The shallow end

shallow woman with great hair“I still can’t wear mascara” she tells her friend. She is in tailored pants, a fitted T shirt hugging her curves with toned tan arms holding her 1/2 caf skinny latte. She has chunky jewelry, brand named sandals and professionally colored blond hair. “You look great.” her friend tells her, truthfully. “People are going to look at me and be like, what is up with her.” I guess because of the mascara. I am listening to her and wondering ‘what is up with her.’

My ginger peach tea is ready at the drinks bar and I stumble out between the tables to get it.

Passing the steel and wood standing work space (outlets, outlets) another 40 something pair of women have their heads close together. “I want to just smell it.” says the one wearing Lululemon with an invisible elastic holding back loose dark curls. “I know. Isn’t it incredible.” Unlike certain CEOs these women are ‘leaning in’ over a gourmet pop tart. “It’s my daily sin. I would NEVER tell my kids about it.” They laugh, sharing a moment of how unbelievable it would be to let their kids know that they eat baked goods. EVERY DAY. At least one of them does.

I wonder for the 10,000th time how we got here. How we worry about mascara and carbs. How we pass on the messages to our kids, while hiding our own “sins.” Why we spend time and money erasing lines and dark spots, poking at sagging skin, smoothing creams and potions on our faces, buying six pairs of white jeans until we find one that lifts our ass just right. Maybe we won’t be able to sit comfortably in those jeans, or stand comfortable in those shoes. But look at our legs. Don’t they look long and lean? Media. Social expectations.

I have a diet too. I call it a food revolution with my boys so they don’t think of it as restrictive. I am cutting way back on carbs. No sinful Popsters for me. Despite my efforts to frame my eating habits as a positive for myself and my kids (more energy, stable blood sugar, less stomach pain) we all call the days with fries and pies a “cheat” day. I am a cheater when I eat food off of the list. A big, fat, cheater.

My motivation for the food revolution is primarily for health reasons. But despite my clog wearing, cut off jean sporting, make up free appearance there is vanity in my decision to diet as well. Or at least the hope to re-claim vanity. Perhaps I have turned my low fashion life into my signature because I don’t have a real shot at shining. The closest I come to polish is my Polish background. I imagine myself 40 pounds lighter. Then perhaps I will wear mascara and blow dry my hair.

Across the coffee shop I see two women embracing. I know one of them. She is gorgeous and also grounded. She is engaged in her work, juggles kids, and always has a smile. She is an excellent example of someone who seems to ride the roller coaster of expectations without puking over the edge. As they hug her friend holds her at arms length and tells her “you look adorable.” “I’ve had this forever” she replies, pulling her dress out at the skirt to look at the pattern. As she turns to me I see that even she is wearing mascara.

Screen Shot 2016-09-01 at 8.43.42 AMNext to me I tune back in to the original pair of women. Slowly the words filter in. They are talking about funerals and failed surgeries. They are talking of lost loves and grieving children. They are talking about a young woman who has lost a battle and the family shattered behind them. The one with the bare eyes says she has been asked to give a eulogy. All of a sudden “I still can’t wear mascara” seems less like a symptom of pink eye the virus and more like the result of pink eyes from crying.

Once again the tiniest tidbit of conversation has sent me spiraling in the wrong direction. “People are going to wonder what is up with me” was not a statement about appearance. It was about grief, and the most fundamental of human realities. These past 15 minutes as I looked around the coffee shop at blond bob after blond bob I was judging simply on appearance. Which is exactly the practice that perpetuates the problem.

It is what is inside the skin that is the story.

Do you have a story about re-thinking a snap judgement? How do you make sure you concentrate on the book not the cover?