I was never a great beauty. In middle school when we called a boy up and asked him his “Order,” a ranking of the three prettiest girls in the grade, my name never came up. Michelle and Pamela consistently held the number one and two spots. The number three spot was not as predictable, except for the fact that it was never mine.
But thanks to my parents’ genetics, I was pretty enough. Pretty enough in high school to have a few boyfriends, make cheerleader (okay third alternate), and attract what I call “the linger.” The linger: those few seconds when you catch someone looking at you. We’ve all had it at one time or another, from men and women alike. It is not a gawk, reserved for the truly beautiful. It is a pause; as if my features provide a comfortable place to rest ones’ eyes for a moment. I not only receive the linger, I offer it and sometimes accompany it with a smile.
Lately, I’ve lost the linger. It seemed to happen suddenly, around the time I turned 50 years old, or at least I didn’t notice not getting noticed until then. I knew it would happen; my Aunt Millie warned me.
“When you get to a certain age, you become invisible,” she said with resignation.
It was like a funny line I once heard Spalding Gray, the great memoirist say: “Everyone knows they’re going to die — they just don’t believe it.”
Well, I wasn’t going to give up the fight. I went to the upscale drugstore next to my apartment building. Only on the upper-east side of Manhattan can you find a drugstore that sells deodorant and fur coats. The cosmetician behind the makeup counter — wearing more black eyeliner than a raccoon — insisted that I buy a $200 night cream made with dark chocolate and lemon fruit.
“It’ll shave five years off your face honey,” she assured me, her swollen lips parting like the Red Sea. She insisted on calling me “honey” despite appearing close to my age.
I bought the cream figuring if it didn’t work I could always eat it. “Lips” also convinced me to buy a $150 eyelash lengthening gel that I could apply with a wand at night.
My bedtime routine moved from just under six minutes to an hour. It got to the point where I had to excuse myself from the dinner table just to start my nighttime regimen, which now included the following activities: waxing, scrubbing, peeling, hydrating, moisturizing, toning, whitening, and flossing. The lash lengthening gel irritated my eyes so much that I had to feel my way out of the bathroom to the bed, where my husband was fast asleep. When I offered him a goodnight kiss, he slipped off my Vitamin E’d lips across my well moisturized face back onto his pillow.
“Yuck,” he said, wiped his lips and rolled over.
I went back to yoga. In my 30s and 40s I practiced yoga regularly and rigorously, but lately my practice was reduced to beginner and restorative. However, I was on a new mission to hold onto the linger, so I put myself back in the most challenging classes that my local Equinox gym had to offer. I was hoping that a few headstands would return my youthful glow and the deep breathing and relaxation would calm my anxieties. Hard as I tried to keep my focus inward, my eyes wandered to the double-jointed, 20-something girl next to me with the perfect down dog. It wasn’t until I noticed her black lacy thong peeking out onto her bony sacrum that I started to hate her. Yanking my stretch pants higher to flatten out my protruding gut, I bent forward, and forced my head down toward the floor. I fought the urge to push Miss Gumby over in her headstand or accidently drop a prop block on her moola bandha (Sanskrit for pelvic area). I left class feeling sorry for my linger-less, limber-less self.
On the way home, I passed a bent little old man creeping along with a walker. When he stopped to rest he looked up into the sun, and I noticed his pale blue eyes as they started to water. I was reminded of the lyrics to a John Prine song:
“So if you're walking down the street sometime and you should spot some hollow ancient eyes, don't you pass them by and stare as if you didn't care. Say, ‘Hello in there. Hello.’"
I smiled and gave the man a linger. I could tell he hadn’t had one in a while; he smiled back. I continued home without a single linger from passersby. It turns out that sometimes you don’t need a linger to feel pretty.