March 26, 2009

Luminosity at the Beauty Counter

Yesterday I spent 40 minutes with a really charming young salesclerk with long brown hair, big eyes, an engaging smile and a pace that would never challenge a snail. After more than a half an hour of trying to find my bottle, my color, my style, sorting through the more than seven Wonderful! Different! Age-Defying! kinds and then realizing that they didn't really stock mine, I decided to push on with the rest of my errands and asked her to call me when she figured it all out.

She called last night. I said I'd see her around 2 p.m. today, after teaching.

Went back, arriving at 2:05. She was at lunch. I wait while the neighboring beauty counter lady helps two people. Then it's my turn. However she couldn't find the bottle on hold--did she put it on hold? she asked me. I shrugged my shoulders and recounted to her that I'd received a call saying it was here. After thirty minutes of waiting, looking, more shrugging, the Salesgirl waltzes in from lunch.

Can I just say it shouldn't be this hard to pick up some make-up? And why didn't I head over to another counter? Free gift time, of course. Can't miss out on those free little make-up bags with free stuff.

She shows me what she thinks, dipping her swab into the bottle and then on me. It's lighter, I say. I'll look like I'm wearing a mask. I'll have a make-up line at my chin like all those old women I see.

It's not really lighter than yours, she says, Just more luminous. We have a scale of 1-6 of luminous, she says, leaning in closer.

The thought crosses my mind as she continues to try to persuade me with her limited grasp of her product line that she sounds like my remedial English students trying to explain the use of commas in their Grammar Groups. I'm also thinking, as I look at myself in the mirror--then look at her face--that she sees me like she sees her grandmother. And maybe that's why she's so pitifully slow. She's trying to give me a break and let it all sink in to this obviously near-dead brain. Whatever. It's painful. (If I am near dead, it's because I was trying to explain commas to remedial English students, preparing for their Grammar Group presentation.)

I realize that when I look in the mirror, I see all of me--my life, my kids, my grandkids, my eyes, my face, my older self, my younger self, my possibilities, my limitations, the extra weight I should lose, the wrinkles I've acquired, the great smile, the good teeth, the pretty-good eyebrows, the love I have for my students, the fatigue of grading, the pride I feel over having walked already that morning even with a sore hip, the lingering dream about trying to mold clay over and over at a potter's wheel (never even sat at one). I see everything.

When she's stroking make-up on me at the Estee Lauder counter, she sees: old woman. Not ancient as in her abuelita who they buried last year in Guanajato, but just old, as in her mother, her grandmother. The worn-out-from-life old, the come sit here by me on the sofa you beautiful granddaughter old, as I supposedly pat the plastic covered cushion, while the salesgirl flicks back her long dark hair. Her grandmother catches it, strokes it and calls her Mija and they talk about the day and how it went for her at the beauty counter with all the different people. Oh, it's crazy, the salesgirl says. It's free gift time, and so many people!

The salesgirl puts the foam wedge down on the tissue, studies my face and shrugs her shoulders. It's not lighter, she repeats the third time. Just more luminous.


  1. I love how you see yourself when you look in the mirror. I had a similar thought today when I looked down at my hands that seem far too wrinkled for the 54 years of service they have given to me but they have worked in so many ways and I need to love them as they are. Sort of like the way Anne Lamott talks about her body. Thanks for this lovely post.

  2. This is one of the best Slices I've read all month. Truly. It has everything. Narrative, insight, humour.

    And don't let these women bother you. It's their job to play on insecurities to make people buy the products. I never let them put products on me in the store unless it's a lip gloss or something easily removeable. I ask for a sample in a bottle I can try in normal daylight. If they refuse, I walk away.


  3. Elizabeth, This is a very beautifully written piece. I don't often look carefully at myself in the mirror because sometimes I can't believe it is me.

  4. This is a beautiful piece of writing and wonderfully reflective and moving. It shows great insight into a moment of time, and what it means. This is truly what Slice of Life should be about.
    Thank you for sharing