Objects of Desire

When I first designed the class “Makeup Made Easy” as an adjunct service to my regular hair and cosmetic business, I envisioned fielding the majority of calls from young married women, matchmakers who wished to refer clients, recent divorcees who wanted to spruce up their spirits and corporate management types who needed to add polish to their company profiles.  The posted syllabus for the private, semi-private and group classes promised to cut out the mystery, save money and simplify the process.  At the end of the three-hour seminar, all participants would receive a valuable gift.
I never imagined that nearly all of the inquiries would come from women who were in their 50s, 60s and 70s.  And – I kid you not – a few in their 80s!  I asked a few of my women friends why I wasn’t hearing en masse from younger gals, and the consensus was that some women feel that the “appearance package” is forced upon them and that participating in “makeup culture” means giving in to an unnatural concept of femininity.  When I shared with one friend that the under-40s were only calling for private sessions, she opined that younger women don’t want to be publicly “outed”  as “self-absorbed.”   Uh, whatever.
I vividly recall one assignment from makeup school that alerted me to the shocking practice of “objectifying” older women.  We were asked to bring in a “grandma” for the purpose of practicing respective techniques on older skin.  At least that is how I understood the assignment.  Well, all of the participating grandmas were in their middle-50s, with dyed hair and permanent eyeliner.  I was the only one who brought an 84-year-old — a lovely lady named Edith — from my building.  There were snickers all around as I moisturized her skin and took great pains to match the foundation color.  Someone callously muttered, “Just give her blue eye shadow and red lipstick; she’ll be happy.”  Did they think she was deaf as well?  I felt ashamed that Edith was viewed as a two-dimensional “thing,” an ungainly third person who had outlasted her . . . . her . . . .what?  Usefulness?  Femininity?  Viability?  Another figurative light bulb went off when I realized that, because I was thirty years older than the next oldest student in the class, it was likely that I was also not considered a serious “contender.”  For anything.
Because my husband and I were the oldest contestants (to date) in Israel’s “Amazing Race,” we were interviewed for various print and electronic outlets.  Almost all of the discussions revolved around our late-in-life meeting, subsequent romance and uniquely “young” attitudes.  Even when one blogger referred to us as “long in the tooth,” it was nestled amidst compliments about our energy.
We spent a lot of time scratching our heads and wondering if we are, indeed, unusual.  Why, for a moment or three, we almost believed the hype!  But once we got grounded we realized that the only “extraordinary” aspect to the publicity was the “take” of the young reporters and readers.  If they had bothered to trail us for a month, they would meet our friends and associates who, like us, are embracing life to its robust fullest despite arthritic knees, memory lapses, bulging waistlines and foot molds.  They’d have a hard time keeping up with our day tours, concert going, tennis games, ski trips, Scrabble Club and charity work.
Without a doubt, some readers may feel disappointed to learn that even in a country as “principled” as Israel, built on the spirit and ashes of history’s most lofty individuals, women can be shallow, catty, dismissive of others and egocentric.  What, you thought that every woman dreams of being Golda Meir???  Plastic surgery and eating disorders are national pastimes, almost as popular as falafel and archaeological explorations.  On the other hand, pride in one’s appearance and living a moral, joie de vivre infused life are not mutually exclusive.
Once the awkwardness is laid aside, the women in my classes – mostly Bubbie Grandmas – giggle like schoolgirls, gossip like teens and share stories of passion, loss and longing like the world’s most gifted novelists.  Some wear hearing aids, and others wear surgical scars and all of them, in short order, wear their hearts on their sleeves.  My classroom provides the safe haven that allows women “of a certain age” to discover that there is no shame in deeply caring about appearances.  Despite the often-unwelcome biological changes that are part and parcel of aging, no one wants to be seen as “letting herself go” or giving up.  Finally free to “know less,” they willingly ready themselves for new experiences and avenues of thought.  My “Makeup Made Easy” ladies are passionate, bawdy, wise-beyond-words and 100% women, even while enduring the contempt of  short-sighted individuals who cannot envision a day when they, too, will become invisible to a culture addicted to and obsessed with youth.

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