Monday, December 31, 2007

New year, new you

One of the biggest changes I’ve witnessed in myself, over the years, has been a growing apathy about my appearance.

Back in the 80s, when I was a ‘tween and teen, I was obsessed with my own appearance. As were all my friends, my sisters and their friends, and every other girl we knew. It was perfectly normal to rise just before 6:00am, take a shower (or, in the old days, wash my hair in the sink—that was during the dark “pre-shower” ages in my childhood household), then eat breakfast with a towel on my head, go dry my hair, curl my hair with hot rollers, spray ridiculous amounts of ozone-unfriendly aerosol’d stickiness on my hair, and lastly paint a new face over my own—a face that seemed so much more glamorous than the plain one underneath. All this, mind you, to catch the bus at 7:30 for a typical day of school. No prom, no senior pictures—just a day. At school. Clothes? Had to be just right, with various high heels that came out every week, no bookbag because they looked so bookish and ugly…

College forced me to simplify my process a bit. Some days, hair went unwashed, in a ponytail (not very often, though). Makeup was stashed in a backpack that I’d finally given in and purchased, and hairspray morphed into the travel-size pump bottle, which was easier to hide and less likely to douse my books than that quick-on-the-trigger aerosol. During freshman year, I still went to the effort to put on some makeup before stepping out of my dorm room. That’s right—even to go sit in the TV lounge. Hey, you never knew whom you might see there. Best to be prepared. Always.

By sophomore year, I was a tad more relaxed. Still makeup and hairspray always, but by then I might occasionally wander into the dorm hallway without any eyeliner. Shocking. No one noticed. I also became a little less stringent about clothes; I’d begun to understand, you see, that the college town I inhabited lay directly within the snow belt, and that pretty little leather-soled loafers would not cut it through a lake effect snowstorm. I invested in some cute but clunky boots and actually wore a winter coat instead of layered jean jackets.

Then I moved off-campus. The beauty standards dropped further, as I was walking farther to classes and sometimes even riding my bike. Skirts all but disappeared from my life. There was no need, no place. I still wore makeup, but by now my hair was a tad more unkempt; I plastered it in the morning and then hoped for the best. Snowstorm? Oh well. Rain and no umbrella? The damp look was forced upon me. I survived. Again, no one else noticed. By senior year, I had to be reintroduced to skirts, because I was student teaching. To get to the school I'd been assigned, I had begged and borrowed a car from my parents (I eventually bought it from them). I still had to do some walking to campus, although not as much...but the relaxed standards stayed in place—mostly because I was just too exhausted to fuss much.

I tried to return to high standards of appearance with my first job teaching school, but I couldn’t doll myself too much—I was instructing a bunch of hormonal teenaged boys. Besides, I had to be there by 7:20am; an early schedule doesn’t allow for extreme beautification. I couldn’t get too lackadaisical, though, because the entire little town where I worked was bored, observant, and nosey. If you stepped out, they knew where, when, whom you were with, and how long you’d stayed. If you ate at a restaurant, they knew what you’d ordered. There was no part of life unobserved, short of moments spent hiding behind closed curtains. Boy, I don’t miss that crap.

Then I worked in a few offices. The standards began dropping again. I did what I needed to do to look “finished” for work, but the company where I spent five years was busy and demanding, and there simply was no time many days for extra efforts; lipstick and shadow applied hurriedly at my desk was usually as far as I got. Plus, the owners were firm believers in no privacy—desks sat next to desks, which sat next to more desks; any attempts to cosmetify were acutely observed and noted.

I had one other job after that, for a crazy woman. I had all the privacy I could want. But... I was married by then. Why bother? And finally, to seal my standards in their far lower positions, I got pregnant. Well, that was all she wrote. The standards have remained frighteningly low ever since. Now, there is a) insufficient time, b) insufficient concern, and c) less of a canvas to work with. I knew it was over when I first left the house in sweat pants. That was something I swore I’d never do. I did. Just last week, I ran to the grocery store wearing the offensive fleece fat huggers, AND sporting no eyeliner. That’s right, strode boldly into public that way. I’ve given up. Besides, makeup doesn’t do what it used to do. It can’t cover those lines around my eyes, and it certainly can’t detract from my firmly etched laugh lines; nor does it work on my new hairy chinny chin chin, and there’s no cosmetic in the world to hide the fact that I’m more jowly than ever before.

The ludicrous thing is that to this day, I don’t think anyone else has noticed my lagging beauty standards and decreased efforts. Todd and I have this silly joke about how we used to be stars of our own shows; he had the Todd show, and I had the Mel show. And we painstakingly prepared for every take, for each new episode. Now, years later, we realize that no one was ever watching our shows. They were getting ready for and performing in their own shows. They thought I was watching them. The punch line of all this? None of our shows ever even got picked up. They never made it past the pilot stage.

It’s kind of a relief to realize no one is watching my show. It takes some pressure off. Now I have a different kind of audience: my little boy. Sometimes it seems as if he’s watching only the out-takes and mistakes of my life. But it helps keep me on track. I don’t worry so much about hair and "stage" makeup, thank goodness. I have more time to practice my lines. I can focus on my facial expressions, my voice inflection and delivery.

Come to think of it, maybe these lower standards are not really lower at all. They’ve just been juggled, reprioritized. Nowadays, I’m trying to direct my efforts where they should have gone all along—not to my physical appearance, but to the betterment of my moral and character standards. I wonder where I’d be today if I’d invested more time in that development all along. Hmmmm.

Happy 2008. Best wishes at being your best you ever.


Anonymous said...

Love it, love it, love it! I too can see the "self-portrait of Dorian Gray" in my increasingly relaxed standards. I don't miss all the obsessing one bit, though I sometimes still can't bear to go to the store without a little make-up -- heck if I can't stand to look at me that way, I can't imagine anyone else can either! Some old habits die hard...

Mel said...

yep. it's funny, after I'd posted this, I tuned into your blog and immediately recognized a common vein. we must all be coming to our senses! finally. : )

but you're right--I do still try to do the minimum most days, at least if I'm leaving the house. no reason to let myself go completely to pot... yet. ; )

Cari Skuse said...

I, too, have very lax standards. I think that I quit wearing makeup when I stopped working. Before that I had pared down a lot from what I did wear in High School and College.
Now it has to be a big event like going out to eat or church for me to get dressed up and wear makeup.
I have not worn sweats out...but I have dressed pretty scrungy to go to Home Depot (we would make daily runs there in the summer before working on the house). I know I was quite a sight.
At least I did get my hair cut. I was very tired of the long hair and Mark was not complementary when I did, but that's too bad. It is much easier and I think it looks better.

Cari Skuse said...

Oh, and I wanted to say that nothing has changed in that little small town....the main abusers are still alive and well. Hate that mentality. Just drains me. Makes me sick. Oh, well.