Don’t Ever Give Up On Mascara
My recent stint in the hospital as my son healed from a dog bite gave me way too much time to sit around and judge people. I did this for nine days. Nine days of coming into and out of Sacred Heart Hospital, visiting the cafeteria, walking to the gift shop for stamps and exchanging comforting smiles with other exhausted parents in the children’s wing where we were staying. I noticed something about people. Life has kicked their asses and you can see it in their faces.
I know, I know. I admit to the haste with which I threw on my running shorts and Nikes each morning and I can relate to not really wanting to devote the time to getting myself presentable just to go to a hospital. Truth be told, going au naturale seemed almost sensible in this situation, and why waste my good cosmetics? I knew I wouldn’t be seeing anybody I knew aside from my son’s seventy-year-old hematologist. It would have been soooooooo nice to leave the house every day with wet hair and a little Chapstick. God, I so get it. Still, I washed, dried, and curled my hair and put on my make-up every single day, no matter how tired I was and no matter how late I was running. I tried to look nice even though it was a pain. To me, it matters.
Why? Because I asked my son several years ago who was the prettiest of all of his friends’ moms. He sat there, pondering my question for a good bit before finally saying, “I don’t know, Mom. They’re ALL pretty.” He was right, and these ladies, all mothers themselves, too, were hustling through life just as fast as I was. I had no good excuse for being a sloth.
Yeah, I didn’t always possess this kind of vanity. Honestly, I’m not even good at it. There was an era in my life when I took the easy way out many days, too many days, and I have the pictures to prove it (with me in my comfort-fit Aerosoles and cargo pants). Like many women, I am my own worst critic. I am terrible at applying makeup and God gave me a disappointing head of hair, so I have spent my life frustrated about how to put myself together well.
One day, not long after Ben’s revelation, I looked around at my friends and realized I was the most disheveled and homely of them all. I have never, in five years of our friendship, seen my friend Kim without makeup. She is always pretty, always put together and there is not a single image in my collection of memories of her in which she is not completely fixed up. I think she must even sleep that way. Her daughters are the same way, and good for her for teaching them.
I cannot pull that off — let’s be clear about that — but I can do something to at least try, right? Damn right, because once I hit a certain age, it dawned on me: You aren’t twenty anymore, Dawn, and when you aren’t dressed and fixed, you look like leftover hell. Know this.
I noticed an assortment of people at the hospital: nurses, receptionists, consultants, doctors and delivery drivers. I especially noted the women and, like we all do, I compared myself to each of them. There were some who were simply dashing: poised and professional ladies who started their day by FIRST putting lots of thought into how they look. I admired them and it empowered me to see them making themselves a priority.
And then there were the rest, the ones who are just over it. They have given up. They are done with the primping and are just trying to survive their long days. I feel that way, too, but I don’t want to look that way. They work too much and they are never, ever caught up on their to-do lists. They spend their lives in their cars or at their jobs, at soccer fields or grocery stores, coming and going, being everything to everyone. There is apparently no time between making breakfast and making lunch to put on eyeliner. To some – the women in their pajama bottoms and grass-cutting clothes who are bringing food to the hospital, the women who are too young to dress like their grandmas but too old to think they’re still beautiful, to the men in their five-day stubble and wrinkled T-shirts just stopping by to say hello, and to the young girls still in their twenties, their beauty prime, who only owear flip-flops, who have already surrendered their prettiness to the frumpy, lazy God of Slovenliness – to them I say, “Please rethink your surrender. Don’t give up yet, girls!”
I am turning forty-three soon, I am not married and I don’t have tons of money. These three conditions all lend themselves to me taking the easy way, too. Let’s face it. Trying to stay attractive is expensive and it’s challenging for a woman who is (sigh) aging (insert sad face). Usually, the only people I come into contact with are teenagers, my gaggle of teacher colleagues and the old, married man at the Corner Quik Stop. So why do I bother every day? Because it matters. I get my makeup at Walgreens and I paint my own toes. My friends and I shop the sales and buy at outlets and I still fix my hair even when my roots show. It’s not that hard to stay in the game if you really want to. In the same way you wouldn’t send your children out in cast-offs, you shouldn’t send yourself out either. To stay young, you must feel young. That’s the talk I give myself in the mirror every. single. day.
I know you might have small children at home who will smear French-fry grease on your linen pants, but wear them anyway! God bless your husband if he loves your muffin top; you’re a lucky girl. So do yourself a favor and tap back into that demure woman who stirred his loins decades ago, the one who was a killer when she went out. Do it every day by taking the time to care about how you look. You owe it to yourself, my friend. It matters. I would rather wear Cheeto fingerprints on my freshly dry-cleaned Calvin Klein dress (the one I bought at TJMaxx) than throw my hands up in surrender to Father Time in mom jeans and Sketchers (or worse, Crocs). Color your hair! Paint your fingernails! And for God’s sake, take care of your eyebrows and your mustache (you might get one in your forties — I did). Yes, it’s a pain. But it matters. And once it’s done you’ll feel like a million bucks.
Set aside a little money for yourself, or exchange dinner out for a nice pedicure. It matters. Your husband will be glad to make the sacrifice; a woman with a new hairdo and pretty toes tends to channel her inner lioness, if you know what I mean. I won’t badger you about how good exercising would make you feel. I don’t exercise either. My Botox injections produce the same results on my face as all that clean air and fresh drinking water I should be consuming. Botox????? you say? Well I am none too fond of looking pissed off all the time, so yes, I do it. You’ll figure out what works best for you.
Homecoming is approaching at the high school where I work. I always go to the dance just to see the kids all dressed up. My sweet darlings in their finery, hair coiffed, makeup perfect, nails in a fine display of blinginess. Everyone feels like a movie star on that night and I soak up their good moods and the sweet way they want to have their pictures taken with me. I can see how good they feel; it’s written all over their faces. I wish I could bottle up that confidence for them because on Monday when they come back to school they will have returned to their tired, messy ponytails and sweatpants, and it makes me sad. (And God bless the poor souls who come to the dance in thin, clingy satin without their shapers on, with their misshapen, jagged, unpainted toenails and yes, still sporting their PE ponytails — they have never been taught how to be fashionable). I am always trying to raise up confident girls when I can and yes, you feminists and beauty-comes-from-within advocates, we are judged by our appearance! As confining as that fact is, we should embrace it and use it to our advantage. It is a fact of life. I’m not saying you have to adhere to a certain look or to ideals that are promoted by society or the media. I’m not saying that at all.
What I’m saying is…
Be yourself and teach your kids to be themselves too, but be the best version of yourself, always. Make sure you are proud of what you see in the mirror when you walk out the door each day.
If you want to be respected, be respectable in your attire. If you want to feel attractive, look attractive. If you want others to care about you, care about yourself. And don’t ever, ever give up on trying to feel good on the inside.
Some days you might find that you can go all out, and those are the days when I hope you paint the town. On your tough days, though, the ones we all know will come, please, at the very least, don’t leave home without your mascara.