So I was heading to the gym, in black yoga pants and a big shapeless T-shirt given me for donating blood, with the straggly bits of my past-due haircut scraped back in a two-inch semblance of a pony tail and the bits that were still too short sticking out crazily, no makeup, and wearing my son’s cast-off athletic shoes.
I had to stop for gas, though I thought seriously about waiting until I was decently dressed. I zoomed in to pay for the fuel, and of course ran into someone I knew. Blessing, to be precise.
“Sorry,” I said, “I’m on my way to the gym, and was hoping I wouldn’t run into anyone I knew.”
I thought about it while climbing imaginary hills on the treadmill. If it is wrong to subject Blessing to myself looking like a derelict, why is it right to do the same to the strangers at the gym? Or alternatively, if I can comfortably go to the gym looking like a derelict, does it really matter if I see someone I know?
I had just read Leonidas’s suggestion that makeup is like armor. I think it is — for women in my age and circumstances — like the galactic hitchhiker’s towel.
In case you haven’t read Douglas Adams’s Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, it is recommended that a person hitchhiking through space should always keep a towel handy. Not only is it useful, it also causes others to assume that someone who has a towel must also have soap, a facecloth, and all other needed accoutrements, and must therefore be on top of things. The others will then respond with friendliness and helpfulness, not fear.
“In my circumstances” is important, because I assume that the expectations for women who work as roustabouts or spend their free time organizing spontaneous grrl power performance art are different. For a woman like me, having an intentional-looking hairstyle, tidy clothes, and makeup is the default option. It means that I took the trouble to get dressed and am on top of things.
Not wearing makeup is a statement. The statement can be anything from “I won’t buy into patriarchal strictures on women” to “I’m too depressed to bother.” Woodall and Constantine suggest that we often think we are saying one thing and are really saying another. We think we are saying “I like a natural look” and really we’re saying “I’m afraid you won’t take me seriously if I dress well.” We think we are saying “My children come first” and really we are saying “I feel invisible.” We think we are saying “I just like to be comfortable” and really we are saying “I’m not comfortable with my body.”
Back in my hose-and-heels days, I attended a seminar on personal power where they told us that women in our positions should have “polished” makeup. If we wore it some days and not others, they said, we were saying “I am on top of things…. sometimes.” It made us seem less trustworthy.
That’s where I am. Some days I bother to get properly dressed like a grownup and some days I don’t. I may know that on the days when I don’t it is because I have been too engaged with Art or Study and ran out of time, but the people I meet don’t know that I wasn’t too engaged with soap operas and online poker, do they?
Our song for today has some image problems. It is a Victorian hymn by John Goss, “See, Amid the Winter Snow.” The Victorians never seemed to catch on that Bethlehem wouldn’t have been all that snowy, even if Jesus had been born in midwinter. And there is the line right near the beginning of the hymn, “See, the tender Lamb appears” which reminds British singers of lunch. The last verse asks the Virgin Mary to pray for us, which kicks it out of Protestant churches. It also extols humility and meekness in true Victorian fashion, a choice which isn’t popular in America today.
So it probably isn’t in your hymnal. But that is a mistake, because the tune has everything. The verse is simple and lovely, just the thing to showcase a pure, sweet treble solo voice. Then the refrain has repetitions of “Hail!” in mighty trumpet-like voices followed by a grand and stately bit. The whole thing finishes up with a sustained high note which you can do triple fortissimo for a big finish.
If you go caroling, consider doing this song. The people you visit will be rushing around looking for good cookies and hot cider for you. No matter how you are dressed.
Here are the completed moccasins I was telling you about.
And here, some completed omiyage.