Last week, on a hot day, I found myself strolling up Lexington Avenue, an hour early to meet an old friend for dinner. In front of a day spa was an attractive (probably gay) Israeli man in his 30s or so, handing out free samples of moisturizer. “Thanks” I said as I examined the little packet. Who doesn’t love free samples?
He lured me in, ostensibly to give me another sample. I accepted, mainly because I could feel the cool air in there, and hanging out in a pleasant spa was better than pounding the hot pavement, killing time. He didn’t waste a moment getting into his sales shpiel about some amazing miracle cream he was hawking, which he promised would make me look 20 years younger. He started touting all its exotic ingredients as he dabbed, dabbed, dabbed some under my eyes to tighten up some of the puffiness.
I knew I wasn’t going to buy what he was selling and I didn’t want to waste his time. I asked, somewhat out of curiosity, “So how much for this stuff? A hundred bucks? Two hundred?”
He seemed somewhere between amused and offended by my low estimate. “More than that,” he said, “$575.”
I bit my tongue to keep from laughing. I can think of a lot of ways to spend $575, and fancy face cream ain’t on the list.
“Yeah, sorry. Let me stop you right there. I’m not going to spend that kind of money on face cream…”
“Why not? You spend money on shoes and clothes. Why not on your face?”
Me? Spend money on shoes and clothes? Hah! I have sweaters in my drawers with pills older than he is! When my beloved aunt passed away a few years ago, I inherited the contents of her closet. As we wore the same size on the bottom, I’ll never have to buy slacks again. I tend to wear basic black, jazzed up with wild accessories. (My costume jewelry collection rivals Iris Apfel’s.)
He continued to massage various potions into my skin. “What do you use on your face now?” he asked amiably. He wasn’t being pushy exactly, but likewise, he was’t going to let me walk out of there without hearing the whole sales pitch.
“Not much,” I said.
I’m hardly flawless — my thighs look like cottage cheese-filled condoms, and my neck wattle flaps like a collapsed bag of Jello during a hurricane. BUT I am fortunate to have genetically good skin. I’ve never been one for expensive cosmetics. I have to remind myself to moisturize. (Although I rarely go out in the sun without a wide-brimmed hat and sunscreen.)
He looked at me askance. “Really? You should take better care of your skin,” he scolded me good-naturedly.
“Look at my face. I’m 65 years old. I don’t have wrinkles or crow’s feet. I think my skin looks damned good for an old broad like me.”
With that, he whipped out his 1000x magnifying mirror, and forced me to confront wrinkles that were invisible to the naked eye.
As he pointed out the flaws and creases on my face, he pressed me to buy the potion. And as he talked, the price kept coming down until it was just $100 and included a facial.
I admit, at another time, when I was feeling more flush with cash and more vulnerable, I might have given in to his routine. It was a really great sales pitch, and I told him so. He certainly knew how to push a woman’s buttons.
But then I started to get indignant. How dare he pull me in off the street and try to make me feel insecure about my face in order to sell his products? I slowly grew resentful. Perhaps a bit angry. Not just at him, but at whole industries which survive by making women feel bad about themselves.
I just got my Medicare card. If I have any wrinkles, I earned every last one of them. I long ago stopped judging myself on my looks. I am generally well-put-together but I’m not winning any beauty contests. It doesn’t matter, though, because after many years of youthful insecurity, I finally understand that the people I care about don’t judge me that superficially. Nor do I judge them in that way. The only thing that matters at this age, (and should matter at any age) is character.
I told him that, too.
I left the spa and went to meet my friend — my high school boyfriend. Needless to say, we are both considerably older than we were when we met. If we noticed the signs of aging on each other, it didn’t matter one whit. We were just a couple of old friends, relating to each other the way we always have — catching up on family news, talking politics, teasing each other mercilessly, stealing a surreptitious toke down by the river.
Wrinkles and gray hair be damned. Screw expensive anti-aging potions! In that couple of hours, we were both sixteen again.