My scalp is burning. Doused in cosmetic chemicals, I’m grinding my teeth through the sting hastily awaiting the “ding” of a timer. Once I can rinse this horrid stink away I can view the new shade that will frame my face this time around. All the while, I catch myself wondering what the hell I’m doing this for. It most certainly isn’t for me. Not this time. Though I tend to change my hair color like a mood ring, once the novelty has worn off I revert back to the same blonde tone that has fallen on my shoulders since the seventh grade. As I’ve grown older my roots have grown darker, a perfect match for the creases that have found their new home on my forehead. Each wrinkle comes with its own special tale of triumph in the face of adversity. This week I noticed some gray roots and a new frown line, but the tale they tell is not one of victory or strength. This particular beauty treatment can be attributed to one small man, a handful of words, and a flawed society.
My project was dangerously close to its deadline yesterday, and I needed two thousand copies in twenty four hours from a workplace acquaintance with whom I’ve only ever encountered via email or phone. The inter-office mail would never get my documents to the xerox center on time, so I decided to bring it to him myself. His predisposition toward abrupt statements and his snarky attitude had successfully kept me at a safe distance for some time now. Trusting my relentless optimism, I was sure he just lacked the type of effective communication skills that separate the leaders from the laborers, and that my dazzling people skills would serve me well in my time of need.
I hopped in my car, almost excited to finally have a face to associate with that irritable voice. I entered the building and breathed a sigh of relief when my fingers confirmed that I had donned the identification badge I so frequently forget on my kitchen table. My swanky pantsuit and high heels were far from their corner office, and the clack of my footsteps on the elevated wood floor reverberated off the walls of the shabby structure. I quickly found my way to the copy room and entered, relieved that I would definitely be able to meet my deadline.
Amidst a hoard of blank paper, xerox machines, and a wasteland of disorganization was a small man leaning back in his chair lackadaisically, feet resting on a cluttered desk. He whipped his head in my direction, revealing a snarling upper lip and less than welcoming expression.
“Can I help you?”
“Hi, I’m Erin.”
“Really? You don’t look anything like your picture.”
“The picture on your Google email. When is that even from?”
My stomach sank like a rock, and I found myself in a rare state of speechlessness. Instead of feeding him a fistful of feminism and fury, the room grew large around me. Had I sipped from a bottle marked “Drink Me?”
His rant continued with a series of inquiries about my use of photo filters, and a snide accusation of falsely advertising my appearance. I am a lady, and proper ladies accept demoralization in stride. We’re conditioned to do so from the first time a boy pulls our hair because he “likes” us.
“That picture was from last summer. I got fat at my desk job, and I’m not wearing any makeup today.” I handed him the necessary paperwork, turned on my heel, stuck my nose in the air, and feigned confidence in my stride as I marched out of the room. Once in my car I immediately flipped down the visor, inspected the uncovered crows feet in my reflection, and applied eyeliner and mascara to mend the wound. I couldn’t go around with clean skin or naturally blonde eyelashes deceiving any more coworkers.
I chose to justify my appearance rather than reprimand him for his grossly inappropriate comments. I’m outraged by his belligerence, but even more appalled by my own reflex to accept that degradation, and feeling the need to rationalize my lack of maquillage to a man who clicks “print” for a living.
I have to wonder how many men are accused of falsely advertising their appearance when they use a filter on a flattering photo that doesn’t showcase their midsection. Men don’t have to paint their face into something aesthetically pleasing to the female eye. I know that I have every right to walk through life with a bare face and a few extra pounds, and yet here I am letting this awful little man bring my insecurities to the surface like a thirteen-year-old girl with her first pimple.
I wore a dress to work today. My inner thighs are raw, but I deal with it. It’s my job as a woman to cope with the pain in exchange for a pleasant appearance. Groupon doesn’t currently have any reasonable deals on Botox. The thought of a needle in my face horrifies me, but I still checked. My older features can’t shine bright enough to match my platinum favorite anymore, so tonight my scalp is burning as I return to my roots.
Right now. No makeup. No filter.