I can clearly remember being a young adolescent and seeing women who are the age I am now with hair slightly disheveled, clothes not perfectly pressed and carrying more weight than was wise (or attractive) and thinking to myself with an inner sniff, “Honestly, don’t they care how they look?!”
From about the age of thirteen, no reflective surface was safe from my using it to check myself out, plate glass windows, side view mirrors in the car,the glass in a train window, even toasters…I was drawn to shiny surfaces to an extent that would put the average magpie to shame. My hair was carefully maintained, my clothing just so ,makeup applied and reapplied and in general my appearance vigilantly attended .
To be fair, I grew up in a home where appearance and aesthetics were of the highest value. My dad was an artist (who became an accountant to support us and yet painted his entire life) and my mom had elegant and effortless “taste”. Once I moved from home, each visit back began with a quick evaluative glance, “You look good Chris.” my dad would say and I knew I had once again passed the test.
In my house now, every single room, on each floor, has a mirror, some rooms two….and I’ve found I could go an entire day without seeking my reflection. I still carry a small brush in my purse and could go days, weeks without finding the need to use it. I weigh pounds more than I did in my teens and my twenties and have clothes in the attic that span several sizes.
I convince myself this is a good thing. I am wiser, more balanced and no longer live in the anxious state of checking from moment to moment that I measure up, that I am okay. I am less superficial now and more interested in grooming my soul than my mascara. And yet…
I find the quest to be looking “good” is not wholly in my past.
Last summer I was laid up for most of it with a bicycling mishap that ended in plates and a dozen pins..so I have been squeezing three summers into this one we are now enjoying. I am biking almost everyday for an hour or two and am seeing my body change. I move more easily and confidently, I spring from bed in the morning. My posterior ,which had taken on J-Lo proportions… without the sass… is , like the rest of me, becoming slimmer and more athletic …and I love what is happening to me. I am “shopping” in my attic for sizes that belong to the ghosts of Chris Past and reveling in zippers that zip and buttons that button. I find myself more and more stealing glances at those mirrors and feeling good about what I see.
Maybe personal vanity never really disappears. When my mom lay dying in first the CCU and then in the hospice house, I carefully tended to her hair and gently rubbed lotion on her hands. She was in a non-verbal semi-coma by then but I knew she knew what I was doing and was thanking me for it. I snuck in a pair of tweezers to tweeze the odd growing hair , ah.. aging’s little indignities, knowing full well how crazy that would look to any nurse coming into the room, the woman was dying after all. Mom had long, lovely nails and had had a fresh manicure before admittance to the hospital . A friend of hers came by and said ,”Your mom would be so pleased that her nails look so pretty.”…and while it was such a funny and oddly casual thing to say about a dying woman…I knew Annabelle was right.
The other day, riding my bike, I saw my shadow, the angle of the sun making my frame as long and slender as the adolescent girl who rode her bike everywhere.
It made me smile and I thought to myself, hearing my dad’s voice , “You look good Chris.”
So I finally have an answer to the question asked by an impudent, callow me. “Honestly, don’t they care how they look?!” The answer is “No, they don’t. And yes, they do”.