Thursday, March 6, 2008

The Bloom on My Rose

Once when I was in my mid-twenties, I was walking through Penn Station in NY, when I accidentally brushed by a woman carrying some shopping bags. I apologized, but I had the misfortune to jostle a mentally unstable woman. She started coming after me and whacking me with her shopping bags, which I believe contained cans. It was bizarre, but even more bizarre was what she said, which stayed with me for over a decade: "You think you're so pretty! Well, you're not! I was much prettier than you when I was young. Yeah, honey, wait until the bloom is offa your rose!"

Ok, so she was nuts. But it was still strange...I wasn't particularly beautiful or attention-attracting, so why was she yelling at me about this?

There's probably not a woman alive who isn't a little shaky about her looks. Even the most attractive of women scrutinize their faces and bodies in the mirror and torture themselves over every flaw. This self consciousness tends to recede when you are married, because you know that your husband will always be there for you no matter what you look like and no matter how much you age. Well, at least, in the idealized vision of marriage, this is true. We know a little differently, don't we, girls and boys? When I look around at married couples I know, it seems the better the marriage, the more confident the wife seems to be about her appearance, and the more devoted the husband seems to be to the wife. Of course, this is due to a million other external factors too, and they all feed into each other. If a woman takes care of her appearance, her husband is more likely to be continuously taken with her, which will reinforce her self-esteem, which will strengthen her self-presentation, which will enhance her appearance. Loving marriages are well-oiled machines.

But then there are marriages like mine, in which I never felt completely secure in my husband's love. Never. Not for a moment.

Okay. Not having that discussion now.

Now that I am on my own again, I have a new awareness of my appearance. I am probably a 6 or 7, and without my (much discussed) extra weight that I need to lose, I'd probably rate as maybe a 7 or 8. I think it's important to have a realistic assessment of your strengths and weaknesses, including your looks. I know I will never be on the cover of Cosmo, but frankly, that was never really something that bothered me. Really. But it does, a little, now. When I was single, I had youth. Half the time I left the house makeup-less, with wet hair. The bloom was still very much on my rose, and my energy, joie de vivre, and personality eclipsed my lack of glamour. It just didn't matter back then. It's not just the very pretty girls that make heads turn.

Thrown back into the world of dating now, I am at a very precarious point. I am at an age where changes are starting to happen that are beyond my control. I went to a shul sisterhood event recently and looked around the room. The shul that I belong to now is one where most female married members don't cover their hair. I was bored and sort of randomly checked out everyone's hair (women do that). It seemed that the women my age or older had very lackluster, un-shiny, overly straightened or superfrizzy hair. Every one of them. What was that about? When I got home, I looked at my own hair. When I was younger, I had very pretty, bouncy, shiny hair. But it has changed since then, which I had blamed on five years of being under hats and sheitls. But I now realize that it's age too. There's a reason that women in their fifties and sixties shouldn't have waist-length hair, even if they color it. Hair just loses its prettiness as we age. Believe it or not, this was something I hadn't realized until now. Wrinkles, I knew about. But hair too?

Wrinkles. The one winning ticket that I've held in the genetic lottery was great skin. Once I emerged from the hormonal swamp of puberty, I had clear, soft, glowing skin. I never wear foundation and only recently started wearing moisturizer. I say only recently, because I woke up one morning and realized that I had the makings of some serious laugh-lines. And maybe crow's feet. And some finely etched worry lines on my forehead. Oh God. Wrinkles. I don't have enough to obsess about?

More often than not, I find myself strolling though the skincare aisle at Target, looking at the retinol, pro-retinol, collagen, anti-aging, wrinkle-reducing crap that they are hawking and I wonder to myself where I need to throw my money in order to prevent the loss of my nice skin. I even had a brief moment of insanity when I thought about botox. It passed. It seems idiotic to indulge in masks and scrubs to rid your skin of dirt and toxins and then to inject some sort of toxic botulism protein, or whatever Botox is made up of, into your scrubbed pores. But I thought about it.

It's a cruel reality that I'm at a point when men who are around the same age as I am are not looking across but are looking down at women who are younger. It's just a sad fact of life. I'm not critical of it, as I feel that everyone is entitled to their own choices in dating, but it narrows and weakens my dating pool. So as I am slowly sliding down the scale of aesthetic beauty, age-appropriate dating partners are looking for women who are still near top. This doesn't really fill me with confidence. And lately, I'm not really swimming in confidence anyway.

Realistically, I still have a little bloom left on my rose. But I am fearful of the time when it will not be so and I will still be all alone. I'm starting to look in the mirror and be afraid.

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