From time to time, ever since I was a little girl, people have taken it upon themselves to fix me up—not with a guy but with a style. There's something both insulting and flattering about this attention. Insulting because clearly there seems to be something unsatisfying about my appearance, flattering because there appears to be an assumption that a little tweak here or there would make a difference.
Thus in junior high, my best friend AS taught me to apply liquid eye liner, bruised-style a la Dusty Springfield and the Beatles' girlfriends. In high school, a very beautiful, voluptuous girl named M (can't remember her last name) took me on as her special project, inviting me for sleepovers during which she would patiently groom my chlorine-greened and -frizzled hair with special rollers, apply powder to my nose and white lipstick to my lips and dress me up in her frilly clothes. In my freshman year of college, a theater major named B face-painted me into a goddess.
But by my sophomore year of college, what remained of such efforts unraveled when I put my bra in the drawer and left it there and tossed out my mascara wand, my hair rollers, clippies and dryer, and became a natural woman. And I've pretty much been a natural woman ever since. I dyed my hair (or rather, got Other to dye it) for about a decade (I still remember my puzzlement over going gray before any of my contemporaries and then my realization that everyone else had just been quietly coloring their hair for years), but I've never been good at cosmetic culture. Makeup makes me feel dirty, creams and unguents likewise. Hair products cause my scalp to itch. Fungus phobia rules out mani-pedis. I like clothes, but synthetics make me sweat, and tight garments give me gas—I'm not kidding.
When I was younger, the natural-woman style worked, sort of, I think. Or it passed as a look at any rate. But now, without the fresh-looking skin and the abundant hair and the flawless figure, it's frumpy. Do I care? A little, though not enough to exert myself. Sometimes my daughter C will take me on—clean up my toenails, apply my makeup, weed out my wardrobe, urge me to risk the carcinogens and color my hair. And not long ago my friend RR sent me bronzer and a brush, which I used faithfully—for a few weeks. But soon enough, I fell into my old lazy ways. So here I am writing this barefoot, in a tunic T shirt bought at least 15 years ago at Daffy's, underwear from Hanes and a pair of frayed Levis identical to the ones I wore throughout college. My face is clean but bare-of-makeup pale. My nails have a few raggedy splotches left over from a long-ago afternoon in C's care. My hair is grizzled from the humidity. And I feel wistful for the days when the bloom of youth would have made this get-up o.k.