The Look Good Syndrome from my newsletter, WWTTM. 1996

As we walked into Wal-Mart, I told my husband, “I’ll meet you up front when I’m through picking up what I need.”

He said, “Ya. Right.”

He always claims that he has to search the entire store five times before he can find me.

He thought today would be no different. Well, since it was Father’s Day, I decided to be considerate. I ran up and down the aisles (if you can run in Wal-Mart, the aisles are so narrow and the people so plentiful) throwing stuff into my little basket. I rushed up front to meet him. He wasn’t there yet! I smiled to myself, because I never did believe he spent that much time searching for me.

So, there I stood for ten minutes or so, watching people rush by. I had never paused for that long in Wal-Mart before. (Except at the register, where my eyes stay busy sorting coupons that I usually forget to give to the cashier.)

This was my first time watching everyone else hurry past. Did you ever notice the way that women glare at each other? I did.

We size up the competition ruthlessly. I noticed a young girl, maybe eighteen, in an adorable little dress, with sunflowers splashed all over it. I had tried on that same dress two weeks ago and had looked six months pregnant in it. My eyes narrowed as I watched her. She looked as if she weighed less than 100 pounds and I really didn’t like her, although we’d never met. I’m looking at this slip of a girl with envy in my eyes; then I turn around and see a very heavy, older woman looking at me in my size twelve sun dress, giving me the same murderous look that I’m giving Ms. Sunflower in her size five.

Every day we each see women who look better than we do and it makes most of us feel yucky. However, as I saw the look in the heavy woman’s eyes, I felt ashamed of myself for fretting about the Sunflower girl. I’ve always hated being average, but today I realized that’s not such a bad place to live.
There will always be women who are younger or prettier than I am; however, there will always be women who are older or less attractive. Turning forty was difficult and I know I’m not alone with this age thing. Thirty, I took in stride reckless with the confidence that forty was as far as I’d go and it was a becoming time for women.

Mature, confident and still wearing a size twelve, forty caught up to me all too soon.

What helped me the year I turned forty? Being asked for my ID when I bought cigarettes. It happened three times! What a time to be without a video camera.
True, the cashiers were young and inexperienced at judging people’s age, but what a rush it gave me. I even refused to hand over the proof of my age one time, just to hear the girl insist on seeing my ID. I began to buy cigarettes compulsively–even when I didn’t even need them. Sadly, it’s been over a year now since the last cashier demanded my ID.

I try not to care about things that are so shallow, but the truth is that the world judges us on our looks. At every turn, women are urged to be young, sexy, fresh, innocent, experienced, beautiful, unwrinkled, firm, thin and ageless. We need gorgeous hair that shouts–fiery red, tawny blonde, spectacular brunette! Wash that gray right out of your hair!

It doesn’t help that there’s a slew of fabulous models in their late thirties to early fifties proving that women can stay young forever. Nancy Sinatra at age fifty graced Playboy’s pages in a way that I couldn’t have done at twenty. Farrah Fawcett, late forties, same thing. They do have the advantage of soft lights, special camera lenses, sometimes even using body doubles, always using full body make-up and being filmed by famous photographers. Don’t forget their expensive appointments with a beautician.
A beautician is also available at the film shoot, to create a hair-do that takes hours to style and looks naturally gorgeous and she layers on the make-up that the cameras don’t acknowledge.

We have the reality of dirty dishes, full hampers the day after we washed and dried two loads, Dollar Store cosmetics, J.C. Penney hairstyles plus the two to three jobs we run to in between the vacuuming and the cooking.

I don’t know one woman who doesn’t have to work either to help pay the bills or to support herself and her children. Most of my friends work more than one job, sixty hours or more a week. Some are still trying to get that college degree they’ve been chasing for ten years. They go home after work, spend a few hours cleaning and then create hot meals to place on the table.

By any definition, I’m pampered. My youngest child is seventeen, I only work twelve hours a week and my mate will do dishes and a small amount of laundry. If I’m tired or busy, he’ll go buy take-out for supper and he’ll do the food shopping. He’ll even use coupons! He makes me coffee in the morning and he brings it to me in bed. I make as much money in twelve hours, as most women make in thirty, if they’re working for minimum wage. No, I’m not a hooker, but occasionally my job seems comparable. I’m a waitress.

I sell my smile, not my body, to an average of thirty or forty people, two nights a week. I lift food trays that weigh more than I do, balancing them on my left shoulder, while carrying a tray stand in my right hand. I am told off, looked down on and insulted. Then, I have to answer with a smile and an apology.

I also am paid well, meet some pleasant people, have regular customers that have become dear friends and on a good night, I love my job. On a bad night I say, “I’m getting to old for this!” and I mean it.

At work, I always need to smell good and look great, even as the sweat pours down under my stiff white tuxedo shirt, because stylish women make more tips than less attractive women do. Since most tips are decided by the wife or the girlfriend that proves my case, we ourselves reinforce the “look good” syndrome.

Still, the older I become, the less I worry about how I look and the years have offered rewards of their own. I feel better about myself now than at any other time in my life and I’m not afraid to be myself. I wear make-up if I want and leave it off if I don’t. Lipstick and Suave moisturizing cream are the only two cosmetics that I use most days. I choose perfume that I enjoy inhaling and clothes that declare–this is me! My biggest concern is, “Will I run out of printer ink in the middle of a newsletter?”

I write my stories instead of vacuuming under the furniture and I recognize that the only day I need to be concerned about is TODAY. I treat each day as if it was a gift and I use each hour as if it were my last.

I sit down on the floor and make buildings out of Legos with my grandsons. We finger paint with sponges that are shaped like animals and stars and hearts. I hang my pictures on the wall along with theirs. I play dolls and silly games with my granddaughter. I buy myself dolls and set them out around the house, because I still feel the thrill of Christmas mornings past when I wake up to see them smiling, beckoning to me–come play. (Sometimes, I do.)
I pick flowers from my own garden and arrange them in small antique vases, so I can enjoy their translucent petals and fragrant aroma. I stop to breathe in their scent and I enjoy the miracle of their creation.

Last month, my youngest daughter told me that my life was over. She said it didn’t matter what I did from this point on because I had screwed up so many of my choices and I was done. (Gee, I hope she doesn’t get to write my epitaph!) I smiled inside, because I recognized the arrogance of her youth.

Thankfully, I took her words for what they were–her opinion. I quite generously refrained from pointing out the mistakes that she has already accumulated in twenty-one short years.

Children have a hard time seeing us aside from the role of mother. I’m her mother, but I’m also a person, a woman, a writer, a poet and my life will not be over until the day I die. My life begins anew each morning and I’ve just begun to do the things I’ve always wanted to do. Not one of us can change the past or erase our mistakes.

We can forgive ourselves and get on with living.

We can decorate the present and invite the future to take us for a joyride…

Until next time, Jeanne Marie
1996

12 thoughts on “The Look Good Syndrome from my newsletter, WWTTM. 1996”

  1. I think that our society has helped to play into that competitive nature between women. It goes way back in time to when women had to have a man to look after them financially. And if you weren’t competitive and got the good catch, you were going to have a much harder life. I think that has been really hard for women not to see other women as their competition. Someone they have to compare themselves too. Even today with women being self-reliant there is still that need to feel better than the other person. I think we are learning to let that go but it’s still pretty prevalent. Sadly. When we learn that none of us are perfect, we each have our own baggage and love who we are anyway, we will accept each other more. Great article. Thank you for sharing.

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  2. Yes! Yes! Yes! I agree with you in every line. For the kids, we are mothers ONLY. There is so much more… and you are right… I hate to break their bubble and let them have their rash moments, even smile at their self-absorbed confidence and youthful snubs to the world at large.

    And how differently I spell ‘accomplishment’ now… yup! it’s a great time to be alive when TODAY is more valuable than the earrings I saw in the store window.

    Another great post! 🙂

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  3. “I use each hour as if it were my last.” I tried that once, because people kept recommending it as a good thing. I spent a whole hour screaming, “Oh my god! I’ve only got one hour to live.”

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