Beauty

In the back of my mind

As a young girl, shame seemed to overshadow everything: Spilt Drinks, Wallpaper slit in corners, because they weren’t lying perfectly flat; scribbles and smiley faces on bricks and painted walls, piles of papers, coffee-stains missed on washed dishes, the inability to remember…my brother received a stretch Armstrong for Christmas, and after the doll’s newness wore off and it sat dormant, I couldn’t wait to slice it open to see what made him so pliable. I loved deconstructing almost anything to see what it was all about, how it worked, but soon my mind was taking me off to something else, and said items usually sat piled up for another day. I can’t explain it, but there was an overwhelming compulsion to do exasperating, senseless things. On top of that, I rocked most of the time, I couldn’t talk on the phone without pacing and I picked my cuticles incessantly until they bled.

My brother, sister and I enjoyed games together, but the matching game was dreadful. I could not remember where two cards alike were hiding. Meanwhile, my siblings racked up, blasé as they tossed their married cards into piles. I was determined to remember on my next turn- I carefully watched each one turned face-up and quickly flipped, but their memory faded before I had time to store them. For a while I had difficulty telling time, so my father took a flat cardboard box, and on it painted the face of a clock. He made two wooden hands, and secured them with a screw, nut and washer for realistic movement. After supper, he would get the clock out of the utility room, sit in his chair and quiz me each evening. Eventually it became comfortable.

Generally, Numbers have always been a foreign language to me: I would try to absorb them like the match game cards, but I couldn’t grasp them. My dad and I had many showdowns during his attempts to help me with homework. I’m sure many Parents get frustrated when they can’t find the exact words to use when trying to teach something, and after many attempts of explaining the same thing, over and over, exasperation took over. He would end up yelling, I would end up crying. So besides associating numbers with a mysterious dark void, they also seemed to be another means of separation.

My favorite pastime in class was reading the SRAs. They were cards with stories which you later tested yourself on key points. The spoken word was wooden for me, but the written word, was my first love. I relied on the page- while I could not find words to explain things, I found if I could write them down as I spoke, they came alive. The visual was my tool to connect with others, to share common knowledge.

As I ran toward puberty, the learning and social difficulties began to increase.  One day my mom told me my desk would be placed in front of the class, side by side with my teacher’s. “It will help you pay attention,” she said.  This took place casually and nothing was announced or said about it in class.

I never was a girl’s friend, those who immediately connect, share gossip, brush each other’s hair or whatnot.

I had friends, and many laughs, but they weren’t steady. I remember once scanning female classmates, and thinking of them as “otherworldly…” separate. I sensed their experience to be very different from my own. It wasn’t just my weight struggle or my bowl hair cuts, or even my difficulties in school, though I admired their femininity, their long straight hair and their propensity for good grades. It was the right to simply be that I admired, no questions asked.  My proudest moment was winning the class spelling B.

By grace I was passed to the 7th grade,  and my first year at junior high was one of my most difficult of all my school years, just it time for boys, a menstrual cycle, and a changing body.  It probably would have been better had I been held back a year.

I prepared all summer for my upcoming move to a new school. I had blossomed and became more delicate looking in my opinion. I was turning into a young lady as seen in my mom’s old joe weider exercise booklets from the 50s. My brother, sister and I always went for the introductory first volume for a laugh, which featured black and white photographs of the three breast types: Small, large and saggy. The last photograph created laughter like an unexpected punch line, and each time was like the first time. I spent that summer taking Joe’s advice. I practiced walking with a book on my head, doing scissor exercises and used the ornate, powder blue dumbbells included in the exercise kit for my budding breasts. I had learned the popular jingle sang by girls in small groups- with the pumping of elbows it was chanted-

“I must… I must… I must increase my bust-
the bigger the better the tighter the sweater
I must increase my bust!”

I was hopeful about having a social life, making girl friends and doing girl things- meeting boys, and was crazy about clothes. My mom took me clothes shopping on Friday nights, where I bought trendy blouses, slacks, and accessories. She and dad were always generous in buying for us. She took me into her room once to show me all the jewelry she had, including her first pair of gold earrings she bought when she was 17- tiny acorns to wear in her tiny earlobes. I enjoyed the passage into my teen years with enthusiasm, and appreciated all its beauty ritual and accoutrements.

Get off the Bus

(NPR program aired originally in 2009)

I was listening to NPR radio on the way to an appointment.

The commentator spoke of how individuals in Spain are trying to pass legislation regarding advertising:

Advertisers would have some restrictions regarding how they can portray women’s bodies. More fashion models are extremely thin but there is now a discouragement against this anorexic “Ideal.”  Even the thinnest mannequins in shops are being closeted in order to display an average, “normal” body type.  Maybe they should keep a sampling of all sizes, since there are some very thin women in the world, you know, mix it up a bit.

The potential legislation is due to the increase in eating disorders and other social problems such as depression and suicide.

At least someone understands advertisements aren’t neutral; they are meant to shape thinking and behavior, and this may have a negative or positive result for the one buying in, depending on how they use the information or product.

While I believe the advertiser should have the freedom to work, and ultimately it is our individual responsibility to weigh the worth of it’s message, this freedom does not release an advertiser from responsibility  for what it creates, nor the effect.   No man is an island, and yes, we are our brother’s keeper, at least in civilized society.  Everything matters.

Let’s face it-  The media “machine” have a huge role in creating personal dissatisfaction, because it has a product to sell.  In order for a business to exist, they need you to buy.  For you to buy, you must have a want or a need.  They have marketers to “create” the want and/or need through advertising. Some products are worthy, others are not.

Unfortunately, there is a huge drive to create dissatisfaction with our bodies in order to sale product.

Ever flip through the TV Cable guide?

“Get the hard body you’ve always wanted…”

“Return to your youth…”

“Rid yourself of wrinkles, age-spots, cellulite, freckles, acne..”

“Look years younger…”

One of my favorites:  “If you are not whitening, you are yellowing.”

Now that’s clever.  Kudos to you, whoever thought of that one.

Another favorite: “The Brazilian Butt lift.”

First, the ideal breast should remain 17; Now our butts must become buoyant  And the rest of our bodies, well, it should be as thin and sculpted as possible.  My local gym is selling t shirts with this motto: “Strong is the new Skinny…”

It’s not that we don’t appreciate said breast and butts, either.  its just that unless we want to do the mental equivalent of driving toothpicks under our fingernails, we need to be accepting of who we are, and focus on being the best that we can be.  There’s nothing wrong with working hard and making that rock hard body a reality;  Nothing wrong with anything you want to do to improve your life or your looks;  that’s a personal decision.  But hopefully do so while knowing your personal worth is not at stake should it not be completely possible, or your standard unobtainable.   There ARE a few  people in our world who will reject us because we don’t look a certain way;  The question is, will we participate?   Isn’t acceptance and contentment much more appealing?

There comes a time when we have to decide when we need to “get off the bus.”

That’s an expression I use when I need to change direction in my thinking,  actions or attitudes in general.  Religious circles call it repenting:  when you are going in one direction; simply turn around and walk in the opposite.   It starts with a decision.  Just pull the cord and get off the bus already.

I’ve had to get off the media driven bus many times.  While I have a healthy view of myself, and a sense of humor in tact most of the time regarding my imperfections, the messages of dissatisfaction still work their way in and whisper how maybe, just maybe my life would be a little bit better “if..”  If maybe I would simply throw down 100 bucks every two month and thicken my thinning eyelashes.

Maybe I just want to recognize the woman I used to see in the mirror again.  It’s a powerful motivation.

Maybe Instead I can be content with using one of the body-building mascaras flooding the cosmetic counters.

Maybe I can accept that I am growing older, and my body is changing.

So many choices…

What’s so ironic, and tragically dichotomous, is all the food advertisements sandwiched (pun intended, I couldn’t help myself) in between these beauty enhancing ads:

“Be Skinny” on one channel.  The next demands: “Eat this food!”

“Get rid of Cellulite” but “Upsize your Meal!”

What’s interesting is to study the standards of beauty throughout history and in various cultures. 
We are multifaceted beings-  We each have personal  interests, qualities, talents, and gifts to develop.  If we are lacking in talents, we can choose to do things in life that enrich ourselves and others around us. Life is a gift, and we can choose each day to make the most of the time we’re given.

Have you ever met a person who may not have caught your eye immediately, but the more you got to know them, the more beautiful they became?  Beauty truly is in the eye of the beholder.  Not everyone has the same definition of what beauty is, so if someone isn’t “taken” with you, that’s okay too.  Everyone is different.  Hopefully they will not reject you as an individual because of it.  If they do, don’t make it your problem.

As a teen, and this is typical of teenagers, I was always so dissatisfied with my body, and even at my smallest, I was convinced I was fat.  Later on, I realized what I called “Fat” was actually the normal movement of my body.  Once I developed a real problem with weight,  I could see the difference.  I can look back at my younger days, and sad that I spent so much time dissatisfied.  We can’t go back in time- all we can do is make a decision for each day and live  life to the fullest.  It’s so much richer when you are at peace with yourself.

Beauty Shop

I sat in the rotating chair, facing the crinkle-cut, aluminum wainscoat and narrow, stainless-steel shelving hung waist-high along  the wall like a border, spotted with hair products.

“Practical…” I thought.  “and in this room, they’re going for an industrial theme.”

Hair dryers are suspended from high ceilings thoughtfully color-blocked with neutrals;  there’s track lighting in strategic places,  and huge, monotone canvases on the wall.  This is how they view each of us- a blank canvas on which to create.  Each station has a metal, diamond-plate floor mat underneath.

The petite hairdresser has the cutest figure, and I tell her so after she explains she was 25 lbs. heavier which was a lot for her height and build;  just a straight blob, she said,  no curves at all.  Now, she’s a bombshell.

I hear the rustling of aluminum sheets on her work tray.

“I want blond highlights, Not brown.  People always want to make me brown.”

“Oh, Absolutely,” she said.

I think back to my 20s and 30s when I viewed loyalty to natural hair color as some sort of virtue and how I missed out on creative hair opportunities.  I would have made an awesome young blond.

She holds a grouping of my hair straight up between two fingers, then uses a skinny stick like a knitting needle to weave in and out- creating two bunches.  She keeps one and ties up the other.   the aluminum sheet crackles in my ear as it is placed underneath the hair.  Afterward, brush strokes apply chemical.  The sheet is folded to cover the hair- once left, once right- and upward.  A gentle hand slaps it, securing it into place.  Because she is so small, her mouth is almost parallel to my ear, and I hear her quiet voice singing along with Bohemian Rhapsody like a small child whispering away a secret:

“We will not let  you go(  let me go!)…….Beelzebub has a devil put aside for me, for me, for me…”

She escorts me to another room where I sit underneath a dryer.  I open my magazine eager to read an article advertised on the cover,but she’s full of questions:

“Would you like your jewelry cleaned?”

Would you like more coffee?”

“Would you like a hand massage?”

Yes, yes and awesome, yes!

She takes my hand, adds a few drops of oil.  “Blend” she said, reading her lips.  She smiles with head tilted, hands parallel and blending the air to demonstrate, in case I couldn’t hear.

She sat in front on me on a low, round chair reminding me of a mushroom.   One hand cups my elbow, while the other slowly massages each finger and then with her thumb,  she traces a circle in the palm of my hand.  Who knew so much stress could build in such a small space?

Afterward, we go to the shampoo station,.  which is framed floor to ceiling by curtains curved like mainsails.  I sit back, inspect the wrought iron hardware that makes such a thing possible;  I listen to her product promotions with no intention of buying.  Throughout the whole appointment, I drifted between chit chat and a desire to steal away and relax.

while tweezing my eyebrows, my stylist begins to talk:

“My mom, she just can-not dress.  She just doesn’t care, and she looks stupid! 

She had a Pure Romance party, because…she just does them because she thinks they’re funny, that’s all.  and you know what she wore?  A white, Ralph Lauren Button -down shirt which I gave her, and a pair of white jogging pants!  Mother!  And you could see she was wearing pink panties underneath.

Oh…my God. 

I hate to tell you this, mom, but no one who has had kids looks good wearing white.  I am sorry, but it’s the truth. 

Her friends told me “you shouldn’t talk to your mom like that!’

but I said- “look,I am being her friend.   I am telling her the truth before someone says something rude to her.”

  My mom, she just doesn’t have a clue, she doesn’t care how she looks, either.  I try to help her, but… she just thinks it’s funny-

And isn’t it weird how people unintentionally coordinate clothes?  Like me and my boyfriend getting ready for a date, and we both meet wearing the same color, and I don’t mean black either, which wouldn’t be that unusual.  I mean something odd- like turquoise.  How does that happen?

I was tempted to ask if the jogging pants had cuffs around the ankle, but I refrained.

Book: Thing of Beauty

I read Thing of Beauty by Stephen Fried several years ago, and still have it in my library.  Its a biography of late supermodel Gia Carangi, who died virtually alone of AIDS in the 1980s.   In the following video she discussed the pressures of modeling and drug addiction.

Of herself she said:

“There’s a lot more to being goodlooking than make-up and prettiness…there’s a lot more to being a woman than that. When I look in the mirror, I just want to like myself…And if I like myself, then I look good.”

(This quote can be found in Stephen Friend’s book among photo index).

We are surprised to learn many beautiful people have difficulties or are unhappy in life, as if the exterior, while it may have social benefits, is a means to an end.  But there’s a lot more to being human than that.  Our “look” is just one facet of who we are.

Conversations

STATIC

“There’s always Dramatic tension between who we are, and who we want to be.”

-Random Guy

DIAL- A -NURSE:

What’s the most popular service where you work?

“Botox. We see more and more women in the late 30’s/early 40s wanting Botox.

When I was in my thirties, raising kids and paying bills, I never would have dreamt of laying down $200.00 on something like that.  People are so afraid of looking old!  I’ve got news for them, though.  It’s coming for all of us.”

Jo Evelyn

 

PHOTOGRAPH: Silent Film Starlet Lillian Gish.

For weeks, I heard her voice through paper- thin walls.  I could imagine her and her caretaker Riley sitting across the room from each other, both too smashed to carry out any threat.  Later I learned they sat framed in by towering boxes, oblivious to years of decay grafted into floorboards.  In the mornings their voices were determined whispers, but as the day passed they become loud, slurred, and at times incoherent, but always lucid enough to emphasize cursing:

“youu -GOD DAMN SHIT…i maa sithere ssic… and you allyoudo is drenk your F@#%*&% BEEEER.

y’ don-t d SHIT, y’BASTARD!”

Like frenzied boxers after the clanging of a bell,  they slumped in their respective corners with a single breath between them, both determined to use it for one final zing.

Several days later, I heard a timid peck on my door.

Before me stood a tall, slinky woman hidden underneath an oversized, throwback sweater and tight, black leather pants.  Her honey-red hair was thick, wavy, and youthful.  Her complexion was creamy and over- all creased, though the lines were drawn very lightly.  She was the silent film starlet Lillian Gish in biker- chick Garb, Her 70 years veiled beneath favorable genes.

She was born here, she said, but spent most of her adult life in California hitching rides on the back of motorcycles.  Between road trips she managed to have a daughter, now estranged but due for a phone call- The reason for her visit.  This was before cell phones, and if you didn’t have a land line, you went to a neighbor’s, or down to the 7-11 phonebooth with a pocket full of dimes and quarters.  She accepted a chair at my table where we would later meet for brief periods of time; There she offered me tiny slithers of her life.  Once she told me she and her father had an understanding regarding one other’s usefulness.  There was a moment of desperation when she sought his help, to which he responded by tossing coins across the living room floor, and watched silently as she scrambled to gather them up. She never asked him for another penny.

Another day passed, and another light peck at the door…

“I need to use your phone again, I need to go to town and….”

Jo- so careful about looking just so, with her carefully applied makeup and colored hair, also had poor vision.

“Jo, are you out of your brown eyeliner?”

“What?  No, I have eyeliner…”

“Your eyebrows are blue, Jo. Let’s somehow mark your pencils so you know which is which.”

 My mom gave me a tube of mood Chapstick.  You remember mood rings?  Mood lipstick?  Same thing.

 I tossed it in my purse- forgot all about it.  Weeks passed, and I was at the mall thinking I needed a little something on my lips.  and you know how we sometimes get with it- you just slather it on, carelessly,  the more the better- not thinking of coloring inside the lines.  So anyway, I am walking through the mall, and I notice people are looking at me kind of funny.  And I think to myself:

 so- am I just looking good, or what? 

Then  a guy walking toward me gave me a puzzled look,  and right about this time I am parallel to a mirror and I kid you not, my lips are the brightest, hottest pink you can imagine.

A couple of weeks later, she called to say Riley was on a drunk and she needed a ride home from the hospital.  What the doctor said was no matter since she was too old to quit her habits and quittin’ wouldn’t make much difference at this point anyway.  We made small talk while she poured over her face and made it up for the trip home.  She then retrieved  crackers and days-old bread from her night stand, and wrapped them in facial tissues and placed them inside an oversized purse.