Mirror, Mirror

I recently saw a photo from the 1950s of women engaged in grocery shopping, in which most of the women had curlers in their hair, held in place by a kerchief wrapping their head. We would innocently grimace at this sight now and for the last several decades, critically judging the decision to appear in public with less than perfect preparedness. But I can’t help admiring the choice, the backbone that states “I don’t care what you think, I’m preparing for later”. When my hair isn’t up to standards, which is most days, I pull a ball cap on when I go out into the world. This might be less admirable than 1950s women in their curlers, with not even a hint that I might give my hair some attention later. I saw a meme recently that spoke to me, from which I had a good laugh, and it went something like this: “I don’t have a hairstyle. I have hair. Most days it has zero caterpillars in it. That’s as good as it gets.”

Women are subjected to incredible amounts of advertising on any given day as to our appearance, and the magic potions to turn back time to look reasonably presentable, as if to say we haven’t earned the right to proudly wear our wrinkles and slight limps. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a fan of thinning hair or weakening muscles or failing eyesight, but … it got me thinking.

Whenever I engage in the wonderful pastime of remembering, calling on moments spent with family and friends now separated by geography and time, not once does that memory include appearance. The only details worthy of holding on to are the sound of a laugh, the tilt to the head, the style of handwriting, the stories, the skill at baseball or guitar playing or a long list of talents, but how my memory-worthy pals were dressed, hairstyle, and the like all have faded out of sight.

One Christmas my sister and I received a hairdryer. It was a Lady Sunbeam, with a turquoise blue plastic cap to fit over our head, with a hose from the motor, complete with an air outlet to dry our fingernail polish. We didn’t wear nail polish. In fact, I believe my fingernails have only been graced with polish about six times in my life. Using that kind of hairdryer required one to sit still, never my strong suit. The first hairdryer was invented in 1888 by French stylist Alexandre Godefroy for use in his salon, with a bonnet that attached to the chimney pipe of a gas stove, which doesn’t sound particularly safe. Handheld hairdryers appeared around 1920, many of which led to overheating and electrocution in the pursuit of the perfect coiffure. The bonnet dryer appeared on the market in 1951. By 2000, death by blow-dryers dropped to four per year as compared to hundreds in the mid 1900s. I find that statistic disturbing. Were we really that desperate to have dry hair?

Psychology Today told us that eight in ten women are dissatisfied with their appearance. That seems a startling and sad fact. Our appearance does influence how others respond to us, but dedicating time and energy to what we look like can also overshadow the awareness of how we feel inside, says the article. The author, Tara Well, PhD, recommended “mirror meditation”, a concept that sounds horrifying to me and overly self-obsessed, but who am I to argue with an expert.

I recall during Covid how Dr. Teresa Tam, Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer, was front and centre. Her considerable intelligence and experience and academic achievements were sometimes overshadowed by her appearance in some comments using unkind words. Even one such comment is too many. My outrage was in a fury at such a despicable perspective, one that no man would have experienced.

I wish a mirror could reflect our character, our sense of kindness and empathy, revealing if those qualities are in good balance as opposed to the whiteness and straightness of our teeth, or the shape of our nose or if we have a receding hairline. That’s all just packaging. The beauty from within may be a worn-out cliché, but it always outshines the exterior. Of that I am certain.

wendistewart@live.ca