Beauty is Fleeting … Thank Goodness!
By Peggy Orenstein
I am sure there was a moment when a wide-lapelled, powder blue argyle jacket was chic. There must have been, because I have a picture of myself wearing one on the morning of my bat mitzvah in 1974. There I am, peering through my octagonal granny-glasses, showing off the jacket with its matching skirt and shirt, accessorized with a stainless steel bracelet (the 1970s equivalent of the LIVESTRONG wristbands) in support of some long-forgotten cause. My curly hair has been scared straight, subjected to rollers made of orange juice cans and the inferno of a hood dryer. I am smiling with lips compressed so the sunlight won’t bounce off my braces and obscure my face.
I thought I’d never look better.
There are women who long for the beauty of their youth — that slender waist, the hair tinted by Mother Nature, that dewy skin. Not me. All I have to do is flip through a photo album to know that beauty is ephemeral, not only because we change, but because what we find beautiful does as well. So many of those times when I thought I looked my best now make me wince: the night of my first formal dance (cheapo peach colored maxidress), for instance, or at college graduation (the grey pinstriped dress with its white bib was the height of sophistication — honestly!), or doing my version of Zoolander’s “Blue Steel” while posing for a photographer pal (why am I holding a cigarette? I don’t smoke).
Or take my hair (please!). Inspired by the F. Scott Fitzgerald tale, “Bernice Bobs Her Hair,” I chopped mine off soon after the Unfortunate Bat Mitzvah Photo. What followed were years of bad hair days courtesy of the “Jewfro,” the “Q-tip” and the “asymmetrical Q-tip,” each of which was cutting edge in its time.
By my mid-twenties, though, I was rather vain about my (more or less naturally) golden blonde mane, which flowed in waves and ringlets to the bottom of my shoulder blades. Men were drawn to me as if I glowed, sometimes even reaching out to touch it as I passed. My hair was my glory; I was sure that I’d never look better. Recently, I came across a video of myself from those days. I looked like Roger Daltrey — Roger Daltrey wearing a horrible, padded-shoulder jacket.
Like any sensible woman, I blamed my husband. “How could you have allowed me to walk around like that?”
“It looked good,” he said, then glanced at the TV and added, “at the time.”
Beauty comes from within; it is in the eye of the beholder; it emerges when you’re not looking, when you’re not trying. Yeah, whatever. That’s awfully cold comfort when you happen across a photo of yourself in a bikini that makes you want to stick your head in the sand. I suppose it’s inevitable. New styles have to make the old ones look absurd; otherwise what would motivate us to change? What’s more, trends are like zombies: when they rise from the dead (think leggings and tunics), they’re never quite the same. (Let’s not discuss the empire waist top I bought at Anthropologie that provoked my husband to ask when I was due).
Certainly, there are some universal truths. A leather jacket will always be your friend, as will a black t-shirt, and, in the winter, a black cashmere scarf. You can get a long run out of a well-cut suit. As for your hair? That, I’m afraid, will always break your heart.
Then again, think of it this way: You look your best right now, whenever “right now” may be. Even though you’re older. Even though you’re wider. Your clothes look just right. So does your hair. And really, who would want to go back to being the girl she was, either on the inside or the outside? So I embrace the Peggy of 2007. I celebrate the lessons she’s learned about life. I may look back and mock the green, subtly bohemian agnÃ¨s b. top I currently find so fetching, but no matter: I have this moment now to shine.
I’ve never looked better.
© Peggy Orenstein. All rights reserved.
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