January 24, 2012


One morning last week I picked up my bottle of Olay moisturizer...to brush my teeth.  Fortunately I recognized my mistake before squirting it all over my toothbrush.  I haven't always been so lucky.  I still have vivid memories of my mouthful of Cortaid.  It's surprising the similarity between a tube of travel-sized toothpaste and a tube of my favorite anti-itch cream.  Some of the problem may be absentmindedness, but deteriorating vision is a contributing factor, too.

My aging eyes have now led me to an addictive dependence on magnifying mirrors.  I  don't enjoy looking at enlarged pores and browning age spots from a larger than life perspective, but these days if I want to see the strange eyebrow hairs growing out at right angles to my forehead, or focus on the random ones running amuck on the outer edge of the brow bone I have to have magnification.  Without my magic mirror my efforts to dab on a straight line of the black cake eyeliner ( the expensive kind I bought or rather was talked into by the persuasive young cosmetic saleswoman at Nordstrom before Nora's wedding) would be even less successful.  After a series of tragic dropping accidents (witness photographic evidence to the left) I am seriously considering giving up mirrors and opting for magnifying make-up glasses with rotating lenses like the charming woman in the photo on the right.  I remember mocking the idea of these just a few years ago.  Little did I know.

Sometimes I even have difficulty with my non-magnified reflection.  I have two vivid memories, decades apart, of staring at myself in the mirror without recognition. The first time was in 1977 at Wilkes Bashford, a high end clothing store in San Francisco.  It was a store designed with lots of glass and mirrored display shelves--creating a lot of light and a lot of Maggies.  Each shelf held just one sweater or one shirt, size 0 or 2.  If you were a normal size (or an abnormal size in this store) you had to request it from sales staff who would present it with a flourish after a trip to the back room.  I wasn't much of a boutique shopper, and this place was foreign territory. To be honest I was as intrigued by the other customers as I was by the merchandise.  I was startled to look up and spy a woman who clearly wasn't Wilkes Bashford material. She stood ought for all the wrong reasons.  Very ordinary clothing with a wiry halo of badly-permed hair.  I remember thinking "that woman doesn't belong here." It took a few seconds for it to register that I was looking at myself.

It was what I imagine an out-of-body experience to be like.  I had never seen myself with such complete objectivity, and I didn't like what I saw.  It didn't happen again until a few weeks ago.  No trendy boutique setting this time, but I was having another retail experience.  That's probably not a coincidence as shopping is when I spend the most time critically evaluating my reflective self.  I had gone for a long walk that morning, and after being seduced by the  springtime online offerings at the Lands End website I decided to go shopping.  An outing to Sears doesn't demand too much wardrobe prep, but I did  change into a clean t-shirt before I headed out.  Armed with a pile of pants and t-shirts I went into the dressing room.  As always I reached for the t-shirts first.  I had just pulled my head through the bateau neck of a navy and white striped knit when the stranger arrived.

She looked out at me from the large mirror screwed onto the wall with plastic clips. Her hair was creased in the outline of  a baseball cap, and her pale lips matched the washed out tone of her skin. Deep purple circles ringing the lower lashes of her brown eyes provided the only color on her face. She looked confused and unfocused with her head tilted to the side.  The shock of recognition didn't occur until my hand involuntarily reached up to touch her hair.   Unbelieving, I learned closer, squinting to see more clearly as the wrinkles at the corner of my eyes appeared on her face.  There was definitely something wrong with her. Maybe it was the fluorescent lighting.  Maybe it was the inferior quality of the mirror. Yes. Definitely the mirror's fault.

Not this one, but the one at home.  The one I failed to look in before leaving the house.  Mirror, mirror on the wall. Why didn't you remind me to apply a little mascara, a little swipe of blush and lip gloss--anything to add some life to the face starring back at me?  This time I didn't need a magnifying mirror to see the problem.  Magnification probably would have killed me.

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