Vanity of Vanities

§   I’m so often bewildered, not just by what I see as a lack of grooming as people go about their business in public, but by those of my own age group who seem, to put it bluntly, to have given up on giving a damn.  §

Because I am and have always been a plain woman, I am usually meticulous about my grooming. Having no beauty to present to a judgmental world, I at least strive to present a tidy appearance. My hair, dyed these days to disguise the whitening roots, is colored with monotonous regularity; the roots are touched up between dye jobs. Peach fuzz on my upper lip and chin is removed weekly from my face. It’s rare for me to leave the house without at least lip gloss and mascara, and never without brushing my long hair into some semblance of order. In fact, the only time during the past two years when I have disregarded all these self-imposed rules was the dreadful winter morning when a friend called, begging help. Another of our group had awakened to find her beloved pet dog dead. Help was needed, and needed as quickly as possible. I hopped out of the shower to answer this early-morning distress call; only a few minutes later, having paused just long enough to run a towel over my sopping wet hair and throw the first clothes I could grab onto my body, I was speeding over ice-glazed roads to her home.

But dreadful events like that are rare. I can usually find, or at least make the time to present an orderly appearance. It’s my standing joke that, if I’m so ill that I haven’t at least gotten out of bed to put on clothes and brush my hair, it’s too late to call a doctor; call an undertaker.

I suppose that’s why I’m so often bewildered, not just by what I see as a lack of grooming as people go about their business in public, but by those of my own age group who seem, to put it bluntly, to have given up on giving a damn. Inch-long visible roots on women and grubby feet in flip-flops with chipped polish on their toes; men sporting chins thick with stubble and ripped, stained shirts…  I find myself ashamed, not of them, but for them. Why, I wonder, do they think so little of themselves, to present themselves to the world in so careless a manner?

Pride is a funny thing, though. I’ve been accused a few times of being quite vain, although that is, I feel, the furthest possible thing from the truth. I know that I have always been unbeautiful; now I am aging, as well. I have absolutely no vanity.

But I do have pride. That is why, looks aside, I always strive to be both neat and orderly, well-groomed and tidy. And since I also endure an on-going struggle with feelings of insecurity, I find in myself the need to always put my best face forward to a censorious world.

Standards of just what comprises that best face, though, do change. I recall my paternal Grandmother bemoaning the fact that dressing for church no longer meant a fine hat, pumps, and white gloves. In Grandma’s worldview, standards had undeniably slipped; I thought the lack of fuss refreshing. She would be utterly horrified by today’s come-as-you-are churches, where I have even seen young people arrive in pajama pants. (“Well,” I’ve sighed, explaining this phenomenon to my Grandmother’s shade, sitting there beside me in that pew, shaking her head in disgust. “Well, Gramma, at least they showed up.” )

But now, looking at my own attitudes through the lens of time, I wonder if I have not become my Grandmother. Are the strictures, I put myself through, the grooming I require of myself, really necessary? I no longer attend a church, but I certainly wouldn’t be arriving for services in pajama pants and a tank top. Long after most women had given up pantyhose, I still wore them, knowing that my tan-less legs look a helluva lot better when encased in nylons (and my stockinged feet felt a lot more comfortable in my shoes, too). But my other personal rules about appearance: Are they truly necessary? Am I lying to myself when I claim that I am not vain, but merely proud and insecure?

Perhaps my answer lies in something that happened when my mother died. As Dad and I chose clothing for her body to be dressed in prior to cremation, he objected as I dug through her mounds shoes for heels that matched the dress I’d chosen.

“It’s not like she’s going to be walking anywhere!” he protested.

“I am not sending my mother into the afterlife without proper shoes on her feet!” I retorted.

Standards of appearance. Pride or vanity or insecurity, it does not matter. I adhere to them, hold myself to them, even in the face of that final appearance in this world.

 

 

 

 

Things in Movies That Drive Me Nuts!

I loved the original Star Wars movie.  I saw it at the theater the second weekend of its release.

But I spent the entire movie wishing that Luke Skywalker would just comb his damned hair.

This is just one minor chapter in a long, long list of movies, TV shows, books and songs in which one niggling little thing pretty much drives me over the edge and nearly ruins the entire experience for me. Hair issues in movies seem to comprise a surprising number of these irritants, for I felt exactly the same way about Meg Ryan’s hair in You’ve Got Mail.  “For the love of heaven, comb your hair, woman!” I longed to shout at the screen.  Fortunately for the other moviegoers, I kept my peace and just seethed in silence.  Weeks later, reading a magazine article by a hairstylist,  I almost choked when she referred to “Meg Ryan’s adorably tousled hair”.  My eyes rolled upward so hard they almost lodged there permanently. Adorably tousled?  Adorably tousled is a toddler’s hair after a long day.  This was a grown woman who just needed a comb and a mirror.

Despite my griping, let me point out that all of these were movies that I really liked. That fact in itself may be the key to my irritation.  Had I seen people wearing these ridiculous hairstyles in a movie I didn’t actually enjoy, I would probably just have shrugged.

Hair issues aside, there are the moments in movie plots that just seem so completely unrealistic or totally wrong that they simply set my teeth on edge.  For instance, I’ve watched My Best Friend’s Wedding a number of times,  which only goes to prove that I’m a complete masochist, because the ending always infuriates me.  Why? Because he marries the wrong woman. As the newly-wedded characters drive off into the night betwixt the romantic sparklers, I always think, “Well, there’s a marriage that’s not going to last six months past the honeymoon.”

I felt the same way about the characters in Sleepless in Seattle, although hardly anyone agrees with me, being blinded by the romantic “I just knew!” nonsense that comprises the heart of the script.  I myself got over that “I just knew!” rubbish at the age of 17, but apparently many grown people are still suckered in by it.  This may explain the national divorce rate.

Far more minor incongruities annoy me in other movies I love, such as The Holiday. I absolutely adore that show and watch it ever holiday season.  But the entire movie would have been made even better for me if a few improbable scenes had simply been smoothed by careful scriptwriting.  After all — let a total stranger have one’s home for a two weeks, without even a background check?! All that needed to come out of the American character’s mouth was something along the lines of, “I’ve been registered on that home exchange website for a year now….” and the whole scene would have been made realistic.  And being able to obtain a transatlantic plane ticket on less than 24 hour’s notice at the start of the Christmas season?! Why not a cry of protest – “We’ll never get tickets!” from the British character, and a response from the Hollywood American, “Don’t worry about that; I’ve got contacts.”  Simple Realism 101.

I felt even more flabbergasted watching a scene in Steel Magnolias, in which Sally Field’s character, working in the kitchen as she talks with her severely diabetic daughter, takes out a giant bag of sugar to begin cooking.  The first time I watched the movie I lost the next several seconds of the film because my mind couldn’t focus on anything but that five-pound bag of sugar…the five-pound bag of sugar being used by the mother of a diabetic while they discuss the girl’s condition. Yes, the scene was set during the Christmas treat-baking season; so what?  What mother of so seriously ill a diabetic would be cooking a ton of sugar right in front of her?  Had the director been lobotomized, I wondered?

And then there was that moment in the first Indiana Jones movie, in which Karen Carpenter’s character, having been gagged and bound in the heat of an Egyptian desert all day, is untied and served a meal and reaches for the sandwich first.  Say what?!  The water!  She would have chugged that water like a young partier doing Jello shots.

As picky as I undoubtedly am, I’m sure you’re wondering why I ever watch a movie in the first place. I wonder it myself sometimes. Nevertheless, if there’s ever a magic button that lets one change these little problems while home viewing a movie, I’ll certainly wear out my finger poking the darned thing!