I sat across from the bridge table and looked at her skin. From a distance she looked 40, but once I watched her as she fanned her cards directly across from me, it was obvious she was somewhere way south of 70. It wasn’t clear whether she felt good about herself or not because her face didn’t move in the liquid way that natural skin over bone does. Fine emotions couldn’t play across her face and tell me if she was sad or happy or worried. Her best option was to play to serene. Her face didn’t go scary then. I will say that somewhere in the mask that was her face, there was a glimpse of an effective, pretty smile, if you didn’t notice how strange it made the muscles and plastic wrap looking skin across her cheekbones move in odd, out of sync motion with her chin.
In the car that evening ready for going home and right after securing my seatbelt, tilting the rearview mirror for a better view, I pulled at the skin on either side of my face and neck, imagining some kind of face lift, somewhere in between scary tight and normal, dry wrinkly skin baggy.
The next day I languished in the faux leather of a salon chair as Nancy, a genuinely beautiful Vietnamese young woman massaged my scalp and washed away remnants of the streaky blonde highlights she was adding to my thin limp hair. One of only two freckled faces in the room, I marveled at how young the more matronly Asian women looked who came through the door. One especially pretty one took the seat next to me and I glanced a bit sideways at her as she closed her eyes and her attendant began pulling her hair back. Telltale signs of a recent neck lift were outlined behind her ear, the fresh scars likely only weeks old. I looked closer at the tautness of her neck and face. I wondered if she had really needed it, her ochre skin still supple and firm for her age. I wondered if she liked herself better.
Helen, the owner of the shop, walked up to me and I knew where this was going. The sign outside the shop, besides offering the customary salon services, also informed patrons that mole removal and permanent makeup were available. (Permanent makeup is the politically correct description of socially acceptable behavior for getting tattooed, in the form of permanently inked in eyebrows and such.) Nancy herself was sporting a new, painful looking bar of tattooed roses right above the swell of her left breast and Helen had the most artificially shaped, pouty lips which, if I am being honest, even in their unnaturalness, suited her face.
“Janey, I tattoo your lips, just the outline. It make you look ten years younger. Better to have ink ‘in’ your lips then on them,” she emphasized. “Make you pretty like you used to be. No wrinkles around lips. Make your lips full.”
Helen had come out of the permanent makeup application room, her patron beside her. The patron holding a large bag of ice against vibrantly ruby red lips instantly sank to the first chair and bowed her head, pressing the ice fully face on.
“She had Botox,” explained Helen.
Before I can digest this information and reconcile the possibility that Botox treatments are an additional, unadvertised service, Mother who has been listening in the uncanny way she can for someone who legally can’t hear, steps up and into the conversation.
“I want my lips done. Make the appointment, Janet,” she says. Turning to Helen, she asks how much. Discussion ensued and an agreed upon price is conspiratorially whispered behind hands and my mother comes out of the fray mouthing something about it being 50 less than her, the woman who, previously resting on the chair with the ice pack, is now up wandering the room in pain.
Once in the car, Mother and I both coifed, I quizzed her on the pain and permanent nature of permanent makeup. “It didn’t even hurt when she did my eyebrows and eyelids. It’s just like a little prick,” she says as she pinching the old skin on my arm. I watch as it settles back down on the bones of my arm, all dry and … not young looking. As far as I know there are no options for this particular aging part of my body.
I’ve spent a considerable amount of time thinking through this and I have to admit. It’s tempting, some of it at least. But I can’t get my head around who is it for and where are the limits? Is it for our self esteem as women? Is it for those around us? Is it for other women? Other men? Is a little bit of work, just to make you look a little less old for a little bit longer, a reasonable goal? Do people get hooked or do doctors convince them to do the most amazingly strange and deforming things, with the promise that it will be worth it in the end? And do men ever tell the truth about what they think of the extremes women are going to? Do they actually find these women attractive although they seem to pretend right along with you that they look down right scary. At some point it’s crazy to keep pushing this particular envelope although that point seems to be lost on an ever increasing number of people.
In the end I keep coming back to why?
I happened to be in a pretty little shopping area the other day, sitting in one of its green areas. I had made it my own little waiting area and I quite enjoyed watching the people stroll by. A pretty young woman clearly enamored with the man whose arm she was hanging on walked by. She was someone you might notice, she was youthful and pretty. Slim and fit looking, she had enviable long, blonde hair with lots of body. As she passed me, I watched her hand move nervously to the back of her head, the gesture repeated multiple times in the few seconds that I watched. At the back of her head, her natural hair, short and fine, had been combed badly over multiple fake hair extensions that were the curls and waves that danced around her shoulders. Her stroll around the promenade was distinctly unsettling to her as she struggled with the wind and whispy hair to stay in place just above the combs.
The why of it is easy in some respects: we are a race that favors beauty and beauty is frequently considered skin deep. Unfortunately, skin deep means we are who we look like, we are going to get old, and when everything’s taken off at night as you crawl into bed, you are who you are. Maybe the immediate answer is that moderation is never a bad choice and that’s a good place to be when considering inking, pulling, and pinching our outsides. But the truth of the matter it’s a battle we’ll lose. There is a sense of the hopeless about it all.
So what to do?
I have never known a smile, no matter the face it came to, that when from that place deep in us that knows joy, didn’t transform that face into a thing of beauty. Prune and primp and lift and tuck that soul of yours using the awful and good times and anything you can find. Because it’s the soul of who you are that’s the only possible part of you that can never get ugly from wrinkles and moles and age and will be the part that those who love you remember as beautiful.
I can think of a few souls, old, young, ravaged on the outside, that my minds holds their beauty even now and always will… Nip and tuck at me Father, I wanna be beautiful.
Happy Monday…er Tuesday.