Wednesday, January 27, 2010

"Do you suffer from inadequate eyelashes?"

One evening a few months ago, I was cooking an egg-white omelet at home and had the television on in the background. The faint sound of a recognizable female voice went virtually unnoticed-until Brooke Shield’s seemingly ageless face appeared on the screen. She was dressed in a crisp, plain white ensemble and surrounded by unremarkable looking (but very happy!) people in a stark, modern minimalist room. The general lack of visual stimulus in the background forced my eyes and attention to the only source of color on the television: Brooke’s face. I thought to myself “God, she looks good even with imperfection-magnifying HD technology!” And then she opened her mouth.

In a tone which I’m sure was meant to sound concerned but came off rather condescending, Brooke asked, “Do you suffer from inadequate eyelashes?” I shook my head and thought, “Bitch! Are you serious!?”
I stood there, arms crossed, spatula in hand, and listened as Brooke shared all the details of this purported effective solution, sure to end all suffering over traumatic eyelash inadequacy issues with only a few freakish side effects. All I could think was, “That’s dirty. Its just so dirty. They’re going for the eyelashes now!?”

Its commercials like these, (admittedly in conjunction with other sources of scrutiny, many of which I endorse by purchasing – i.e. rag mags, or watching – i.e. 90210,) these blatant manipulations of our physical insecurities, that have forced me to at one time or another to examine and criticize my cellulite, tummy rolls, formerly (as in at 11 years old) perky breasts, double chin, back of the arm flab, funny shaped little butt, acne, huge earlobes, drumstick-shaped oh my god they’re chafing in the summer heat thighs, facial peach fuzz (a new treat,) uneven skin tone, thinning hair (on my head,) premature age spots, sun spots, freckles, spill over the bra even when you’re reaching for something on the very top shelf back fat, liver lips, excess tissue on the end of my nose, overlapping two front teeth, yellowing of the teeth, shifting of the formerly straight teeth, love handles, wrinkles, knee fat, excessive skin/tissue in the arm crease and Buddha belly.

These lovely commercials and print ads are major ingredients in what must be a completely irresistible recipe for self-loathing, because women (including myself) just keep on mixing up big old batches of it. Start with one cup of "is there something wrong with my/face/body/eyelashes?" add a drop or two of any useless beauty product, throw in the pre-requisite conviction, "I know THIS will be just the thing to make me feel better about myself!" bake at 350 for a few weeks and you still end up with a batch of "something still isn't quite right."

Do you know why? Because we spend money most of us don’t have, time none of us have and energy we should be using for other things looking in the wrong place for self-assurance, confidence and a positive self-image. I know now that I won’t feel better about myself, (or any closer to looking like a younger Brooke for that matter,) if I do ask my eye doctor for some of that magical eyelash serum. I might not be 100% at peace with every inch of my body yet (or even close,) but at least I’ve learned I have a better chance at finding that peace inside myself than I do in a closet full of overpriced beauty products.

I went back to my eggs and thought, “Step off my eyelashes Brooke. I don’t care how long and fluffy yours look, you’re not convincing me that ANYTHING ELSE on this body is ‘inadequate’. And besides, I have to pay my colorist $160 tomorrow to cover up the dark roots tainting my fake blond ‘do.’ Oh and I need a new $540 Bar Method class pack this week. And a new tube of Roche-de-Posay. But those things are totally different.”

Sunday, January 10, 2010


I find that I enjoy the weeks between mid-November and early January even more as an adult than I did as a child. I owe much of that to B – someone with whom every celebration has a new found joy. Together we have created a magical approach to Christmastime that incorporates our favored family traditions and rituals more typically present in childhood memories. It is full of the simple pleasures we are often hesitant to indulge in as adults and infused with a version of our youthful, (and at times sickly sweet,) love for each other that is unencumbered by reality. It’s terribly cheesy and wonderfully cliché. (I would undoubtedly find it nauseating if I were an observer rather than a participant.)

Every year we anticipate the commencement of the festivities like small children - and on the tail end are always hesitant to take down the tree and let the holiday cheer slip out the door with it. We decorate our tree over a few days – not because a tremendous amount of precision is required - but because we have created a ritual that takes as much time and storytelling as an Irish wake. We start at the bottom of the tree with B’s strand of plastic “candle” lights, (“These were made before you were born honey,”) and add the ornaments we have amassed separately and as a couple, sharing memories and anecdotes that are represented by each decoration as we move around the tree. I make B tell me a story for every third ornament or so, and go back to the tree in the weeks that follow to point out those left unaddressed in the initial days. “What about this one? How old were you when your Mom gave you this little red cat? Did you make this one in school?”

We schedule dinners, ice skating, and cocktail hours with our friends and extended family throughout the month, and make a point to see everyone in San Francisco that we hold near and dear to our hearts before travelling to see our immediate families. We visit Nob Hill at least once each year to view the intricate gingerbread masterpieces and towering Christmas trees, the latter always drowning in gilt trimmings and miles of velvet ribbon. We wade through throngs of WASPs all a-buzz with pre Grace Cathedral concert excitement to admire the Clark Griswold style lights that drip off the trees in Huntington Park. We bake Christmas cookies and then freeze them to be removed one or two – ok, maybe 4 - at a time and eaten under the tree with tea or hot coco while watching “The Grinch Who Stole Christmas,” or “Santa Claus is Coming to Town.” (B has asked me to specify that this is “the one that features “Heatmiser” and “Coldmiser.””) We get down on the floor with fleece blankets a few times a week just to look up at our tree while we talk about our day or plans for the coming weeks. We see one man Christmas plays with my uncle in tiny art house theatres and go to choral concerts in awe-inspiring Cathedrals where honeyed voices slide down the aisles and seep out the stained glass windows. We see everything and everyone we love in San Francisco under the glow of fairy lights, smile through cabernet stained lips, and laugh over sticky toffee pudding in our favorite restaurants.

The days just before and after Christmas are filled with the sound of my sister’s laughter, warm, sweet hugs from my tiny niece, and healthy doses of alcohol induced sibling repartee. They involve fiercely competitive games of scrabble, brisk walks on cold afternoons in South Carolina, and an endless pursuit of my 1 ½ year old nephew’s affection. My father sits by the fireplace in his chair with an open book that mostly serves as merely an accessory, as his gaze is more often turned to his children playing on the floor with his grandchildren rather than to the words on the pages. I find contentment in battling over the Irish chocolates, remote control, or spot next to my niece on the couch, and that kind of happiness is matched only with the receipt of an unsolicited kiss from my nephew.

The season is a celebratory circuit of sorts - full of gluttonous indulgences, beautiful food and wine and great company, and so many moments that make you think, “This is what life is supposed to be about.” I always feel such a void when all the trimmings are packed away and twinkling lights no longer dance across storefronts, down lamp poles and through my home. As an adult, I now realize that the sadness felt when Christmastime has passed is not due to the absence of a fine-looking tree or upbeat Christmas carols playing everywhere you go. It is due to the absence of that celebratory state of mind that allows us to let go just enough to see everything we have to be thankful for quite clearly, and to truly appreciate and enjoy all of it.

It is sometimes more natural and most certainly more common to focus on all that is lacking, complicated, or cumbersome in our lives. Christmastime encourages us to do the opposite - and so we grow attached to that cheerful state of mind and long for it after it has slipped away. But I finally realized that even when the sweet smell of gingerbread is gone from our homes and the holiday specials have disappeared from the evening lineup, we can still celebrate each other, celebrate our blessings and acknowledge all that is wonderful in our lives. We simply don’t do these things enough. We should fight to hold on to even just a little bit of that merriment come the grey, muddled months of winter. There is nothing wrong with childlike anticipation and enjoyment. If anything, we need to celebrate life more and more as we get older. We need to remember to honor our friends and family with little gestures, big family dinners, or seemingly silly rituals once a month or even once a week. We simply need to remember more often that it does not have to be Christmastime to celebrate life.