Today I realized that I haven’t bothered with my appearance since the pandemic began. Not that I think that vanity is a virtue, nor have I ever been someone who checks my lipstick at lunchtime during the workday, but I have had a healthy baseline of care and pride when I’ve been well.
I’m aware that slacking in terms of grooming and hygiene are markers for depression. I once was shocked to get copies of a year’s-worth of my psychiatrist’s notes to see that he recorded little more than whether I’d combed my hair. I remember thinking it was the 90s. Did we comb our hair that decade? I forget.
Friday morning I showered, did an easy yoga flow, meditated, wrote for an hour, drank a kale smoothie – then ran out the door to work. No bra. I am not sure I’ve left a house without a bra since I was 10. I’ve been thinking about what this might mean – so many possibilities after all: dementia, stress, depression, laziness, age.
Bras have always felt like a kind of armor really. It wasn’t that I should wear them to be modest, but rather to be safe. An extra layer of psychological protection from the world. So maybe my thoughtlessly leaving the house without that kind of protection is not such a bad thing. And maybe it does have to do with age – and still not such a bad thing.
At lunch I went to the bathroom. No lipstick. Not that unusual. But I had bits of kale in my teeth. So, yeah, maybe there is more to this just being a newfound sense of the safety invisibility provides. Maybe I am sliding into a depression.
Many years ago I read an article in National Geographic about how women in care homes who had their hair done every week lived longer. No one knows for certain why. It could be just a matter of the physical contact with another human. But they also thought that it has been an aspect of human nature from the beginning: the impulse to adorn ourselves. And that bothering to adorn ourselves was a sign of health, both individual and communal.
When I was small we would go to church on Sundays and Wednesdays. Our church had a vaulted ceiling and I thought it was so high to make room for the Holy Spirit to look down on us. On Sunday mornings, I’d sometimes watch my grandmother get dressed. She’d stand in her pointy bra and silk half-slip. She had a small, round mirror on a wire arm that wrapped around her neck so she could see the back of her head in the big mirror while she used both hands to slide the bobby pins into the waves in her hair. She’d put on lipstick – only on Sundays. Then nylons, and a polyester dress that belted at her trim waist. I am guessing she was probably the age I am now.
I don’t remember what I wore. But I know we dressed up for the Holy Spirit.
When I was a bit older, the youth groups in the church became more visible among the general congregation and they would sometimes wear jeans to church. Neither of my grandparents approved. If you’re not going to bother to get dressed up for God, who will you bother for?
Vanity is complicated: finding that fine line between caring too much and not caring enough. My grandmother would criticize her daughters for being overweight (ie lazy and undisciplined). But she would also criticized the women her own age who would wear blue eye-shadow and kohl: who do they think they are?
I once had a boyfriend tell me he was ashamed of me because I didn’t iron my blouse. I once had an aunt tell me not to worry about a run in my pantyhose because if people were looking that closely at me “they deserve to find something wrong to gossip about”. (I now count the latter as true words of wisdom, but at the time thought: well, that’s fine for you to think – you’re old.)
I have overdressed and I have under-dressed when attending social functions. A hemline just too short to be”appropriate” sexy, just too long to be trendy. Social anxiety isn’t high on my list of mental health challenges, but this can still be a numbing experience.
I have simply never properly deciphered these fashion codes. Or even cared to for stretches of time.
It is always easier to stay home than it is to choose the clothes by which you want to be judged.
“Is this too much cleavage?” “Do I look like I’m trying to be 18?” “Do I look like I’m trying too hard?”
Once a colleague glanced down at my harem pants and said, “Oh, you’re one of those people who likes spiritual things”. What is the proper response to that? Another day, another colleague said, “My, those are a lot of pearls today.”
Apparently on Friday I was one of those people who has completely given up.
It is easier to stay home.
And if I didn’t have bills to pay, I would… which maybe means I should make an appointment to get my hair done? Maybe try again to schedule an hour with my therapist?