Saturday, June 21, 2008


My family was not very "fashion forward" when I was growing up. My father was a mechanic and worked on our farm so most of his clothes—except the ones Mom could hide from him for special occasions—were stained and holey with grease, battery acid, mud and whatever else you might find around truly filthy places. When Dad, left to his own devices to go to a meeting, dressed himself in "nice" clothes, he was usually in a pair of polyester work pants, a short-sleeved plaid cotton shirt, and an acrylic plaid shirt over it for warmth. I loudly voiced my disapproval when I caught him in such a get-up (in a weird case of the past repeating itself, Ian wore a very similar outfit the other day, different only in that all the fibers were natural. The plaids still did not match, however. I bought him two sweatshirts when we got home.)

Even Dad's hands were cracked and marred with years of heavy, dirty work and of course no moisturizer. I never knew him to wear his wedding ring, simply because it didn't fit. His fingers were too thickened. I can still feel his hand holding mine—the coarse, rough skin, the blackened cracks in the surfaces of his fingers—and marvel that this man, often filthy and as often completely unaware of it, played French horn like an angel, and was truly one of the most sensitive and talented musicians I have ever heard.

But pretty? No.

My mom was better—she was a school teacher, and so was aware of appropriate attire, and did, I felt, a pretty good job of choosing her clothes. A couple of noteworthy times that I didn't agree with her include once when she and Dad were on their way to a party and I, about four years old, asked Mom "Is everyone going in their pajamas?" Of course, this would've been in the Seventies. Another time, in high school, I borrowed one of her dresses—one she had been keeping in the regular rotation—to wear as a dowdy housewife in a play. That dress didn't see the classroom again. In general, though, Mom is a good dresser. She cares about what she wears and she has a style. She branches out into new colors (sometimes with some prodding from me, but she's getting better at just doing it herself), and she has learned to mix and match her wardrobe so that her array of separates—bought as outfits—are not all worn as suits. My one criticism is that she wears her pants too big—she doesn't like to feel them, so virtually every pair—buttoned and zipped—can be pulled right off—but they don't actually fall off so I usually only mock her gently while we're shopping and leave it at that.

My great-grandmother, Granny, Mom's dad's mom, was evidently quite the clothes horse and Mom likes to say that I, as a shopper, am Granny's girl, but I'm not really any more Granny's girl than Mom is. She just didn't have the money to spend on so many clothes until later in her life than I.

But clothes are completely different from cosmetics, and in our family there was virtually no help with those at all. My memories of Mom in the morning, getting ready for work, are frantic and rushed. She has the same haircut that she got at age 15 (usually cut herself, using a mirror that would ride around her neck on a plastic noose), so by then it already took no time to style. She got out of the shower, dried it, brushed it once, and hair was done. She didn't wear eye makeup at all—her clear blue eyes and blond lashes were completely unadorned. For several years she wore contacts instead of glasses; I have no idea if this was merely because she could see better, or if it was because she thought she looked better. She eventually stopped wearing them. She did frequently wear a bit of blush, and she also wore lipstick. Sometimes, I think, she just used a bit of the lipstick on her cheekbones. Once, when my brother was about three, he went digging in her purse for Chapstick, and by the time she looked in the rearview mirror to see what he was so quiet about, he'd managed to generously coat his lips and the surrounding area with bright pink paste. Deane, whose favorite response to any commentary was a belligerent "I know dat!" was not pleased to be laughed at for his blunder. Mom also wore cologne, although not anything she'd picked out. I think, in fact, that they were usually men's colognes that my father had received free for buying spark plugs for his shop. I know we had a green glass car full of scent sitting on the back of their toilet.

My several aunts were always much more put together, as far as make-up went. One in particular, a tall, slim, dark-eyed beauty, still has quite the morning regimen (which has, in the past, included separating mascaraed eyelashes with the tip of a pin—which always makes me think of earthquakes and kind of makes me queasy, even though I've done it myself on occasion since hearing the trick), and still looks fabulous. One morning though, when her youngest was about 3, he got up early and came to see her before she had begun. "Oh!" he gasped. "Mama UGGY!" Definitely not true. But by his standards, my mama was also uggy—but all the time.

Again, definitely not true.

For some reason, I gravitated toward eye beauty regimens more than lip ones—maybe I just don't like the idea of lipstick on things. But I do like my blue eyes, and I have cow lashes if I don't do something about them—they point down instead of up—so for years I curled them religiously (including—and this was crazy, I see that—during a 5 ½ week trip to Kenya with a friend, even when we were staying in tents and hung over every morning). I also started plucking my brows, and I like the curve they have now much more than the bushy caterpillars they were before.

But this modicum of beautifying behavior has not put me in a very good position for where I am now in treatments. I am completely bald, and I know that the rest of my body hair—including my eyebrows which are so well-trained, and my eyelashes which are . . . well . . . still blondish cow lashes, are going to be with me for only a short time yet (maybe three more months if I'm lucky). A friend asked the other day about applying some false lashes . . . and I just have no idea where to begin. I tried, years ago, and looked like I'd done it in the dark with tongs. Not only not subtle—not remotely attractive. I'm going to ask her if she, an actor, can offer me some suggestions or assistance, because lashes are not only pretty—which is, in fact, important—they also keep dust and gnats out of your eyes.

Although I do not have a stellar background in makeup, I do care how I look. In part, this is because I don't want random people to feel bad for me on the streets—I don't want strangers to think "Oh, the poor dear—she looks like she has cancer!" Not because I don't want their sympathy—I just don't want them to feel like they have to offer it. I don't feel bad about the cancer—why should someone else? But I'm also lazy, and so even though I have an awesome wig (pics coming soon!), and I fully intend to—finally—learn some things about beauty regimens—I'll probably mostly just throw on a scarf over my bald head (and leave my bare face bare when it comes to that), and go about my days.

Beauty vs ease? I choose both.


Andrienne said...

You would never know it from looking at me, but I never used to go anywhere without make-up. Actually for most of my life. I used to be a large size model, and between the days of fashion and the evenings of music, I can honestly say, me and goop go way back.

Any time you need a refresher on an optimal daytime look in less than five minutes, I am your girl. The funny pary about never wearing any make-up now, is that I have become very fast in its application. I just can't be bothered with anything more than that. Make-up is only worth it if you look instantly fabulous.

A good thing about your not having done this for a lifetime - your skin is in much better shape. Also, the only problem with false eylashes is that they have a tendencey to pull out the good ones - not applicable. Calin, they have really improved the design of false eyelashes in the last few years. As long as they aren't too thick, or too dark, you will probably like the new ones.

ACB said...

Sounds like you're in great hands with Andrienne for makeup tips - not that you need any! - and in great hands all around. I send you love and energy from mine, reaching all the way from Virginia.