This time of year – dark and cold right now in the Northern hemisphere — used to find me stretched out on a tropical beach: typically, the “Riviera Maya”, or the smaller islands of Hawai’i. Even sunny California has always felt too cold for me in December; and especially January.
But I’ve always been a lazy traveler in the winter months: a five hour flight, max. was all I would endure, as a heat-seeking human wanting only to bake in the sun with a good book and a cool drink in reach. A minimum of travel time and fuss, currency or language issues. True to my generation, back then I had a total disregard for the sun’s potency. Which is partly why my shelf of skin products has now expanded to a small pantry of unguents, potions, night and day creams, gels, elixirs and serums. A ‘cosmetic hoarder’ is what I’ve become.
Even though I don’t subject myself to sun-tanning anymore, I’m drawn to the shiny packaging and promises — really good marketing of what Beauty’s supposed to look like — for other reasons. No, I’m not one of those people who panics each time a new wrinkle appears; and I’m certainly not arguing with the aging process. (With all due respect to younger Readers, I’d never choose to go back to my earlier days on the planet – even with wrinkle-free skin as the enticement.) My goal is just to capitalize on (read: make the best of) my assets, while appreciating how Life just keeps adding more character and depth to my overall appearance. Bring it – I’ve earned it.
Still, I think that, for a lot of people (I’ll include myself), there’s a moment in time when ‘resistance’ becomes an issue: each person – regardless of gender identity – confronts the fact that the face in the mirror doesn’t reflect what we want to see. Concepts like ‘Beauty’, and what’s ‘attractive’ become annoying and burdensome. When that happens, there are always options ‘out there’: adding; subtracting; coloring; shaping. Processes and procedures that are only limited by our ability and willingness to pay, to correct whatever we think is missing or wrong about our faces and our bodies. I’d be willing to bet that the people most affected by these concerns are over forty. On the other hand, as I’ve observed before (an earlier Post), the media and aesthetics professionals would have us believe that it’s never too early to address our ‘flaws’. Real, or imagined.
As I opened up my cosmetic pantry today, prepping myself to escape the cold rainy weather with some ‘retail therapy’, a poignant memory came back to me. When I was in my twenties, I spent a lot of time in the company of my maternal grandmother. She’d want to go to the mall (not my favorite pastime with Gran) in her small town. Invariably we’d bump into someone she knew. Gran would proudly introduce me and, more often than not, the old lady or gentleman would remark, “Oh, how pretty your grand-daughter is!” Without fail, my Gran would shoot me a sideways look with her eyes, while – how did she do this? – her mouth directed words to the person offering the compliment: “Well,” said Gran, “Pretty is, as Pretty does!” I felt that.
Even back then, in those early days of trying to find out Who I Was and What I was Supposed to Be Doing, I learned an important Lesson about physical beauty: it’s fleeting; it’s skin-deep; it’s never an accurate measure of a person’s depth or value. But how, I recall thinking back then, do I…how can I...learn to understand what truly matters, when the entire world is telling me that my appearance is so crucially relevant to my success? I can buy a cream that makes my skin glow, but what I really want is for my life to glow. Which is the whole basis and point of advertising and marketing; the ‘why’ behind my cosmetic hoarding: dissatisfaction and the perpetual belief that the answer lies in a jar, a tube, a scent or a magic silver box.
If we’re engaged in trying to live bravely, we can listen to experts and read about how to define, capture, and boost our Inner Beauty. But to me, these moments of ‘sharing’ often feel like an ‘also ran’ consolation. As though Inner Beauty is the ‘fall-back,’ or ‘in-lieu-of’ option for Physical Beauty. One thing I know for certain – because I happen to be living it in real-time — is that the former lasts, in its reality and authenticity; whereas the latter is flat and one-dimensional (not to mention, doomed to fade), if it exists all on its own. As I make my progress down the road, I’m looking for balance here; I’m striving for what’s real and true…even as I add another potion to my shopping list for today.