May 9th, 2008

Beauty, Skin Shallow

I got my hair cut this morning. I had to look at my own reflection in a mirror for more than half an hour, not because I have a lot of hair to cut, but because Eric is deliberate and careful in his work. It is not a lot of fun.

Perhaps there are some lucky women somewhere in our culture who don’t worry about what they look like, ever. I think I worry less than many from a combination of apathy and feminism, unless that’s some kind of defeatist mask for my understanding of the real truth: not much I can do about it anyway, is there?

I have been reading about poetry lately and the idea of a poet’s personal definition for various words lying at the root of his or her work. For me, the word hair has this kind of definition. It will never be just hair, but rather a particular form of torture, a stumbling block, a contentious outgrowth and marker of all that I am and all that I will never manage to be. My hair is fine, thin, and straight. It is brown, going toward gray now. I have battled it for years, attempted to make it long, flowing, wavy, a curly mass of shiny and tousled beauty. As another poet said in a totally different context, “Don’t fight the tofu.” I have accepted that I can’t win that battle and so attempt to work within what is actually possible given what I have.

Then there is skin. My mother has beautiful skin, porcelain smooth. She theoretically has pores, but really, there is no evidence. She says that when she was a teenager, she had some acne, but I think she was just lying to make me feel better when my face erupted into a moonscape from which it has never actually recovered. I have pores that could swallow a goat. Actually, that might be one possible explanation for those pesky hairs that sometimes emerge on my chin before I ruthlessly yank them out.

I could continue to enumerate my flaws, but that would be boring as well as depressing. I don’t often look at the particular flaws I’ve mentioned except in the most cursory way as I brush my hair in the morning or swipe cleanser on my face at night. The question is what, if anything, I should be doing about any of it.

Now that I have revealed myself as a petty and shallow person, I will examine exactly HOW petty and shallow. These are the questions that plague me. Does it make sense to pay a lot of money for haircuts when my hair is never going to look gorgeous? Should I let the gray hairs bother me? I pluck out the eyebrow outriders that lurk above my nose because I lack Kahlo’s ability to embrace my flaws, but should I do it in a more regular fashion? What about the extra long gray eyebrow denizens? Should I thin and shape those bristly caterpillars? Do facials make any sense at all? Should I spare everyone my uneven skin tone by wearing makeup every day? Is this capitulation to The Man and the forces of culture that want me to consume more and more resources to fill some perceived lack that has been created by advertisers? Who started the cult of body hair hatred? Why do I believe in it so fervently? Where is the line between good hygiene and obsession with looks?

For a while, I decided that the line existed at the place where men stopped. I would shower, wash my hair, shave my legs and armpits (since I didn’t need to shave my face), brush my teeth, and comb my hair. I would put on deodorant and sometimes sunscreen and leave it at that. It’s not a bad rubric; at least using that one I am not further exploited by virtue of being a woman. But.

But I still wish I looked different. Good thing I have six weeks to recover before my next haircut.