Does beauty even matter?

A few weeks ago, against my better judgment, I wandered into a Target and decided a few outfits were worth the trouble of trying on. My first mistake was pulling them off the rack two sizes too small, something I tend to do, somehow stuck in the period of my life when I used to climb the high dive at the public pool without the least bit of self-consciousness and muster enough wherewithal to jump, however awkwardly, into the deep end, swimsuit riding up my butt and all.

The term, Bonfire of the Vanities, while well known because of the book by Tom Wolfe, originally refers to an actual bonfire set on February 7th of 1494 by religious fanatics for the sole purpose of burning objects condemned by authorities as occasions of sin. This included art, cosmetics, and books. I am a condemned soul.

The clothing I tried on at Target was two dresses and one pair of jeans. As I shoved one leg into the jeans I remember thinking about the J.Crew catalogue I had thumbed through that morning and may have had something to do with my trip to Target. Wandering mind. Jean. Pant. Catalogues always refer to pants in the singular, although the rest of the world acknowledges there are two legs to the piece of clothing and refer to them as pants. I imagined trying on clothing in one of the attractively lighted J.Crew stores and asking the helpful customer service associate to please get me a size 10 instead of an 8 pant. I’m looking for a khaki pant.

Target mirrors have been nabbed from some carnival fun-house. I’m sure of it. Spectacularly distorted, if not sadly reflecting my own body, I might laugh. I become a floating bifurcated image, splitting into some comedy of myself when I turn around, left or right, glancing and wincing as I look into one of the three (three!) mirrors.   

Unlike J.Crew, florescent lights and no customer service associate in sight to reassure me, however deceitfully, that the black pant I’m trying on has a slimming effect and looks wonderful on me, I continued to yank one leg into the jeans which on the rack didn’t look like skinny jeans and not mom jeans either, but somewhere nicely in between (who on God’s green earth thought skinny jeans should be included in the 2003 Paris runway-or-whatever fashion show?), looked in the mirror, and peeled them off. I didn’t bother with the two dresses. I left them hanging on the door, exited the dressing room, passed my red Target cart with the leatherette belt I had taken a full 20 minutes to pick out, and half ran out of the store. I may have had a few tears in my eyes but whatever.

And it’s not the size of my clothes so much as the way my white legs have shifted direction, like the way antique glass in an old home ever so slowly slops and gives into the waves of time. I remember as a young girl seeing my grandmother next to a pool in a swimsuit. She loved to swim and appeared perfectly comfortable in her time weathered body, which had folds and sags that I had never seen in an older woman before.

I don’t imagine I’ll be like her as I continue to age. Even now I decline my critical vitamin D needs and refuse every sun kissed environment that requires swimwear. Even Land’s End doesn’t cut it, as hard as they’ve tried. And I do appreciate that. Don’t get me wrong. Thank you Land’s End. Really. You tried and that’s the least you could do.

I am a vain, vain, woman.

I have found myself, and this is very hard to admit, in front of the bathroom mirror, thumbs at my temples, pulling my facial skin into a slight smoothness, to see what I might look like if Dr. _____ did a little extra something-something while I was under the knife one last time to correct thing number one and thing number two, which by the way at present have the unfortunate look of an older Pontiac with those sort of closing-flap headlights they used to make, one flap stuck half up in a sorry wink.

Art, cosmetics, books.

Not sure what they were thinking with the art and books, but the cosmetic part, no, yes, no, I know I should say yes, but no, really, no, please don’t burn the cosmetics. Never mind a possible future of being hung in front of the townspeople or burned at the stake, I’ll jump, arms out over the flames, in an attempt to keep whatever precious vial passed as a cosmetic in 1494.

There are rejuvenation spas, and mini neck lifts, and chemical peels, and God bless you Botox (and nope, if you’re wondering, but someday?).

Estrogen has been called the fountain of youth. Every day I take a cancer pill that depletes my body of estrogen. Every nook and cranny where I imagine cappuccino size dregs of the scared little hormone might be hiding. Forget Menopause, all the estrogen. All of the fountain of youth has dried up like a hard cement well and I’m, okay, kind of scared. It’s a sick thing that losing my younger looking face is my greatest fear and not the cancer returning. What is the matter with me? And it might come back. It really could. But I might be ugly. And that’s really something. What the heck?

I always wanted to be one of those super confident women who grow their hair long and grey and compost and tend their vegetable garden, go inside, and write a few poems before lunch. But, alas, I am a vain, vain, woman. In 1494 I would have been burned at the stake.

And, seriously, I have been walking with God some 30 years. I thought these things were taken care of. In college, at the tender age of 19, I changed my route and began focusing on things that really mattered like, say, eternal life and love and my father in Heaven who will one day introduce me to real beauty. However, beneath all of these lovely things was a deep murmur of insecurity that would peak up above the water like an ice burg. There was a huge mass of self-doubt underneath the sea of my young life that took the form of a bad hair day or a half-gallon of ice cream already in my stomach so it was too late to do anything about it. Everything looked pretty cool on the surface. All that estrogen and Sun In and those awesome Levis 501 jeans . . .  

But now. Smearing CVS products on my face every night doesn’t work, and outwardly—as far as talents that would make up for the aging me—I can feel like there isn’t much. I can’t sing like Nora Jones and have a proclivity to barfing strings of nonsense words whenever I find myself nervous, and on occasion cups will randomly fly out of my hands like a poltergeist. This was very cute when I was 19. It is not cute at 51.

But here we go. And this is a very true thing. God’s aware of insecure me and he’s right here and I’m his child and what child, especially to their father, is not beautiful? It’s a matter of paying attention, I think. Of not doing the idol thing. I have a foundation, if you’ll allow me, that’s not on my face and I would have said I had this wrapped up years ago, but apparently not, and as my pretty, tan body on the high dive recedes further and further into the past, I’m earnestly, and with all hope, beginning to finally, really, count on my loving God to unveil my true beauty.

It can feel like those many moments in the gospels where Jesus—almost oddly—says “I tell you the truth” over and over like he knows beforehand we’ll keep forgetting something important he told us years ago and begin again to try to obtain some kind of beauty from a Target mirror instead of from him.

2 Corinthians 3:18 says, “But we all, with unveiled face beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are transformed into the same image from glory to glory, even as from the Lord, the Spirit.”

I will one day be beautiful and it will have nothing to do with the tightness or youthfulness of my physical face and everything to do with my reflection of him, my God, my Father, my savior.

All praise to the great healer of my soul and my body. I am his bride and he will have the most beautiful bride.

So I’m glad, in the end, for my estrogen-less body and all that comes with it. It’s such a polarity that much of my beauty in Heaven depends, at least for me, on my fading physical beauty. The less attractive I become in the world, the more attractive I become in his eyes, because in cutting off my estrogen he is cutting off my idol. He is pruning me and even though I might have to wait a bit, it’s worth it because I’ll just be so freaking pretty.