Bangs, Boobs & Botox
A lady walks into her hairdresser’s and sees the beautician wrapping aluminum foil around little chunks of hair on the head of a skeletal client draped in black polyester with a face like silly putty stretched to the max.
“What’s cooking?” She says.
The beautician looks up and wraps, folds, bends another piece of foil onto the skull in front of her.
“Lean Cuisine…” she says.
When they are overweight, she says “Pulled Pork.”
Bitchy divorcees: “Leftovers.”
As my eyes travel from the emaciated woman in the chair with the too-taught cheeks, to the mirror, I catch a full-on glimpse of the hairdresser, her lavender smock and her blue eyes glimmering in the gilt-framed mirror.
“Claire!” I exclaim, “ You look fabulous! What is it? You changed something. The hair?” She had recently gone from over-processed blonde to a deep auburn that warmed her skin.
She shakes her head and smiles, and her bob sways girlishly.
“C’mon, tell me. You look terrific.”
She leans in conspiratorially, motions for me to come closer as a smile plays at the corner of her lips. Her fingers keep pace with the section-brush-wrap activity on the woman’s head.
“The three Bs,” she whispers.
“At our age, honey,” she says, “Its bangs, boobs or Botox.”
I back off and stare at her chest, between her brows.
“No, babe,” she says. “It’s the bangs!”
All during my hair wash, with my head arched back into the scooped-out sink, I think about it. Bangs, boobs or Botox. Could it be that simple? I start with the boobs. Mine haven’t passed the pencil test in years. Okay boys, the pencil test is this: If you stand up straight and put a pencil under your breast, and it stays… you haven’t passed. End of test. I think of my Grandma Edythe, my very favorite relative. We were the same height when I was eight. If I think of old boobs, I think of her.
When she stayed at our house, I would help her lace her corset. There must have been 50 holes that had to be threaded, pulled, adjusted. It took a good part of the morning to get Grandma dressed. She was sweet and funny, but detailed-minded, stubborn, set in her ways. She “performed her toilette” as she called it, the same way every morning except Friday, before Shabbos, when she took a full-out bath. Edythe didn’t shower. She was too short to reach the showerhead.
Her “toilette” involved washing every limb and cranny with a rough white washcloth until it glowed pink, then dusting herself with loose talcum powder from a big puff. All smoothed, she glided into her big granny underpants and stepped into the pre-laced corset. As she sidled into it, wiggling her hips in a manner that might have, years ago, been a little bit sexy, she stopped just short or her ribcage. At this point, she fondly took the bottom of each breast and rolled the flat skin up from her navel into a kind of mammary croissant, and tucked it into the cup of the corset. With a final wriggle and pull, her girdle settled into place. Grandma’s helper, in this case, me, adjusted each of the strings to create the desired hourglass shape she thought fashionable. This was the way it was done. Everyday: Wash. Powder. Roll those boobs. Cleanliness and order. Edythe lived until 96 but gave up her corset at 90, when she announced with modern indignation that she was tired of being hog-tied every day.
Straining against the unyielding back of the sink as droplets of warm water pooled in my ears, I ask myself: would Grandma Edythe have bought boobs? I think not. And I am my grandma’s granddaughter.
So, Botox? Possible… very possible. Cousin Fern offered me a Botox party for my fiftieth birthday. She’s a dermatology nurse. She did Michael Jackson’s hair plugs in the wee hours of the morning at her Park Avenue doctor’s office. The doctor was there, of course- but it was cousin Fern herself, she claimed, who stuck the plugs in. I guess that qualified her to stick needles into the faces of my friends and relatives to celebrate my reaching the half-century mark.
But Botox is poison. And the most toxic thing I put in my body is Sweet and Low. I already feel bad enough about that. I shift in the hairdresser’s seat while she applies a hot iron to my roots (hot flash alert!) and pulls it through my hair, removing every natural kink so that it will look young and sexy! As if gray hair can ever look young and sexy. A clear contradiction of terms in the beauty business.
The only solution to my dilemma about my fifty-something face is to go shopping. Buy a scarf. A hair thing. Earrings. Something that might make me look somewhere- anywhere- else but at my face. A treat, I think! Bendel’s! Youthful, trendy, stupidly expensive and indulgent. I leave the salon, freshly trimmed and pressed and head to midtown. In my funk I do not realize that it is Fashion’s Night Out in New York City. For those who don’t know about this self-proclaimed merchandising holiday, it is Halloween for Fashionistas. Terrifying! Ghoulish! And I am only talking about the skinny kids lined up in front of Abercrombie’s.
I make my way through the throngs of wrist wraps and fake lashes, taking note that the demographic of the crowd is three decades my junior.
“I can take years off your eyes without surgery!” a slender latte-colored man with exotic green cat-irises and deep red lipstick calls across the aisle. He is a wearing a small leather apron laden with brushes of every size. He pulls one from a pocket and waves it at me.
“Yes! You, honey!” he calls to me.
I look over the other shoulder. “Me?”
“Yes- darlin’. YOU! You can look FAB-ulous! Without a knife every touching your face.” Other customers turn. They look at my face. The whole store is looking at my face, imagining my before and after photos. Middle-aged gray haired lady now looks FAB-ulous! Let’s put her on the Today Show Make-overs. The View! Oprah… wait, there is no more Oprah! Okay, Ellen. Ellen does a kindler, gentler make-over.
“But I like my face!” I answer with pluck.
His groomed brows arch up to his shiny, shaved scalp. He pulls other brushes from the skimpy band of leather clinging to his hipbones.
“Of course you do! But we can make it better.”
“I earned every fucking line on this face,” I say defiantly- loud enough for the whole store to hear. The crowd roars their approval. They break out in thunderous applause.
I smile wide and let my laugh lines show. My eyes squint and disappear beneath my heavy lids. I thrust my closed fists upwards in a sign of victory. YES! I exit the store backwards, still waving at the supportive and adoring fans who believe I am paving the way to a new future without injectables.
I am on the sidewalk, remembering nothing past the moment I looked into the mesmerizing Kohl-rimmed eyes of the handsome young man. It comes back to me in a rush. I am not the outspoken champion of the natural face. I am a frightened sheep. A wrinkled woman silently fleeing the press of cosmetic socialism. I bought their creams and their promises and ran. I have been fleeced by the media.
I drive home quietly. My shoulders slumped, defeated. My husband is asleep in front of the television. His two chins rest on his chest and a little drool collects at the corner of his slightly open mouth. His snores fill the room. I love that little roll of skin that hangs around his collar. It reminds me of his mother’s face, the turkey neck that she refused to remove because her husband loved to tickle it. And I think: my husband loves this old face. I quietly move to the bathroom and rummage around beneath the sink looking for a long lost tool. And then I do something I swore I would never do again: I cut bangs.