A few days ago, I popped into a big box beauty supply stores, one of the ones that offer many of the same products found in department stores but without the service (or the temptation to shop for clothes, purses and accessories). I was out of one product that is part of my skincare routine and almost out of two others. Somehow I walked out with six more tubes of promises, not three. And I did this without any sales help. In addition, I encouraged Mom to buy some of the same products. I should also confess that while in California a few weeks ago, I bought moisturizer because I ran out. (This lack of planning had a small cost —between markup and sales taxes, I spent three dollars more than I would in Connecticut.) Now I am stocked for the next four months, but I am left wondering: Do I really believe that something in a bottle is going to make me look younger, prettier, more attractive? I like to think of myself as a strong confident woman who is happy with herself. Yet the area around my bathroom sink suggests otherwise.
The master bathroom has two sinks—mine and my husband’s. The area around my husband’s sink is neat. His medicine cabinet is almost empty. He has hair gel, hair spray, shaving cream, a razor, lens wipes for his glasses. He has a blow drier and a comb. I keep cleaning supplies under his sink. The area around mine is littered with tubes, lotions and utensils—all necessary for my spiritual upkeep. My medicine cabinet is jammed with bottles, more tubes, and jars. This week I added to the creams, lotions, and powders already overflowing from the cabinet, the drawers in the vanity, the area under the sink. Do I need this stuff? My husband and I were born in the same year. Where are his magic potions?
Where is my self-confidence?
Once upon a time I didn’t need make up to leave the house. I didn’t have time: I had poems to write; I had toddlers to chase; I had carpools and dance class; I had grocery shopping and committee meetings. I kept my routines spare. But I grew older and my skin changed. The wrinkles I could handle. Changes in my skin tone bothered me. The skin bothered me more than my graying hair.
My hair color I fooled around with. First I just got highlights. Then I dyed it blond with highlights. I tried red once with blond highlights. I liked blond better. One day my seventh grade students read a short story whose moral was “always be yourself.” The story launched a discussion of what it meant to be oneself. Of course, one of the girls raised the issue of appearances. “I’m not a natural blond,” I confessed. And then I thought: how can I tell the students to be themselves when I don’t set an example. Like that, the hair color was gone. But my slavish devotion to skin care remained.
I suffer from Rosacea. Notice I say ‘suffer.’ This is not a painful condition. I should just say I have Rosacea and not a very bad case either. I have had it for forever—really, twenty odd years–since my mid-thirties. At first people would ask if I had been to Hawaii or San Diego. I looked sunburned. My internist prescribed a gel that was not covered by insurance if one was over thirty. Evidently, this gel helps prevent wrinkles. I, however, can only use it every other week. It makes my skin peel. I develop a sun sensitivity. In other words, I become easily sunburned. This is worse than looking sunburned. The same doctor then added a creme. This one I can use all the time—and some years insurance pays and some years it doesn’t. Then I began to break out with large pimples. The first gel helped but I couldn’t use it all the time. So the doctor prescribed an antibiotic (which is always covered). The antibiotic was supposed to be a short term fix but every time I went a week or two without it, I broke out. “You should stop taking this,” he would warn me at the yearly visit. Then at my last visit with him, I complained about minor intestinal discomfort. “That could be IBS,” the doctor shrugged. “Or it could be the antibiotic.”
I stopped the antibiotic. My stomach was fine but my face wasn’t. I took it for a week. My face cleared up but the stomach problems resumed. I began to use make-up and moisturizer formulated for adult acne and redness. This seemed to help. When I broke out, I blamed the humidity and washed my face often. I changed cleansers. Then I noticed a brown age spot on my face faded. The moisturizer got the credit. I bought more.
The humidity is gone. I am still breaking out. I blame my glasses, my hands, stress, lack of sleep. I wash my face several times a day and reapply sunscreen. When I go out to the store (or anywhere else), I carefully apply make-up: a green undercoat, then a light base formulated for red skin, and finally a “calming” powder. Why do I have teenage skin problems and wrinkles? Shouldn’t I have one or the other?
I look at my husband’s side of the sink and wonder: where is his moisturizer? Sunscreen? Why am I doing all this?
Do people really notice? Would the cashier at the grocery store notice? Would she think of me as the lady with the spotted face as opposed to the lady with the huge grocery bill? Does she even think of me at all? Maybe the woman at the dry cleaner’s might notice since we chat about our lives. But then I have gone in there wearing exercise clothes— stinky and face exposed. I go to the gym and to the park without slathering on a face mask. Have I been brainwashed into thinking I need all these things?
And then yesterday my husband gently put his hand under my chin and said: “You need to go to the doctor for your skin.” He’s right. My face is a mess, a red pimply, oozy, peeling mess. And I am torturing myself by mentally debating a course of action.
I am not alone in my slavish quest to clear up my skin and slow down the ageing process. Why are appearances so important? We like the patina of age on objects. We admire old buildings, statues, art. Older men are distinguished. Older women? Witches.
I’m back to being a hag, but first I’m calling the doctor to see about taking something for my skin.