I’ll always remember my first time:
My first official eyebrow grooming,
my induction into the ladies elite society of vanity—
when my mom cradled my head in her lap, a pair of tweezers poised above me. And my legs slant across the bed in a waning afternoon sunshine, the breeze from my brother’s bedroom window (his room had the best lighting) tugging gently along the fine hairs that dotted my adolescent legs.
(Or did my leg hairs prickle in resistance, knowing, sympathetic of what was to come?)
It hurt like h-e-owwwwch. I actually cried as she plucked—the tears unbidden by any sort of emotion and tied only to each exquisitely painful little pinch that ultimately proved worth it.
The face I saw in the mirror was a 12-year-old improved.
I thought of this one Sunday, when Chloe let me pierce her ears.
Or repierce them, my unprincipled parenting spilling over into the fact that I never enforced that whole “keeping your earrings in” brou ha ha. Chloe was determined to wear some simple three-pear-long strands with her baptism dress to church, and though her ears had long since healed along the back, she let me push those earrings through the skin. She didn’t flinch. Even as I tissued off a bit of blood beading on her skin and applied Neosporin, and she checked her reflection in the mirror three different ways and approved of what she saw then told me her ear was really throbbing. And I said to her with pride bursting the buttons of my ruffled blouse: “Oh, my dear” (and you better believe there was a twinkle in my eye), “Beauty hurts.”
I could catalog waxings and bleachings and cuttings and dyes and home hair-care gone awry. I could talk about the way we starve and nip and tuck and pop and press and pluck and pick and nit-pick over magazines and mirrors and lunches of salad and water. I could. But then I wonder: does anyone resent this? Are there any women out there that feel burdened by “the things we do?” Or rather, “the things our culture makes us feel like we need to do?”
I’ve never felt constrained by being a woman; I rather enjoy it. Of course, some days I don’t want to get dressed… but wearing a dress? That I want. And some days (most days), I don’t want to do my hair… but getting it done for me? Perhaps the finest way I could spend two hours on myself every10 weeks. There is something quite fun about being a girl, something gently beguiling about femininity. But is it the make-up and the dresses?
I don’t know. I’ve long held true to a theory (my theory, to be precise), that the natural man for many women is vanity: and I find myself crossing the faint line toward this weakness and something more nobly above it all over and over again, sometimes in the span of a hour-long stroll through Sephora, reeking heavily of mixed perfume, the strata of make-up sampling dotting my face. Because while I’m drawn to all the pretty, I don’t necessarily want to be a part of it or what a television tuned to Bravo might suggest a woman (a HOUSEWIFE no less) seems to be.
For me, femininity is sweetness. It is kindess. It is a willingness to nurture and love—to be soft and speak soft. (And maybe sometimes even look soft: postpartum heft and sleepiness is all.) I think the first time I realized this was when I cradled my first, a newborn, a girl, and while I delighted in dressing her in booties and bows and matching socks, I didn’t actually want her to be bound by all the trappings of it.
But there is a balance. And I’m trying to figure it out is all.
How do you balance it? What do you indulge in? What is femininity to you? And do these trappings of vanity bother/bug/annoy/delight you?