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Eye of the Beholder

 

The last time I was at the hairdresser’s I read an article in a fashion magazine about how all women keep a secret stash of cash to spend on beauty maintenance—money for Botox and pedicures, firming creams and waxing, glycolic peels and Spanx.

There’s nothing like a fashion magazine to make you feel unfashionable. I don’t have a beauty stash. And up until then I thought I had been doing a pretty good job on the spending-time-and-money-on-beauty front. After all, wasn’t I at that very moment in a salon chair with a head full of highlighting foils?

Plus, I wear make-up. I find that Price Chopper has a pretty good selection, and buying make-up at the grocery store spares me the judgmental gaze of those paragons of cosmetology behind the Lancôme and Estee Lauder counters.

I take moisturizing as seriously as some men take NASCAR. I’m brand-loyal. The only local place that sells the kind I like is Jean Paul Salon. They are always very nice to me, but I think it’s out of pity. Each time I go they type my name into the computer and appear to check some kind of file. I imagine them making notes after I leave: ‘Doesn’t curl her eyelashes.’ ‘Shops at Old Navy.’ ‘Should learn to use a blow-dryer.’

Anyway, after my experience at the hairdresser’s, I resolved to spend more money and—every bit as painful to consider—more time on beauty. I had some catching up to do.

I began my mission with a pedicure. My first.

I sat for a heavenly hour in a chair with a built-in Jacuzzi while my pedicure practitioner scrubbed, buffed, clipped, massaged and exfoliated my feet. She gave my feet a facial mask. For the final touch she applied a gorgeous shade of sparkling cerise to my toenails. I sat there nonchalantly, pretending I had done this before, pretending that I hadn’t gotten to be 40-something without having had a pedicure. Only, I gave it away.

“And remember not to put shoes on for two or three hours,” she said.

Two to three hours! She had quite a sense of humor.

“Seriously, though, how long do I really have to wait for the nail polish to dry?” I could spare 10 minutes in the waiting room with a copy of Marie Clare.

She looked at me blankly. How could I ask such a stupid question? “Why? What were you going to do? Go shopping or something?”

I nodded.

“I don’t know. You could try waiting an hour, but you could really mess up the enamel.”

I looked down at my 10 lovely toes. I had just spent $60. Wordlessly my pedicure practitioner handed me a pair of foam slippers that looked like they were cut out of a yoga mat. I put them on and walked to my car. At any given moment there are women driving around the Capital Region with wet toenails and foam slippers. Now I have joined their ranks.

My next beauty outing was for fake nails. My real nails are as thin as onionskin. Nothing has ever made them stronger, thicker, longer or any of the other things Sally Hanson’s products promise. I wanted fakes.

The local salon offered both acrylic and gel nails. I didn’t understand the difference, but gels were more expensive, so that’s what I asked for.

My fake-nail practitioner recognized my novice status immediately. He was none too pleased about it. He muttered monosyllabic orders at me from behind his protective face mask—beauty can be toxic—as he sanded and filed and glued my nails. Then he glopped thick layers of clear gel across my nails and ordered me to put my hand in the portable ultraviolet oven he had pointed directly at my chest. I obeyed. Within seconds my thumb was burning. I tried to breathe with the pain. Il faut souffre pour etre belle. One must suffer to be beautiful.

But finally I couldn’t bear it. I pulled out my hand and held up my thumb like little Jack Horner pulling his plum out of a Christmas pie.

My fake-nail practitioner looked disgusted with me and pointed at the little red fan next to the little ultraviolet oven.

“Let cool. Then put back in,” he said.

“Will it burn again?” I asked.

“Only hurts the first time.”

Where had I heard that before?

After two hours of work and non-stop back-to-back episodes of Friends my nails were finished. And they were beautiful.

Even now I can’t take my eyes off them. My color? Nantucket Mist. My length? Just long enough to slow down my typing. My rubber gloves? Playtex.

At this point I don’t know what my next beauty outing will be. Waxing doesn’t sound like a whole lot of fun. Neither do glycolic peels. And I’d rather go out to lunch than spend $20 on a bottle of spray-on hair shine. But I’m feeling the pressure of living up to what the rest of my gender apparently manages to do. Because it’s just like what John Keats said: “Beauty is truth, truth beauty—that is all/Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.”

That, and the name of a good skin-care specialist.

—Jo Page

jopage@graceniska.org

 


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