I glance at the reflection in the mirror and frown. Hair escaping its ponytail—and not in the good way like it does in the movies—smeared eyeliner under the eyes from my earlier make up and a sweaty smudge of dirt across my cheek. The woman in the mirror looking back at me looks old and tired.
The world has its natural beauties—those fortunate women who can get by with a touch of mascara and lip gloss. And then there are women like me, a pretty outfit and an hour with some make up and styling tools and we can really glam it up when the occasion calls for it.
When it’s early in the morning and I’m going for a run or the gym, I’m lucky to even have on matching shoes if I don’t set them out the night before. Of course it’s not until I get there (and of course the gym is full of wall to wall mirrors) that I see the extent of my messy appearance. It’s not that I’m vain—it’s just a little disappointing when I realize I really do look my age and can’t pull off the I-didn’t-even-try-but-look-at-me look.
I’ll blame the movies and television for these high expectations of looking good no matter what the circumstances. Remember Helen Hunt in the movie Twister? They were in pounding rain storms and high winds—a tornado even—and she still had a clean white tank top on with her hair only mildly tousled. Or in television shows when someone wakes up in the morning and they still have flawless skin, bright, lash-fringed eyes and only a stray hair out of place for effect. No eye boogers or drool tracks at all unless they are supposed to be rousing from an all-night drinking session. Ah, the willing suspension of disbelief we give to Hollywood! Do you imagine the farmer’s daughter milking a cow at 4 in the morning completed her chores with her hair neatly braided? Me neither.
I contemplate the notion of my aging appearance as I finish up the row I am digging out in the garden. And later while I’m scrubbing the floor of the bathtub. I’ve spent a lot of money these past few years on magic potions and creams to hide the sun damage spots on my cheeks and to prevent wrinkles. But as much as I love getting dressed up and playing with make up, once I’ve gotten my hair and make up done and put on something nice, looking at me is about all I’m good for.
The truth is, life is better when I’m dirty. When I haven’t taken the time to do hair and make up and put on halfway decent looking clothes, I don’t mind breaking a sweat or getting up to my elbows scrubbing toilet bowls. Because when I’m streaked with dirt and grime, I’m not trying to please anyone. Although it may involve cleaning or another chore I don’t particularly enjoy doing, the end result makes me happy—a well-kept yard, a clean house or a stronger body. When I do put on that dress and spend an hour primping in the mirror, that person is a happy one from the inside out.
Standing back to admire my work, I catch a glimpse at the reflection in the window I’ve just cleaned. Sweat prominently streaks through the foundation I put on for work earlier and my shirt is covered in grime and dirt. I take one more swipe at a missed smudge on the glass and smile.