animals we were tasked with dissecting.
I often found myself staring at women, the ones who seemed to look like they wanted to look and wear what they wanted to wear. Yesterday, I drove by a woman walking her dog. She had on a gigantic brimmed hat, an oversized sweater and baggie pants. She resembled a caravan, a tent on feet. But she seemed happy. The weather was damp and cold, but she was with her dog, walking on the side of the road, the green trees hanging over her.
Did she worry about her hair?
Then I've seen other women, the mummified ones who have pulled and stretched and peeled themselves to within an inch of their lives. I had no qualms about what anyone wanted to do with their own bodies, but after a while, wasn't it all a losing battle? Eventually, wouldn't gravity and old age win no matter what we did?
As I stared into the mirror, I knew I wasn't the fairest of them all. I never was, and I never would be, no matter how much primping I subjected myself to. And I realized I was okay with that. In spite of my favorite hobby -- self scrutiny -- I was more or less comfortable as I was, sagging skin and all.
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