I was having a conversation last time I was in getting my hair highlighted with my colorist about how much work it is being a woman. The plucking, the waxing, the dyeing, highlighting, straightening, shaving, bleaching (yes, lots of this involves hair of some kind) but there is also the filling, the freezing, the plumping, the toning, the wrinkle, redness and blemish reducing, the lifting, the painting, the styling, the lasering and so on and on and on….
Continuing to my conversation with my hairdresser, I was commenting on the women you see who have basically said, “Uncle!” “I give up” and the ones who even more bravely said, “I never participated.” Can you get a mental picture of both? The first usually has a wide 2-3″ gray line down the center of her part indicating way too much time has elapsed between touch ups. Her hair is usually in a ponytail or just kind of messy. She is wearing outdated high waisted jeans and an oversized sweatshirt. She has no makeup on except maybe some lipstick whose shade should have stayed firmly in the late 90’s. The second woman just never even went there – picture your basic granola cruncher. Salt and pepper hair that is cut short for convenience! (as if hair can be convenient!) Clothes straight out of the Lands End catalog. Doesn’t own a razor or if does, uses it sparingly.
Now I admire and respect these woman’s choice for braving our youth and beauty obsessed culture with the skin, hair and body God gave them sans intervention but I am pretty sure I will never be among them – who am I kidding, I will NEVER be among them. As I have said many a times on aging, “I will not go softly in to that deep night.”
You know what phrase I hate? Aging gracefully. What the hell does that even mean? Does that mean forget it all and just get wrinkles and love them, get grey hair and smile, get your old woman’s updo and granny glasses and do your best impersonation of Vicki Lawrence’s Mama? Or does it mean start getting Botox at 30 so wrinkles never form and mini facelifts before 40? I think it means different things to different people. And boy, how we judge each other on whats fits into your personal definition and what doesn’t. Dying grey hair is okay but no Botox. Or Botox is okay but certainly no fillers. Or fillers are okay but certainly no surgery.
Oh and how we deceive one another! We are all just natural beauties! Let me tell you men out there, it takes a lot of work to look this naturally beautiful. You have no idea. No idea.
Aging as a woman in this time and place in the world is not for the weak. But you know what? I wouldn’t trade being a woman for a man for all the “salt and pepper is sexy” or “wrinkles are distinguished” freedom in the world. I like being a woman just as Marilyn did. I like this stuff, always have. One of my favorite Christmas presents of all time was Barbie’s Makeup Head. God, did I love making her up and in turn making myself up with that tiny lipstick that stained my lips for days. Making things pretty is a trait I wouldn’t want to live in the world without.
I like being pretty and feeling pretty and I like looking as young as I feel (if 100 is young) and you know what? There isn’t anything wrong with that. Yep, I said it. Out loud. The soul searching, enlightening seeking, woo woo loving woman said it. There is nothing wrong with wanting to be pretty and wanting to look young. But we act like there is. It’s as if we all must be doing it for the wrong reasons. To attract men, to climb the corporate ladder, to feel valuable in our society. I say, yes, that is partly true but what is mostly true and I think true for the majority of women is that we like being pretty and looking as young as we can because we like it. WE like it. It makes us feel good to look good. Have you ever been sick for a long time and didn’t shower or wash your hair for a few days and then you finally feel a little better and get the energy up enough to shower, wash that hair, throw on a little moisturizer? Welcome back to the living, right?
So why then do we pretend that these thing don’t matter to us? Of course they do. (The cosmetic industry is not a multi-billion one for nothing) We aren’t denying beauty at any age, we aren’t denying the age and life we have lived or our value to society beyond our looks. Admitting to wanting to stay youthful and pretty isn’t admitting that it is the only thing we care about. That it matters to us more than say, the health and welfare of our loved ones, world peace or our self-respect. But yes, it does matter.
So that’s when the lying and denying comes in. We deny and downplay what we actually have to do to look pretty and young because we are afraid of what that says about us. We want to be deeper than that, less insecure and vain. We want to pretend “tout cela est naturel.” Have you ever been to a plastic surgeons’ office? That is one sketchy vibe. Everyone tries to pretend they aren’t there. They hide themselves in their phones and magazines as if that works like Harry Potter’s invisibility cloak or that they are there for “this funky mole on my neck.”
I say, why can’t we be both? Why can’t I want to laser away years of sun damage and wrinkles and examine my thoughts and life with the diligence of a Buddhist monk? Why do I have to shave my head and renounce all facials, Prada bags, and Chanel lip glosses? Who said you aren’t serious about anything if you are aren’t serious about your looks? Marrianne Williamson didn’t.
Don’t get me wrong, I love and admire the Pema Chodrons and monks of the world but you know, here in the trenches, in life lived outside of an abbey, it takes balance.There will always be people who take everything too far – you can picture them. Balance. That’s the key to so much in this life. Whether its your looks, your finances, your sex life, your work life, your eating habits, your whatever. But here is the one thing I keep coming back to in all my thinking lately, my balance may not be yours. What is okay for me, may be way too much for you. Or what is okay for you, may be too far for me. It’s that sneaky little box we live in again. My box may be bigger or smaller than yours and that is just fine because it is my box and that is your box.
But we as women, especially those in the public eye, must acknowledge our efforts with each other. Lying about what we do or don’t do serves no one and especially does not serve our daughters on the horizon of this whose self-esteem is being partly shaped by women who are photoshopped on magazine covers (everyone), who have been seeing cosmetic dermatologists since they were in their 20’s (Cindy Crawford), and who have been married to plastic surgeons for 30 years (Jaclyn Smith). Saying we are aging gracefully without any help at all, saying we naturally look like this first thing in the morning, saying looking 30 at 50 is due to “good genes” and “drinking lots of water”, 1) fools no one 2) demonizes wanting to look and feel pretty and young.
I say, hell yea, I want to look good and pretty and young for as long as I can and I am willing to do stuff – maybe even lots of stuff – to get there. I promise not to judge any of you who opt out, if you promise not to judge me.