Here’s an essay more than a year in the making.
This version of it could be titled: “Why I stopped wearing makeup during the Coronavirus.”
It’s not what you think. It’s not laziness. It’s not part of the slick new move where you dress only from the waist up for Zoom meetings and keep your pajama bottoms on for the entire day.
No. If anything, ten hours of Zoom meetings a day might lead to a greater emphasis on “putting on one’s face,” since that’s what we’re all looking at, now.
No. It’s not laziness. It’s not “I don’t care anymore.”
Eighteen months ago, I turned 60. (According to COVID-19 standards, I am now “elderly.”)
I didn’t mind turning 30 (I was busy having babies.)
I didn’t mind turning 40 (I was busy raising those babies.)
I didn’t even mind turning the legendary 50 (I was shin-deep in a new career.)
But 60. Oomph.
Now, a lot of this has to do with a 61-and-a-half year-old difficult relationship with my body. Someday I’ll write about that in greater detail. It’s plenty complicated and mining that deep emotional hole would keep any psychoanalyst in the green for years. But for now, suffice it to say that in this complicated relationship, I have worked myself over for years. I’ve run marathons. I’ve had to balance my soul-nurturing practice of cooking and creating in the kitchen and the concomitant eating that comes from a day at the stove, with my need to fit into my jeans. And, I’ve been gentle on myself, keeping a wardrobe full of jeans in about 3 different sizes.
But turning 60 was about more than the size of my waistband.
Turning 60 meant a turn towards one’s own mortality and the end of one’s days.
I’ve outlived my father’s lifespan by more than 30 years. The women on my mother’s side of the family made it into their 9th decade, and so I’ve less to worry about there.
I eat kale. Lots of kale. I drink water. Lots of water. I quit smoking 30 years ago. I quit drinking 4 months ago. I run. I’m doing what I can. I’m at peace, even, with my mortality. In the past couple of years, I’ve found a softening of the terror that I used to feel when I would even consider death. Now, I grieve the idea of death because I love my life so much. I just don’t want it to end. I’m not sure what is on the other side. My faith tells me that I’ll meet Jesus and that I’ll step into a form of being that will be filled with love and light and a timelessness that won’t drag on, but that will be right. Just right. Perfect, in fact. And that is wonderful.
But there’s still the idea of this body that we live in- this “earthly tent” as St. Paul calls it. And, lately- for the last 18 months of so- that’s been a challenge.
My Christian faith tells me that vanity is not cool:
Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. Philippians 2:3-4
Charm is deceitful and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the LORD, she shall be praised. Proverbs 31:30
And weighing in from the literary corner, there’s this:
There are no grades of vanity, there are only grades of ability in concealing it. Mark Twain
Vanity is often the unseen spur. William Makepeace Thackeray
But, dammit, I don’t like the turkey neck that rests under my chin- which has its own share of wrinkles. I don’t favor the batwings on my upper arms or the thinning hair on the top of my head, or the sagginess of just about everything. I’ve got lip lines and whiskers and all the add-ons of a post-menopausal creature.
I don’t mind my laugh lines.
I don’t mind the translucency of my skin. I remember, as a child, stroking my grandmother’s bony, translucent hand and being in wonder at it.
But the other is hard. Because- why? I’m not quite sure.
And so, a few months ago, when a strange virus from a foreign land came to spread its deathly pall over us in our corner of the world, and last month when we were all sent home to sequester and keep to ourselves, I quit “putting on my face.”
Now, if you know me, a tomboy at heart, you know that I never sported a full face of makeup. But a little eyeliner, mascara, maybe some blush made me feel… presentable. I haven’t brushed my hair for 20 years. Keeping one’s hair a 1/2 an inch long is a real timesaver. But I have spent some time each morning doing something to my face before walking out the door.
And now- at least for now- I’m done.
I feel a lot more authentic.
I feel as though the pandemic that we are living through is asking us to do things in new ways, to put our priorities in line, and to be as real as we can be.
And so, I am chatting with my siblings every day, now, online. They are a touchstone.
I am clinging fast to the videos of my two grandsons who totter around and eat tiny bits of ham and macaroni and whose worlds open up a sliver more, each day, with their expanding abilities. Sitting. Crawling. Walking. Singing. A few words.
Compared to that, what is a stroke of mascara on an already thinning set of eyelashes?
It’s time to get real.
61 and-a-half. I know what matters.
And I’m feeling freer than ever.