Grumpy about vanity

I am an incredible slob. I can go days without looking in a mirror. Usually I don’t bother to brush my hair in the morning before taking Jesse to school. If I do make the mistake of catching my reflection later in the day, I’m always mortified. Peeps at school must think I have a permanent case of crazy bed-head. But I admit, my mortification lasts but a few fleeting seconds and has no short- or long-term effect on my behavior. My friend Paula asked me yesterday if there was something new about my hair, because it looked good. I had to think for a second. Yes, I HAD done something new! I actually showered in the morning, which is a rare feat indeed.

I’m a t-shirt-and-jeans (and since it’s cold here, sloppy sweater) kinda girl. I rarely wear anything else. It apparently bothers Jesse. She asked me the other day, “why do you only wear jeans?” I answered, “I don’t just ‘only wear jeans,’ my love, I wear the same jeans every day until they can stand on their own.” Her OCD meter went haywire and the conversation thankfully ended. Next she was going to ask me about makeup, and I haven’t worn any of that since my early 20’s.

When I was a lawyer, dressing was easy. I did it like a guy. I had a handful of monkey suits, a bunch of shells in different colors, and a variety of shoes I kept under my desk to slip into after I walked to work. No collars or frills for me, thank you. I did not accessorize, except with a watch and eventually a wedding ring. I got really good haircuts so I wouldn’t have to do anything with my hair. It took me about 15 minutes to get ready and out the door in the morning, including a shower. Anthony helped make sure I was tucked in and labels weren’t showing. Still, I thought I looked pretty professional, but I’m guessing now that I came off as, um, rugged? Okay. Slovenly. At least I didn’t wear seersucker to the courthouse.

Some time in the last year or two I noticed that the enormous fleshy space between my eyes and my eyebrows — what do you call that, the eyelids? It’s kind of different on my half-Korean eyes, because it’s not folded IN, but I guess it’s still the lids. It makes the eye-shadow-on-folded-in-lids things a whole different ball game, which may be part of the no-makeup explanation for me. Euro-teen-girl mags in the early 80’s didn’t tell me how to do things to my eyes that made sense. I always ended up looking weird and wiping the warpaint off before anyone saw me.

Hold on. I’m reading back up to see what I was actually going to say. Right, so I noticed that my eyelids were looking wrinkly, like more wrinkly than the rest of my face. I peered more closely in the mirror and realized those weren’t wrinkles, they were hairs. GAH! This was too much even for me. Anthony has always asked me not to pluck my neanderthal eyebrows because he likes them, and I was more than happy to grant this wish, but I drew the line at eyelid hair. I now pluck those hairs that show up between my actual eyebrows and my eyelashes. It is brutal and painful. I cannot possibly imagine waxing anything, especially after I pluck those 6 or 7 hairs off each of my eyelids. A Brazilian? Are you f***ing crazy? That sort of depilation is not for me. Fortunately, I’m not really that hairy because of my ethnicity. Except for my eyelids, apparently.

But I admit, I forget about those stray eyelid hairs a lot of the time too. No one mentions them, so who am I to complain? I wonder sometimes why I’m so unmoved by a desire to look good. I mean, I do want to look “good,” but for me that means fit, strong, and plain. What I’m wearing, whether my face and hair are gussied up, I just don’t care enough to keep up any pretense for long.

I’ve decided today that it’s because of an episode I went through in eighth grade. I was very religious back then. I went to church and Sunday school every week; I had my own Bibles and I read them. On my own, like I was sneaking. It’s never a good idea to leave a 13-year-old alone with a religious text, especially a confusing and terrifying one. I used to lie awake at night waiting for the end of the world. Every time a plane flew over, I would tremble in terror because I thought it was some apocalyptic natural event beginning, or the sound of all of the USSR’s nukes floating in on their way to Stockton. Also I thought I was supposed to become a nun, or something akin to a nun since I wasn’t Catholic. That was a very bad stretch in my life. I probably should have mentioned my fears to Mom or Dad, or the pastor.

Anyway, that’s not on point here. What I’m thinking about is a stretch of time when I was addressing myself to the Ten Commandments. I read them, I considered them, I tried to live by them. But I mixed one commandment up. My mind abridged “thou shalt not take the Lord’s name in vain.” I remembered it instead as “thou shalt not be vain.”

Asking a 13-year-old pubescent girl not to be vain is like asking the sun not to rise in the morning. And I took an extreme view. I thought that if I looked in the mirror to check that my clothing was on correctly, I was being vain. If I worried over my hair or did anything to fix it up, I was being vain. Jewelry? Makeup? Worrying about acne? Vain. Talking about clothes and stuff with friends? Vain. Taking pride in any of my academic or musical accomplishments? Vain. Worrying about eating the right amount so I didn’t get fat? Vain. Vanity, vanity, everything was vanity.

I honestly don’t remember how long this lasted, but it felt like forever as I struggled through the days, trying not to sin. Respecting my parents and not killing someone were EASY commandments. Vanity was impossible to resist. I would desperately avoid looking in the mirror after I dressed myself, steeling my body and soul against the draw of such a sinful act. I took no pride in successful recitals or competitions, good report cards. It was a sin. I wasn’t sure if my natural vanity was hell-worthy, but it was so pervasive I didn’t know what to do.

Finally I bothered to go back to the source, and LO! Angels sang anthems down upon my absurd head as I read the words I had forgotten. Not TAKING THE LORD’S NAME IN vain was something I could manage a whole lot better than not BEING vain. I was so relieved. I stayed up late for at least a week obsessively checking my ass in the mirror, trying on my wardrobe, and diddling with my hair.

I think that episode broke something in me — or spun another way, it freed me. Maybe not so much in my teens, but surely as an adult. And that’s the only legitimate excuse I have for looking like this. Once in a while I pay attention, and then Anthony says things like, “You clean up good.” I guess pretty soon I’ll need to start dressing better just so I don’t embarrass my kids. Until then, it’s a sloppy free-for-all.

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One thought on “Grumpy about vanity

  1. My MIL was a model when she was in her 30s and early 40s. Her oldest was horrified that she came to school in make up with her hair done every day. He said, “why can’t you look like the other moms, with curlers and dressing gowns?” So really, my message is, you cannot win. Don’t even try.

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