The most complex emotion that we all learn first, is vanity.
It happens the day we set eyes on a mirror and fathom its magical property. That only because of it, we are able to behold something we’ve never seen before. A conditional, unusual, not-meant-to-be-seen sight. Ourselves.
Nothing can ever look like what we see in a mirror.
I became aware that I am not the only one who feels this way, when I watched others see themselves in a mirror.
When I was a little girl, my father would seat me on the cool marble counter-top and let me watch him shave. He’d put an almost invisible spot of cream on his heavy, bristly-as-a-beard brush, and lather it all over his cheeks, with the same generosity he’d show while buttering my toast. My skinny, handsome Santa. He’d then slide the blade into the head of the razor, screw on the handle. He’d wash the apparatus and maintain constant eye contact with his reflection, the running tap sounding like a drum roll. Then, silence. He’d draw out his breath, bare his jugular, and with a little hover, etch an oblique incision in line with the base of his ear, and rake on downward – making a track of his soft, daddy skin.
He’d relentlessly retrieve his face from the indecency of labour’s stubble, reveling in the corners of his puckered mouth, the velvet of skin above his upper-lip, the straightness of his jaws, the difficulty of his cleft. He’d regard his work of art, or maybe himself as a work of art. It was a private moment between man and mirror that I’d watch enchanted each morning. And he’d test the effectiveness of his efforts, by giving me a kiss and nuzzle on each cheek.
Good to go, daddy.
Years later, I can recount the various ways people, particularly women, look at themselves in a mirror. There are those who shyly steal peeks between curtains of hair being shaped and pruned. There are those who pout and air-kiss their reflections after finding the perfect lip colour. There are those who finally discard their cardigans and ask if their arms have become fat since the last time they came. There are those that go up-close, practice a repertoire of reactions, and check if their eyebrows are now even. There are those that, after completely unrelated grooming, always contemplate the imperfection of their nose. Then there are those, that resort to the privacy of their car’s rear-view to check if their upper-lips have been suitably feminized.
Feeling beautiful is a need. Being beautiful is actually optional.
Beauty, without effort, has never made anyone happy. Women with glowing skin hate that their breasts are small. Women with perfect feet hate their hips. Women with slender arms and lissome legs hate their unruly hair. Women with translucent, milk skin hate that their eyebrows are so loud.
It’s the beauty magazines that tell you how beauty looks. Beauty parlours show you how to feel beautiful with what you have.
Women come to our parlour to thread, cut, polish, exfoliate, wipe, dye, tear, tweeze their flaws away. A workshop where they systematically change the only things that they can and want to change about themselves. The parlour is a sisterhood of the vulnerable where all are naked – beyond what the eye can see. Arm hair, dead cells, premature grays out in the open. Guard down.
Inside here, it is safe to have flabby thighs, outrageous tattoos, chipped nails, uneven tans. An ironic temple where truth becomes a whitened lie.
Today, was somehow different. My client was a young, bubbly girl, a riot for her sisters here. She got them to start on their “that guy was awful in bed” jokes, and even narrated her own misadventures featuring outrageously funny nicknames. She rolled up her sleeves, and as I set out to powder her arms, I saw the most angry network of old blade-cuts. With as much composure as I could manage, I careened and coasted around the scars. She laughed and said, “Don’t worry, they don’t hurt.”
When she left, I watched her see herself in the mirror. Eye contact. Chin up. Bright eyes. Wide smile.
Good to go.
All the lessons we need to know in life, are in our bodies: Healing is inevitable; Nothing can stop the passage of time; Our truest selves will always surface; We are as unique as our fingertips; We are as young as we feel; This is it, here we are.
With our minds, we are just brave.
But with our bodies, we are armed.
For dearest Pudge. Sorry for all the delayed poems.