I've never been a big beauty treatment person. It's the midwesterner in me; there is something about paying another person to rub, polish, wax or otherwise alter my body that is somehow off-putting. We are big on boundaries and personal space. On appearances, but not on making public the indignities that go into maintaining them. Michiganders, especially the ones from elitist hippie enclaves, are not supposed to indulge themselves in such a frivolous way. I do recall buying a lot of artisinal soaps and lotions as a teenager, but the were usually purchased from the sustainable development shop at my church, were made by Nicaraguan peasants, smelled funky and made my skin both gungy and squeaky.
Also, I can never justify the cost of fancy beauty crap. I'll glady spend hundreds of dollars on a Kenneth Cole handbag that I can carry for five years, and do plop eighty bucks plus tip on a haircut once every two months. But those things, they last! They are investments. Spending a chunk of that money on a pedicure that will be ruined in two weeks or giving a stranger the equivalent of a DirecTV bill to rip hair from my ladybits when I can do it myself, thankyouverymuch, just rubs me the wrong way. So to speak.
I do ascribe this approach to beauty to my upbringing, but not to my family. My sister has been a nailbiter since childhood and took a decidedly laissez-faire approach to dental care, but still has a flawless smile and a bank account bruised by the purchase of insane amounts of eyeshadow and toning cleaners. My mother, who just moved to another state for her new job, cried twice during her last week: once when she said goodbye to my father, and once when she said goodbye to Vi, her manicurist. Seriously.
But while a pre-puberty Jenny purchased body-hair minimizing lotion and our mother littered the house with her Mary Kay samples, I did my own hair for prom and got my first manicure the week of college graduation. I learned how to apply makeup when I was eight, but only because I did a lot of community theater. There was a very unfortunate period of perms in the early nineties, but I blame the influence of the Baby-Sitters Club books for that (remember Stacey McGill? She was cool! She had a perm! She was from New York! I always said Kristy Thomas was my favorite because she was a loud brunette like me, but I secretly wanted to be Stacey McGill). Even as I finally accepted that Kool-Aid was not an acceptable hair dye and even embraced the Zen art of plucking one's eyebrows, I always found better ways to spend my money than on beauty services. Like, say, purses. Or vodka.
This last week was just brutal at work, and the stress of the big event I was in charge of plus the cruddiness of my third-hand mattress had taken a nasty toll on my back. As a reward for getting through the week (plus, I was waking up in the middle of the night with lower back pain), I booked myself a massage for Saturday. Like most things that are designed to make one's life better-- email, huge grocery stores, the demand for equal orgasms-- it only stressed me out even more. First I gave myself a guilt trip for spending fifty-five dollars on someone rubbing my shoulders. Then I overslept and was rushing around, eventually leaving the house wearing the ancient, cat-hair-covered gaucho pants that I vowed never to sport in public because it was suddenly cold and rainy and I'd not unpacked any winter clothes. THEN, I wound up having a driveway moment listening to This American Life and was ten minutes late. I was apologizing to the massuese as I was signing in, as I got changed and as I lay down on the table. As she oiled up her hands and asked me if I had any problems spots or medical conditions, I replied "My neck, no medical conditions, and again, I'm so sorry."
She smiled and told me not to worry and got to work on my poor aching back. And may I just say MLAAAAAAAH. An hour later when I managed to lift myself off of the table, I reached up and felt my shoulder and my finger just kept going. It wasn't instantly stopped by a hard knot of muscle! Incredible. I felt lighter, more able to hold my head up. Better yet, for the first time in weeks, my head wasn't filled with millions of little details of visas and certifications and nametags and catering. I felt cleansed and wrung out, like my body could be poured into a glass.
I may never be the kind of girl who bonds with her manicurist, or who has opinions about brands of mascara. I can almost promise that I will never get plastic surgery or inject my face with poison to halt the aging process. But finally taking my mind off of work AND fixing my aching back? THAT is beautiful.