I was waiting to check out at a chain cosmetics store when I heard the cashier say to the customer in front of me, “I love your eyebrows. They’re amazing.” The young woman smiled and proudly replied, “Thank you. I do them myself.”
Huh? Her eyebrows are amazing?? And what does she mean, she does them herself? Since when did eyebrows start to require professional intervention? As if those of us over 50 don’t have enough to worry about, now we must maintain our eyebrows? Apparently, tweezing and a dash of pencil are no longer enough. An entire industry has sprung up around micro-blading and procedures which render two strips of biologically necessary hair above our eyes into perfectly groomed little arcs that on some people remind me of the brows on Kukla, from the old 50’s puppet show. I can’t help thinking about a friend of mine going through cancer treatment who would just be happy to have her eyebrows back, even if they grew in a straight line across her forehead.
Of course, the older we get, the harder it is to keep playing whack-a-mole with our appearance. Color your hair and three weeks later, the gray roots peep through. Eat the seven-inch plate of grilled chicken and salad with a whisper of spray-on dressing, drag yourself faithfully to the gym and the doctor still says, “Hmm…looks like you’ve gained a few pounds.” Accidentally bump the selfie button on your phone and you recoil from the sudden shot of your double chin and the sad little lines around your mouth that look like cracks on a once pristine windshield. I’m not proposing that we let it all go to hell and run around in floral-print polyester with lank strands of gray hair flopping in our foundation-less faces, but despite our best efforts, Mother Nature is going to give us less return on our investment.
I may be over-reacting to what was simply a kind gesture of small-talk on the part of the sales clerk (probably required by corporate trainers.) But I struggle with society’s mixed message. On one hand, we’re encouraged to accept different lifestyles and sizes and partners, yet at the same time, would we be so kind as to maintain our brows and manicure and a timely shot or two of Botox would be appreciated as well. We can overlook Chrissy Metz’s obesity because her face is perfectly made-up. Helen Mirren and Jane Fonda are now oh-so-amazing not so much because of their talent and contributions to their art, but because they don’t look their age.
Accepting ordinary, healthy appearance is the final frontier, the last bastion of political correctness. Let’s celebrate the ladies easing out of their textured tanks at the gym after Aqua-Fit class because they’re moving their bodies and taking care of themselves. Let’s hear it for those of us who refuse to reign in our bellies with Spanx because we want to breathe comfortably and laugh easily. Who have those bellies because we’ve shared good food and good times with friends or birthed a kid or two and our metabolism and our appetite just don’t see eye-to-eye anymore. Let’s wear our dorky shoes proudly because we’re on our feet taking care of grandchildren or elderly relatives or working in the restaurant or the school or the hospital and tiny little kitten heels or sky-high stilettos simply aren’t going to cut it.
From my curmudgeon’s perch, I want to smile indulgently at those two young women in the cosmetics store. I remember 20, that magical time of life when eyebrows and manicures can be priorities. When you’d rather buy cosmetics than groceries. But I want to tell those girls that eyebrows are the least of it. I want to tell them to take care of their future children and eventually their parents and treasure their friends and work hard at something they love and if along the way, they happen to gain a little weight or end up with a few scars or find they no longer have time for perfect eyebrows, all the better. That means you’re living life with a vengeance, with a damn-the-torpedoes-full-speed-ahead attitude even if you’re wearing Mom jeans with your graying hair pulled back in a scrunchy and eyebrows that look real instead of perfect. Because our mothers were right. It’s what’s on the inside that counts.