I take my mother to lunch every Friday. At 97 she likes to stroll the mall to see the latest fashions. Passing a cosmetics counter she’ll often say, “I think it’s time to renew myself.” We pause over the glass display until a crisp looking salesgirl comes forward. She offers us samples and mother giggles as each cosmetic is applied. Eventually, I buy her a new blush or lipstick and as we leave the store, it seems to me she leans less heavily upon on her walker… her steps more assured.
I sometimes wonder what so delights her each time she renews herself with a lipstick called stormy pink or fire & Ice. She isn’t hoping to attract a man. The ritual has to do with personal pride, I suspect. Looking good makes her feel good and when she feels good the world seems to treat her well. Susan Gregory Thomas would agree. In her article, “How Do You Know When It’s Time To Change Your Looks? ”she writes about studies that prove attractive, well-groomed people are treated more courteously and considered smarter than their less-well-put-together-counterparts.” (More, October 2012 pg. 118.) .
A tube of fire & ice will do nothing for mother’s frown lines, of course. What she gets is a mental rather than a facial up lift. Yet each time she goes through her period of renewal, I am reminded that hers is a feminine quest. A woman looking into a mirror and noticing her jaw line softened by jowls is inclined to wonder, is it time for Botox or the surgeon’s knife?
Are women more vain than men? I doubt it. But as another writer, Joyce Maynard, observes, “Women are reminded at every turn that our looks are tremendously important.” (“Who the Heck is that Face in the Mirror?” by Joyce Maynard, More, 10/13, pg. 160) Why then, as she suggests, do we allow our acquaintances and our society to make jokes about our attempts to feel good? These jokes, she points out, are another way of putting women down.
Being too curious to see how my past will be etched upon my present face, I’ve done nothing as yet to alter it; but I don’t rule out the possibility. I applaud that spark of renewal that animates our gender. What is life, after all, without a little fire and ice?
(First published on 11/15/15