Right beside it was Redbook with a smiling Julia-Louis Dreyfus looking “hotter at 49 than 29.” What caught my attention was this message shouting out in bold all-caps: “Is your face older than you are?”
Under routine circumstances, I would have glanced, smirked, shook my head, and carried on with reading an in-depth analysis of the missed signs of terrorism on flight 253, but this headline was distinctly odd.
It had, attached to it in a slightly smaller font, a page number!
I’ve scanned through covers of similar magazines while waiting for my turn at the grocery store register and don’t remember having seen page numbers associated with catchy headlines. I figured the publishers were trying to pull in readers and making them at least flip through the whole magazine before they got to the one piece that lured them in. But this was different. They were making it easy for their target audience to cut to the chase. Hmm.
Intrigued, I swapped magazines and immediately flipped to page 49. What I saw was a slew of product placements.
Let me correct that: a slew of very expensive products. Aah! That explained the bait.
Products that would boost your eyelashes, plump your cheeks and lips, give you voluminous hair, make your large pores go away … products that promised a feel-good makeover … products that reminded you of how old you really were.
As if that is a bad thing!
The ensuing conversation with my oral hygienist was rather enlightening. All I did was mention the feature in the magazine and say, “I find it rather odd the amount of time and money women are supposed to spend looking good …”
And this followed.
“I spend half an hour cleansing and moisturizing my skin, clipping and polishing nails, massaging oil into my scalp … making sure I take as complete care as I can of my body before going to bed every night. I fight the signs of aging … at least I try,” she shared. “My husband on the other hand, changes into his pajamas and plops right under the covers.”
I couldn’t speak much with her fiddling around in my mouth except utter a couple “umm hmms.”
As she dug into my gum line, she wondered aloud, “Why do women get old and men get dignified?”
I smiled faintly.
“Maybe I should just go to bed after brushing my teeth like my husband does,” she declared. “Maybe it shouldn’t matter to me that my hair’s turning gray and my skin is sagging.”
She was on a roll. She reminisced about her grandmother going “naturally white,” while her mom and her generation try to cover up the grays with streaks and highlights. She talked about the business of marketing to women’s vanities. “Men are vain, too, but not to this extent,” she opined.
Men usually don’t care as much about appearances — the ones who pluck their eyebrows, get facials, and expensive haircuts are mocked (or — as some right-wing generalists would call them — gay), but women, no matter which culture they come from, strive doggedly to be well-groomed.
As my dental hygienist said, “Men are supposed to be intelligent. Women should just stay pretty.”
We scoffed in unison.
What was left unsaid is probably what will stay with her. It certainly struck a chord with me.