I Hide My Chocolate

Midlife observations

Tag: Beauty

It’s A Good Thing?

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The Masks We Wear

Martha Stewart is an easy target.  She seems to have no idea how ridiculous she comes across in her ivory tower of affluence, kind of like Effie Trinket from the Capitol in The Hunger Games.  I haven’t paid close attention to Martha since she was convicted of lying in 2004.  I’ve been aware that she has managed to have continued and impressive business and media success post-jail-time.  I certainly believe in redemption and that people should be allowed second (and maybe even third) chances.  Whether Martha has redeemed herself is debatable.  Truly I don’t know her, other than the masked persona she presents to the public.  I should not pass judgment.

I did admire Martha during her heyday in the 90’s.  Her approach to keeping a beautiful home and her emphasis on the importance of gracious entertaining was completely foreign to me and my upbringing where it was a miracle that Chicken and Potatoes (or some variation thereof) appeared at the kitchen counter for dinner every evening from 6:30-6:40 pm with two introverted working scientist parents who were clueless about how to host a party and so they didn’t.  I wanted to cook delicious food, have friends over for elegant dinner parties, and fantasized about being as organized as Martha.  Her calendar, published every month in her magazine, amazed me.  She was the tastemaker of the day (and an extraordinary business woman).  When I got engaged, I begged my mother for her book, Weddings, to inspire my planning.  My mother scoffed, as she scoffed at my desire for a wedding dress, but I wanted my one and only big party of my then-young life to be happy, tasteful, beautiful, and I did not trust myself to plan it without Martha’s guiding aesthetic. 

Since then, my values have shifted and my Martha aspirations have faded, betrayed by her jail stint.  So, it was with mild curiosity that an article in Thursday’s NYT caught my eye.  (The print edition, of course.  Where else would you have the joy of discovering and reading about topics that you might not see otherwise?)  The article profiled Martha describing her beauty routine.  Wow.  The serums and potions, the variety of high end products used, in conjunction with daily, weekly, monthly sessions with a retinue of beauty service providers, like her facialist.  There was not a speck of humility or irony in this article.  No acknowledgement that she is incredibly lucky to have the time and money to live such a luxurious lifestyle and that most of us could never afford the products and services she uses.  And perhaps most of us would not choose to spend our money and time this way even if we could.  Though, wouldn’t it be nice to have the opportunity?

As I quickly jumped to judging Martha scornfully as ridiculous and irrelevant, I paused and backed up, asking why is the New York Times featuring this article anyway?  They must think there is an audience of women readers who will want to know what are the best skincare and beauty products we should all be using, according to Martha?  (Note to the New York Times, if you are interested in providing truly useful beauty service journalism, then a summary of the products mentioned would have been helpful.)  If Martha gets up hours before she needs to leave the house in order to slather creams on her face and body, should we all be doing that?   Just because my beauty regime consists of a shower and an occasional swipe of lipstick doesn’t mean all women are minimalists.  And maybe my ascetic and controlling minimalism is the flip side of the same coin.

Now, I am the first to acknowledge that appearances matter.  Plenty of studies have shown that attractive people are judged to be more competent and are more successful in life.  I’ve spent many days in my younger years panicking that I didn’t look “right.”  At this stage, I am a bit defiant about freeing myself from the constraints of time-consuming and money-consuming beauty regimes.  I would rather spend my money on healthy food, yoga and vacations with my family.  The article did make me wonder about the New York City audience that the NYT serves (myself included).  We take great pains to care about those less fortunate while we are thoroughly caught up in the striving, the effortful and materialistic striving to be on top.  Like Panem’s Capitol we are curiously bubbled, out of step with how the rest of the world lives.  Isn’t this the same newspaper that featured the plight of homeless children in a bid for reader attention and sympathy?  And now we are slavishly looking to Martha for beauty regimen how-tos?  Does the left hand know what the right hand is doing?

Women and society need to have the confidence that beauty comes from within and from how you behave.  It is more important to figure out how to look and feel your best so that you can be your best self and contribute the best of yourself to your world without getting caught up in being beholden to a public persona, a mask, that requires so much upkeep.   Imagine how much good we could do if we devoted the money and time we spend on beauty products and our effortful and materialistic striving to helping someone else, to making a meaningful and productive contribution to our community?

Long, Beautiful Hair

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Free Flowing Woman

I cut my hair super short for the first time before entering Intermediate School in 7th Grade.  This was the summer fraught with breasts, bra-buying, and unwanted sexual attention.  I said I wanted to cut my hair because I thought it would make me look older and more sophisticated.  But really, I wanted to stop the clock on puberty.  Since then, my hairstyle has been a barometer of life transitions.

Seventh grade is up there as one of my more miserable years.  When I arrived with my super short hair, I was teased for looking too boyish.  Couldn’t they see my breasts?  I am so definitely a girl.  I spent the next 5 years growing my hair long, twirling it into a ballet bun, only to cut it all off again before college.  And again when entering the work world.  And so on.  Each drastic hair cut a harbinger of some kind of important change.  For me, short hair on a woman is bold and unconventional, two qualities I feel I lack.  Cutting my hair was freeing, allowing me to adopt a braver persona, like when I cut it right before going on a solo cycling adventure.

The last time I went super short was after the birth of my son.  I thought the style suited me.  Super chic for my work world and super easy as a working mom.  I could show off my cheekbones and wear fun earrings.  Strong colored lipstick would emphasize my girl-ness.  My husband thought it added to my aloof allure.   Mainly it was easy.

The man who cut my hair specialized in “precision” haircuts.  Remember those?  Sharp and angular.  I would show up every 6 weeks and sit in the chair and turn over all control to him.  Whatever you think looks good was usually my attitude.  He was the professional.  I trusted him.  He would take out his razor and cut and shape, with precision.  I left, looking like a sharper version of myself, for the day.  And then I would wash my hair and everything was back to the same.

As I got older, sitting in that chair facing the mirror became less and less appealing and more and more of a chore.  I started joking, I don’t care how you cut it, just make me look younger.   Then I kind of stopped looking in the mirror.  It had just become a personal hygiene errand.

Around this time, one of my yoga teachers and mentors gently suggested that my hair was boxy and severe and why not try letting it ease out a bit?  Hmm, but what about my cheekbones?  At midlife, the short hair made my thin face and prominent cheekbones look drawn and stressed, not elegant and regal.  Hmm, but what about looking chic for work?  Doesn’t a trendy male stylist know more about what’s up-to-date than a suburban yogini stylist?  At midlife, maybe chasing after chic no longer meant sharp and angular.  Hmm, but what about easy?  I don’t have time to blow dry my hair every morning.  She reminded me that once it gets long, it would be super easy to pull it back into a chic chignon.   Hmm, but aren’t I too old for longer hair?  Long hair is for young girls and sexy women.  Not for a middle-aged mom.  Hmm, but what about bold and unconventional?  Maybe, I could be bold without needing short hair.  Maybe, I could embrace what is good about what is conventional in me.  Maybe, it was time to be the free-flowing woman I know is inside me, the one who has long, beautiful hair and fabulous scarves and lots of jewelry.  Certainly, she is bold and unconventional.  What an amazing woman!  It was time to let her out.

Since my yoga teacher was a hair stylist by day, I found myself cautiously sitting in her chair about 2 years ago, about the time my mid-life enlightenment was in acute mode.  We looked at me in the mirror together.  Ready to relinquish control over my style, I allowed her to familiarize herself with my hair.  She told me about cowlicks, something I never knew I had!  We discussed the impact of cowlicks on how my hair looks.  My previous male hairdressers simply had cut my hair so short, the cowlicks were cut away.  She laid her hands on my shoulders, drawing attention to how I hold my tension, constantly, and encouraging me to let my shoulders soften.   We talked.

We talked about yoga.  Which means we talked about life.  Everything came up.  Love, death, sex, karma, work, friendship, anxiety, depression, eating, monogamy, reincarnation, trauma, diets, vacation, neurogastroenterology, god.  She is outspoken.  I am reserved.  She has beautiful, long, sometimes wild auburn hair.  (She’s a free-flowing woman.)  I have wavy, still fairly short, dark brown (mixed with an increasing amount of gray) hair.  I admired her ability to express strong opinions with assertiveness and confidence.  Chronically non-confrontational, I was not always sure I agreed, but I would marinate on things she said, taking it in and adding it to my mosaic of understanding.  Gradually, we peeled away more layers to reveal more of what is inside.  I was touched that she shared as much of herself as she did.

I have relied on a stream of professionals to advise me on life.  Therapists, Executive coaches, Personal Shoppers, Makeup and Hair Stylists, Bosses, Trainers, Teachers, Attorneys.  Surrogate parents and teachers who I thought knew better than me about what was best for me.  When I was younger, many of these advisors were men, men I relinquished control to.  As I’ve gotten older, I’ve made a conscious effort to choose women, aware of and uncomfortable with the sexist quality of my deference to male authority and of the way I have felt competitive with other women.  The quality of working on a project with a woman is different.  More collaborative and explorative.  As I grow more sure of myself, asserting my opinion first in writing and next, cautiously, in speaking, I am discovering that disagreeing does not mean I have to avoid the person.  I don’t have to be a good girl and do everything they advise me to do.  Rather, revealing what I think and who I am leads to a more authentic and deeper connection.  The other person has a sense of who I am and does not expect me to be just like them.  How boring would that be?

Instead of going through the motions of a haircut making small talk, I am practicing how to develop a friendship.  As I build this friendship and nurture my lengthening hair, nurture the bold and conventional, sexy and nurturing, chic and free-flowing, maybe I am learning to trust myself.  After all, who knows me better than me?

A free flowing woman laughs and loves easily. She is not constrained by rigid rules in her head. She wears original, unusual, creative jewelry and scarves. She is open, not judgmental. She says yes to adventure and has a spark of spontaneity.

One of my yoga teachers shared this poem with me.  (I did not write it.)  But it has informed my metaphorical desire to be like a free flowing river:

Flow
Be as water is
Without friction
Flow around the edges
Of those within your path
Surround within your ever-moving depths
Those who come to rest there
Enfold them
While never for a moment holding on
Accept whatever distance
Others are moved within your flow
Be with them gently
As far as they allow your strength to take them
And fill with your own being
The remaining space when they are left behind
When dropping down life’s rapids
Froth and bubble into fragments if you must
Know that the one of you now many
Will just as many times be one again
And when you’ve gone as far as you can go
Quietly await your next beginning

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