Monday, October 24, 2011

Vanity is a harsh mistress

I went to the dermatologist this week. I love my dermy. She told me once that her family was surprised that she became a doctor, that her parents were betting on stripper (no she doesn’t look like a stripper). In that same visit, the underwire from her bra came poking out, and she showed me more skin than any other doc ever has while pushing it back into place. She gives out her prescription samples in little leopard print bags. She gives a big, warm hug at the end of each appointment. It’s all probably wrong on paper, but I adore her, and you have to wait ages to get an appointment with her, so I know I’m not alone.

I went in a few days ago to check in on my various skin maladies (eczema, rosacea, and various other things that happen to pale people with sensitive skin), as well as for a full body check. Basically, this means that the doc looks at every square inch of my skin for possible skin cancer, and makes a note of the size and location of my various spots. I am very fair and very spotty. It took a while. The physician’s assistant came in first and started cataloguing my spots. After a few minutes, my doc came in. She asked me about the kids while smearing something onto my face. My face started tingling.

“Um, what is that?” I asked.


OK. She is smearing acid on me. It kind of burns. I lick my lips (a nervous habit). It turns out that acid tastes really gross.

“Is that OK with the rosacea?” (It’s not that I don’t trust her, but she’s a busy woman, and I am one of those annoying “advocate for my own health” people.)

“Yup, it’s fine. I’m just going to take you down a layer.”

Um, OK. We have acid on my face. OK. And my thin paper gown is being ripped off piece by piece. I am essentially hanging out in my undies while the PA writes down every freckle and the doc smears burning liquids onto my face and admonishes me for the size of the pores on my nose.

Apparently I should not be moisturizing my T-zone. Who knew?

Doc is very happy with my lips. She says they look like they have filler in them. Um, thanks?? “But no more red wine,” she scolds. “It is terrible for your rosacea.” Until she asks what I do for work and I remind her that I stay home with my kids.

“I take it back,” she says. “Drink whatever you want. You earn it.”

Do you see why I love her?

Now it is time to zap some capillaries. See, if you don’t know about rosacea, it is this thing that sometimes happens to us, the pink people. When we get red or flushed from normal things like saunas, sun, wind-burn, exercise, sex, booze, embarrassment, etc., our bodies respond by becoming completely freakish. We get weird red scaly patches, and blisters, and things that look like spider veins on our faces. It sucks.

So anyway, I have these broken blood vessels/visible veins on my face. She pulls out the laser. Each zap is fine, but put them together one after the other, and it pretty much bites. Each one is a startling shock, and the ones right next to my nose… um, ouch!

At some point during this process of steel-flinch-steel-flinch, I start thinking about gender. Effing men. They get soft and gray and wrinkly and they have scammed us into thinking it makes them look distinguished. Bastards.

So I come home with what looks like a slight sunburn (which later peeled, lovely), a dozen or two little red scabs from the laser, prescriptions for my rosacea cream and the milder acid that I smear onto my face regularly at home with new instructions to start smearing it onto my chest too, and the $50/ounce eye serum to which I have become addicted. (In my defense, half an ounce lasts me six months.) In the time I was there, we also discussed laser hair removal, for which I am apparently not a great candidate because my body hair is not coarse enough. So I guess I can stop saving up that $2000 give or take for the perma-Brazilian, but that means it’s waxing or shaving forever. Sigh.

Being a woman is just not fair sometimes.

Sometimes I think, what if I just stopped? What if I stopped wearing makeup and stopped shaving my legs and stopped smearing acid on my face and stopped dying my hair and stopped yanking stray hairs out so that my eyebrows would conform to some random notion of how eyebrows “should” look? It’s what’s on the inside that counts. It’s what’s on the inside that makes me beautiful and unique and worthwhile. So why do I spend so much time and effort fiddling around with the outside?

Here’s what’s weird. I don’t think it’s for men. I don’t think my husband would ever notice if my eyebrows were a little thicker. I don’t think he’s losing any sleep over the size of my pores. Sure, the body hair removal is at least partly for him, and maybe the eye makeup and the sexy shoes, but the rest of it? Not so much. Maybe it’s a little bit for other women. Other women notice eyebrows and toenail polish and cute jeans and when our skin looks especially radiant. But really, it’s for me. It’s sheer vanity. Isn’t that weird? I smear acid on my skin and pull hair out by the roots and put potions and powders on my face and try to avoid sun damage and ever-so-gently dab on eye serum at night with the tips of my ring fingers so I don’t pull the skin and give myself wrinkles… all so that what? I’ll look younger and prettier when I look in the mirror? That is so weird. I wouldn’t have thought I would care enough about that to put that much effort into it.

But the idea of stopping freaks me out.

I remember a conversation I had at lunch one day during my TaKeTiNa training. It turned out that a couple of the women had shaved their heads at some point in their lives as part of a spiritual journey, as a way to release attachment to appearance (my words, not theirs, but that was the gist). They were talking about how it felt to completely let go of vanity to that degree. I get it. I deeply respect it. I’m staggered by their strength of commitment.

It’s one thing to say that it’s what on the inside that counts. It’s another thing to shave your friggin’ head.

For me, for now, I’m not ready to let go of the idea of pretty. I like my long hair, with its pink and blue stripes. I like when my skin looks and feels smooth. I like my sexy sparkly red pedicure. I like how my eyes look with eyeliner. I like dangly earrings and low-cut tops and jeans that make my butt look cute. I won’t be shaving my head anytime soon.

But maybe it’s time to spend a little less time primping and a little more time smearing figurative acid on the old dull layers of stuff in my psyche. I’ve been in Mommy mode for four years and have been getting just a little less and a little less mindful every day. Maybe it’s time to take it down a layer, laser away the distractions, rejuvenate my soul with a moisturizing serum, and give the stuff on the inside a nice sparkly pedicure. My soul deserves a spa day too.


  1. I'm a fair girl/Mommy, too! What really works for me for rosacea is Clinique Daily Redness Relief cream. Lasers gave me edema (swelling like acne pit scars) for 3 days. Not worth it unless it got really bad.

    Girl to Heidi Ferrer

  2. Yeah, the laser spots are still looking pretty icky almost a week later. I've been using Finacea, and it's working really well for me for keeping the redness and other symptoms down, but I had the leftover spider veins from before I got it under control. Hoping I won't have to do this laser thing again! It's so not cute or fun!