Thoughts While Walking the Dog
Memories of a Jewish Childhood
By Lynn Ruth Miller

April 18, 2011 Issue: 12.04  
Beautiful Moments
this is column

A thing of beauty is a joy forever

When I was young, a person’s sex determined his expectations and his options in life. Nowadays, women and men have interchangeable roles, wear androgynous costumes and can achieve similar success in any field. There are times of course when it feels great to be feminine and important to be a "man", but these roles have become choices to fit a particular occasion and I think this is a very good thing.

When I was young, the differences between men and women were absolutes. I was programmed to believe that glamour was basic to a woman’s success in life. If her entrance did not turn heads and her body was not proportioned, she was doomed to a ghastly fate: a life alone. Men did not have to worry about how they looked. They were commanded to be strong, powerful and in charge no matter how inadequate they felt inside. “Big Boys Don’t Cry” was not a slogan. It was the only acceptable way of life.

Sometimes, I suppose there is a certain amount of magic that stereotypes can add to our lives, but that charm has always eluded me. I am not a knock out, I am a clutz.

I am seldom willing to invest the time required in my grooming that I give to my mind. I don’t like wasting time on hopeless projects and it is obvious that my visage is not my strong point; my brain is. It has always been more rewarding to me when I charge up my mind instead of getting depressed looking in a mirror. When I graduated with honors from my several colleges, my father patted me on the head and said, “My Lynn Ruth may not be a beauty, but she sure is intelligent.”

As I sailed from one career to another, I felt very liberated and independent in my slacks, sweaters, scrubbed face and no fuss attitude. Every now and then, I consulted a beauty magazine or entered a beauty salon when I had a date with a man I could bear entertaining for an evening, but even these departures from my usual feminist attitude were both rare, and unsuccessful. Men never called me back and my generation NEVER called them. My mother saw no hope for her own dreams of becoming a grandma or even the mother of a bride. “A man can be one shade uglier than the devil, but a woman must be beautiful and that, Lynn Ruth . . takes work.” she reminded me every time she saw me in my filthy jeans, dank hair and orthopaedic oxfords. “The way you look would not even turn on a radio.”

I ignored her. After all, what did she know about living in our modern, liberated world? Her entire life revolved around a stove, a vacuum cleaner and the beauty shop.

And then it happened. One Valentine’s Day, an intellectually interesting egghead asked me to marry him and pouf! I became the very stereotype I ridiculed. I simpered. I preened, I dedicated myself to all things feminine and I actually pulled it all off. I appeared professionally coifed in bouffant skirts, three inch heels and glimmering jewels for my engagement parties and prepared my body and my all too weathered face for The Big Moment: my wedding day. For the six months I was engaged, I forgot about being clever. I curtailed my acid repartee and suppressed my churning mind. I spent more money on my appearance than I had ever invested in books and thousands of hours in front of a mirror feeling inadequate. The reconstruction was the biggest challenge I ever faced and I am told I conquered it..

It took weeks of planning and even more weeks of uncomfortable, time consuming devotion to create this illusion. I faced the disheartening task of accomplishing a lifetime worth of skin care, body moulding and attitude in just a few months.

“Your skin! groaned the beautician. “It’s like shoe leather.”

“Your knees!” exclaimed my mother. “Keep them together!”

“Your hair!” they all chorused. “What color IS it?”

And that was just the beginning. I had to exercise to get my middle into the size 6 that fit my chest, my feet adjusted to walking on my toes in high heels, and change my skin color from washed sheet to peaches and cream. During this time the only books I read were etiquette books, diet charts, wedding rules and beauty manuals. I knew what perfume to wear when, what nightgowns inspired men to remove them, how to color my lashes so they showed when I batted them and how to keep my lipstick in place when I was crushed to my paramour’s manly chest.

Meanwhile, my prospective groom was playing golf, smoking cigars with the boys and telling nasty jokes in the back room. It was disheartening at best, but after all, that was the way the whole thing was done. Wasn’t it?

When the Big Day arrived, I dressed for four hours with my mother and my bridesmaids hovering around me like the experienced coaches they were. I wore an elaborate, satin dress with an immense train that trailed behind me. My hair had been sprayed to the consistency of cotton candy even a cyclone could not disturb. My face was covered with creams, subtle colors and concealers to create the illusion of natural beauty and even my underwear was fit for royalty.

My father met me at the entrance to the temple and together we walked down the aisle to meet the man I would marry. Heads turned, I heard gasps of admiration and all the elderly women wept into their lace handkerchiefs. I was a vision.

My husband to be smiled at me, and I could see the amazement in his eyes. He took me in his arms after I had actually committed myself to honor and obey him and whispered, “I have never seen you look so beautiful.”

I am ashamed to admit that I was thrilled.

Within weeks, I came to terms with the grim reality of filthy toilets, shaving cream in the sink and piles of dishes insisting I address them before the rats did. I realized that I could not orchestrate my appearance, when the guy was standing right there pushing me aside to adjust his tie. I stopped being glamorous and resumed being me. The marriage managed to struggle through a couple of agonized years of disillusionment and now I am once more immersed in a slovenly gallop through life. I am no longer into skirts. I am dedicated to comfort. I put nothing on my face but soap. Indeed, I am the real me and I am happy.

Everyone knows it is not a person’s face that makes him lovely; it is his spirit. All human beings are exquisite when they open their hearts to one another. And yet . . . and yet . . . When life deals a body blow to my ego and my glorious dreams shatter, it is always nice to close my eyes and remember that magic day when I was the moment and it was beautiful.

The richness of life lies in memories . . .

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