By Gina Barreca The Hartford Courant.
I turn 59 this week, which means, apparently, that strangers from upscale boutiques can now lunge at me, grab my face and apply cream under one eye while muttering urgently, "We might not be too late."
This actually happened.
My husband and I were walking down a pretty street in an upscale California neighborhood, enjoying the mindless ogling of shops and restaurants you permit yourself when you're on vacation. Suddenly a large, well-groomed man came out of the one of the fanciest doorways and stood in front of me, looking so intensely into my face I thought I'd either known him from a past life or somehow owed him money. I halted in my tracks.
And then it began. "You, dear madam, are the ideal candidate for our new product. You will see a difference in 10 minutes. I'll show you." I swear, I was so startled and unprepared, I stood absolutely still and allowed this man to use what appeared to be tiny shovel or plasterer's trowel to slather an unknown substance near my eyeball. "Allow me to apply this unique and treasured formula under your left eye. It will remove the bags and the shadows. It will firm and renew. It will rejuvenate and restore. Wait 10 minutes. You will see the difference."
My husband, who was about three feet away, watched the whole episode laughing. Nobody does this to him. Nobody grabs a distinguished man of 70 and announces, "I can rejuvenate you, sir!" Do you know why? Because men don't envy younger men, at least not when it comes to looks.
Men get that silverback gorilla thing going on, for which there is no female equivalent. If this salesman had approached Michael in such a passionate manner suggesting products that could reduce the appearance of fine lines around his delicate eye area, Michael would make specific suggestions about what the salesman could do with his trowel.
But me, Ms. 59-year-old feminist, not only did I stand there for the application, I spent the next 20 minutes of our walk checking on my eyes in reflective surfaces.
He put the stuff on my left eye and, look, look here, doesn't it seem less puffy? No really, look closer, there really is a difference, isn't there? Michael and I are supposed to be looking at breathtaking views of the ocean from this charming small town, but instead I'm grabbing his sleeve and asking him to gauge the difference between the youthful and firm landscape under my left eye from the presumably vastly different untreated folds, which I now imagine dripping down my face like candle wax, on the right.
After 25 years, Michael doesn't want to look into my eyes right now. Right now he wants to look at the Pacific.
"Maybe it looks different," he says, finally, because he knew I wouldn't stop. (I get like that.) Then Michael said, "But it might also look different if you put mayonnaise under your eye. Have you tried that? What about cucumber? Didn't ladies used to use cucumber? You could make a whole little salad bar, right there under your eye." Then he looked at me seriously and asked, "Why do you care about the wrinkles? I mean, do you actually care?"
It was an excellent question.
I could provide a long exegesis on why women's worth has, historically and culturally, been based on beauty and youth rather than accomplishments or talents; I can talk overtime about the unfairness of a world that punishes women for aging and experience whereas it rewards men for precisely those attributes.
And getting caught up in caring about whether my eyes look droopy was part of this deleterious routine. But let's be honest: I don't have the patience to blow-dry my hair. I have no beauty regimen. I care so little about my wrinkles that when a photographer took the author picture for my new book's back jacket, we left the lines on my face untouched.
Just like the ones on the page, the lines on my face tell a story and are eager to be read.
Why should we erase lines we've worked all our lives to create? Now please pass the mayo. ___ ABOUT THE WRITER Gina Barreca is an English professor at the University of Connecticut, a feminist scholar who has written eight books, and a columnist for the Hartford Courant