Editor's note: Gwen Ruff is filling in for Randy Krzmarzick this week.
I've never considered myself very traditionally feminine, so stuff like doing your hair and nails always baffles me.
The other day I see these nail appliques that look fun because they're white with script writing. Perfect to wear as I write Randy's column while he's getting ready for planting. Just peel and apply. It takes me about 20 minutes to get the first one peeled off the backing, then another 10 minutes to place it on a nail. It's sort of stuck on. Crooked. OK, nine more nails to go; that's only 4.5 hours. I quit after the third one, go to bed and wake up with little pieces of script writing on a white background stuck to my face.
Even if you let a professional do your nails, I don't understand how to maintain them. All I can figure is you get home from work, immediately sit down on a chair, stretch out your arms and order your family to cook dinner, wash dishes, scratch the cat's head, brush your teeth then carry you to bed where you rest your hands on little silken pillows.
When she was younger, my daughter would ask me to do French braids or some other fancy hair thing, and I'd confess ignorance with a shiny coating of ineptness. Looking at the instructions online for a fishtail braid, I'm sure it'd be easier to defuse a live bomb. Recently I could not accomplish an elegant French twist updo after watching numerous online videos and purchasing this spongy thing you were supposed to wrap your hair around, which made a very satisfying little blaze in a bonfire.
I was able to help with the hair frosting kit where my daughter put on a plastic cap while I yanked pieces of hair through the little holes using a plastic hook. It was a nice mother-daughter bonding time, even with her yelps of pain. So, I'm a little better at hair coloring. Except for the time I don't like the color and immediately use another product formulated to remove the offensive hue. I look like Ronald McDonald's maniac twin sister as I walk into a hair salon.
"Good afternoon. Welcome to (insert your favorite salon name here)," chirps the stylist. "How can we help you?"
"Isn't it obvious?" I ask.
Given that track record I'm not sure what made me think a home leg waxing would be a good idea. The directions say to put the purple goop in the microwave for 30 seconds. That doesn't seem like very long. Why not a couple minutes? By the time it cools down, it's really hard to stir and spread on my leg. I finally get it on in globs and pat down the paper strips. I go ahead with the other leg while waiting for the first batch to work its magic.
Half an hour later, the stuff is still weirdly sticky, but I'm tired of standing around half naked. I brace myself for the big moment-ripping off the strips! It's the stuff of classic comedy. They come off, but the purple goo doesn't. I try to wipe it off with tissues and end up with little white balls embedded in the purple.
My next idea is to kneel under the bathtub faucet and use a washcloth and soap. Some of the stuff comes off, but not enough to actually allow me to ever wear clothing again. Now I think "solvent." I douse my thighs with nail polish remover. This highlights how hard I've been rubbing my skin and makes me cry a little but actually seems to be working. I carefully pat my legs dry and head to bed, drifting off to sleep after what seems like hours of lying there with bright red, stinging legs.
In the morning, I get out of bed and fall flat on my face because the purple goop has had all night to weld my thighs together. I crawl to a closet and get a bottle of Goo Gone, which removes the new super-adhesive I've invented. My co-workers keep asking if anybody smells gasoline for the next several days.
Americans apparently spend tens of billions of dollars on the beauty industry, according to several financial analyses I read. I marvel at the ease with which my daughter, nieces and a sister-in-law plunk down money for high-end shampoos and lotions. I didn't have that luxury growing up, so I still don't do it. (I'm washing my hair with dish soap, trying to get yet another too-dark dye job to fade faster.)
The old feminist in me wonders if that money couldn't be better spent on things I find worthwhile like reading, art, flowers, fully funding preschool programs for kids or ending world hunger. Then there's "The Beauty Myth" argument that as women have attained more legal rights and broken through barriers, standards of female physical beauty have become stricter and harder to meet. "More women have more money and power and scope and legal recognition than we have ever had before; but in terms of how we feel about ourselves physically, we may actually be worse off than our unliberated grandmothers," writes author Naomi Wolf.
My 78-year-old mother used to say "It's so much about being beautiful now" whenever we'd talk about her classmates or how women's roles have changed. But neither of us was immune to the attraction of physical beauty. Years ago, she had a "glamour" photo taken. For that moment frozen in time, she was stylish and yes, beautiful, but it wasn't her in real life. Now that she's gone, I know her best qualities were deeper down.
As I age, I color my hair to cover the gray and slather wrinkle-fighting creams on my face twice a day. I keep threatening to go gray but just can't seem to do it. My reasons lie more with fleeting youth than beauty, but I guess the two go hand-in-hand. A couple months ago, my daughter told me she'd stopped wearing make-up. I looked at her and thought, "You don't look any less beautiful."
I hope she and all the little girls at the school where I work know that. Every one of them is gorgeous in their own ways. If they want to spend a lot of time trying to match standards other than their own, I hope it's because it's fun and not a requirement for self-esteem. And if they turn out to be really bad at the cutting, curling, crimping and primping, I hope they just don't care.