My daughter and a friend were laughing the other day about girls who show up for a day of high school looking like they are ready for the Prom. Full make-up, hair perfectly dyed, straightened, curled, etc. in expensive high-fashion outfits that show every possible physical asset (even if some might objectively be viewed as liabilities.) My daughter looked down at her ripped jeans, Converse sneakers, baggy shirt, long semi-clean hair and no make-up face and said “This is me. This is what you get.”
Since I have inhabited both Planet All-Dolled-Up and Planet Take-Me-As-I-Am in my life, this topic caused some reflection. In my days as a young banker in the 80s I dressed to the nines. I needed to. There weren’t many women in management and I didn’t want even a run in my pantyhose (yes, we wore them then) to bring any negative attention. You had to look good, but not TOO good—neat, professional, attractive even but certainly not alluring in any way (no peep-toed shoes, thank you very much.) The funnier memory is from my college years when I sometimes wore short dresses and set my hair and wore platform shoes although the uniform was jeans and baggy shirts. Go figure. In my experience, wearing make-up and dressing up is like playing a part and I have always loved theater, even the crazy weird opera get-ups which included white face and geisha wigs for Madame Butterfly. But that was a loooong time ago and now I am mostly a Plain Jane because anything else takes too much effort.
But my sister is another story. I have finally figured out that she is constitutionally incapable of going out in public (we’re talking the grocery store or gas station here) without make up. When we travel together extra time must be built in for this, along with the daily shower and hair washing/blow drying. I usually shower, pull my hair into a ponytail, slap on some moisturizer and chap stick and am good to go. When feeling really fancy I will straighten my hair and add eyeliner and mascara. We grew up in the same household with the same just-red-lipstick mom. So why the difference?
I think it might be the Don’t Give a Shit phenomenon. These days I usually just don’t care. I will rely on personality or energy or sheer volume if necessary to make whatever impression I need to make and not worry about how I look. But some people feel very differently. I once ran into a woman who was tan in the middle of winter. I asked where she had been and she said she was leaving for Florida in a few days. I looked confused and she explained that she had started going to a tanning booth several weeks earlier as a “public service to the people of Florida” so they would not have to deal with the shock of her paper white skin! This cracked me up, but got me thinking. On the rare occasion when I dress up a bit and put on some makeup it is often to teach, thinking that a prettier instructor might somehow cheer my students. My better packaging is a little gift to them.
Love can motivate too, of course. When we have feelings for someone or are hoping to meet someone we might want to have feelings for, we usually try harder. And sometimes it takes a long time to take off the spackling and get real. I used the master bathroom at the home of a long-married couple once and was shocked to see a full-on negligee hanging on the hook. Yikes! This woman was still wearing lingerie to bed years after I had switched to ripped T-shirts. A friend recently confessed that it had taken her years to be able to fart in front of her partner. I wonder what would happen if we were all just unvarnished from the get go. Could we save ourselves years of artifice? Or would we just scare away all potential lovers?
When my friend’s husband died I commented on what a handsome man he had been. She said “Handsome on the inside, honey. Handsome on the INSIDE.” Tom was too, but the outside grabbed me first. Whenever I left his beautiful country house and drove down the very long and winding driveway, he would stand in the carport and wave until I was out of sight. I would look back at him, every single time, and say out loud “Damn, that’s a handsome man!” He shyly confessed to me once that he had been voted “best body” in his high school. When my girls saw his graduation photo one day they cooed, “He was cuuuute” despite having initially concluded he was far too old for me based solely on his gray beard.
Physical attraction is a wily thing but I do believe it needs to be firmly in place to get the ball rolling. I once had a date with a handsome, smart, very nice, attorney whom I dismissed out of hand (no pun intended, I swear!) because I could not imagine his tiny little hands ever touching me. There is a quote that says something like “there are countless relationships built on the pleasure taken in a well-turned ankle”. An older male friend just confessed to me this week that he had always been an “ankle man” and I once got an email following a first date admiring my legs. On the TV show Transparent the one thing both the husband and the lesbian lover of the eldest daughter agree on are how great her breasts are. But as we all know, that first pull of attraction is not enough to help us stay the course. It is the long list of inside traits that brings deep and lasting love. Kindness, respect, support, acceptance or willingness to do the laundry are what sustains relationships. And HUMOR. That one most of all.
So my current dilemma is whether or not to pack my tiny makeup bag for the all-girl trip to Florida. I don’t really care how I look. I just want to be comfortable and I’m not trying to impress or be noticed by a soul. My daughter prefers my face unadorned (she thinks I look younger that way and having such an old mama is a little hard sometimes) but my sister will be looking snazzy, as usual. Guess I’ll throw in the mascara, just in case—-not out of vanity mind you, but as a public service to the people of Florida who will already be suffering from the glare off my snow white skin!!