I'm not sure where this post came from as it isn't usually my style to be so frankly self-absorbed. However, it is good to take a look at oneself from time to time and do an inventory, as it were. I had an encounter this weekend which prompted a bit of soul-searching, while at the same time I'm reading Alice Kaplan's amazing biography Dreaming In French: the Paris Years of Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy, Susan Sontag, and Angela Davis. I've just finished the first part on Jacqueline Bouvier, and I was captivated by the exerpts of her writing submission for Vogue Magazine's Prix de Paris competition. One of the assignments was a "Self Portrait", which is always an important exercise in the visual arts, but not as frequently considered in writing. Like a visual self portrait, the assignment should be honest and forthright, not couching anything or being coy. Young Miss Bouvier's submission was appropriately frank and surprising, which prompted me take stock of a few things myself. For me, this is far more creative than a mere outfit post, which is a level of self-absorption that's definitely not my style.
I don’t know what it is about me that people first notice because I don’t have any one feature that’s a particular standout. My face is sort of a rounded square, with most of the strength of the square in my chin and jaw. This certainly makes me look more German than Irish, but my pale pale skin is definitely of Irish descent, as are the myriad of freckles I host. They aren’t freckles of the ginger-copper variety, just pale spots. Most of them are unseen at first glance, but they’re definitely there. To me they bring contours and shadows to the most unwelcome of places, such as my jawline, nose and upper lip, but oh well. I’ve started using a whitening serum this past year but I have no idea if it’s working or not. I do have a few darker freckles on my face which I enjoy because they look like beauty marks, but they aren’t really. The one on my left cheekbone I think is kind of awesome.
I’ve been told I have beautiful skin, and it does have a nice rosy-creamy color to it and very small pores. But, the texture leads to problems which have been preoccupying me of late. Small pores mean small blemishes that absolutely do not go away. I spend a fortune on cleansers and Clarisonics, but my skin is never as smooth and perfect as I see it on other girls. This is something I’ve dealt with for ages – I recently looked at a picture of myself from 15 years ago and the same damn bumps were on my forehead. You’d think I’d have figured it out by now.
My forehead is high and my eyebrows are somewhat sparse, especially on the sides. The upper line is strong and full, but the side angle gets thin, requiring a daily penciling-in. Indeed, my hair isn’t the best; it’s thin and fine, and up until a few years ago I thought I was going bald but that was remedied by my departure from the corporate world. It’s amazing how a decline in stress creates an increase in hair follicles. Still, I cannot grow the long luscious locks that most women have. I’ve tried and it just looks awful on me. I keep my hair short and bobbed with a set of long bangs that meet my brows or go a little longer. This is for two reasons: 1) camouflaging the aforementioned skin blemishes that always seem to grace my forehead, and 2) hiding the gray hairs that have started coming at my right hairline. Yes, when my hair started growing again the grays started to show up too. The irony is that while the growth is great, the grays make my hair look even thinner, if that were possible. While I spend a small fortune every few months to color my hair, the grays need to be hidden in between times, thus the bangs. I wish my hair were more fun or funky or stylish or bouffant or volumized, but it is what it is and I have come to accept my “junior newscaster” hairstyle. I accept it with a multitude of volumizing shampoos, mousses, texturizers, and sprays, but at least all that keeps me looking presentable.
My eyes are an olive green color. I don’t know what color people think they are, but I do know that depending upon what color I’m wearing, people remark on my eyes more. I’ve had a number of friends say “wow…I guess I’ve never noticed your eyes before…” I don’t know why they say this as it’s not as though I wear eye patches. I suppose it’s again because my eyes aren’t that remarkable in the day-to-day and unless you’re looking you wouldn’t notice them. I play a lot with eye makeup. I’m kind of stuck in the smoky eye thing, but I do it with browns and golds for daytime. I’ve been trying to do the cat-eye thing, but I always mess it up and it looks just smudgey and weird instead of cool and retro. Perhaps the main drawback of my eyes are the dark circles underneath them. These dark circles are the scourge on my life and my cross to bear. I have tried using any number of eye creams, changed my diet, increased my sleep, and yet they are still there. I’ve been told it’s because my beautiful pale skin is especially pale around my eyes, which makes it difficult to hide the blood vessels there. Whatever. All I know is that I seem to apply a touch more concealer every day. I’m considering buying some PreparationH to see what it can do.
I wear glasses. My vision is not so good and has been declining steadily over the last decade or so, especially for seeing things at a distance. I always choose “nerdy” looking frames for my glasses. This is perhaps because I had an art professor in college who always had nerdy glasses, or simply because they look good on me and are on-trend. My latest pair are big and bold and have lenses that stretch from my eyebrows down to just below my eyes – effectively covering my dark circles. This is perhaps why I wear them so often. It could also be that I think I look better in my glasses, but that may be because I cannot see myself as well without them.
Otherwise, I'm blessed by not having any wrinkles apart from a few laugh lines. These aren't enough to make me ever consider botox. Faces should age and take on their proper character. Of course, if I write something like this in 20 years I reserve the right to say something else.
My mouth is nice, very cupid's bow and it would surely be popular during the 1920s. For today's standards I think it's somewhat small, but it has a nice shape even if the corners tend to be drawn downward when I'm not smiling. I have small, delicate ears, and a nose that more than one person who’s “had work done” has told me “is perfect”. I think it has a weird curve at the end, but that’s just me.
My décolleté is impressive. That’s what happens when you’re busty but not overflowing your cups. I cannot go without a bra, but oh well. Yes, the neck-clavicle-bust region is pretty good, but I’m not crazy about my shoulders and arms. My build is athletic to begin with, and this makes my shoulders very square and somewhat broad. We’re not talking Joan Crawford broad, but they’re broad. (Forget about when I was training for triathlons and I looked like a football player.) This would be fine if I liked my arms more, but I don’t, so I’m always trying to cover them up. I see sleeveless and I walk away, unless it’s something for evening and then it’s fine, only because I usually wear jackets in the evening. I love anything with a sleeve.
The rest of my figure is…well, take it or leave it. My torso is long and so are my legs. This should make me willowy, but it doesn’t. I’m tall, but I feel shorter due to my curvy, athletic build, which has given me very muscular thighs and a butt that sticks out more than I’d like. However, this is a main attraction for certain men, so I cannot really complain. My legs are okay and getting better due to weekly sessions with my gyrotonic trainer and lots of walking, but I am still very wary of short short dresses. (They’re great in the fall & winter when I can wear tights, but I’m too afraid of them bare-legged.) Indeed, between the thighs and the butt it’s difficult to find pants and skirts that fit. That’s also because I have the belly of one of Ingres’ Odalasiques. There, I said it. If we lived in Paris in the 1870s, I’d be generally delectable, but we don’t. Ergo I really try not to eat pasta above once a week and bread even less. But being Odalaisque, I do enjoy myself and I’m not ashamed of it. My waist is not small and sits somewhere higher than on the average body, while my butt is somewhat low. This proportion is either desirable or off-kilter depending upon your perspective. My back is long and lovely, but since I always have to wear a bra, it makes those “plunging back” styles verboten.
I’ve had a multitude of sports injuries as I’ve gotten older and all of them have changed me in different ways. My left knee gets painful here and there after over-doing it on a bike ride a few years ago, and I’ve noticed both knees creaking as I climb the many stairs to my apartment. I’ve been battling my heel spurs and their associated plantar fasciitis for five years now, and while mostly this is fine, sometimes it flares up and makes me miserable. Last winter I had a huge bout of back and neck pain which is mostly under control, but my sacro-illiac joint continues to get painful from time to time. I have very close relationships with my trainer, my chiropractor, my acupuncturist, and my reiki healer…all of whom are amazing and generally agree on my state of health at any given moment.
I’ll be 36 in five months and I’d be lying if I said this number didn’t scare me.
Apart from the makeup, hair styling, and eyeglasses mentioned before, I utilize any number of other tricks to disguise my many imperfections. Most of these are of a sartorial nature. I love great clothes and fun costume jewelry as I’m sure many of my friends will confirm. But while I’m navel-gazing I think I should assert the obvious: my love of these “shiny objects” is merely because they distract from the main event, which is of course, me. If you’re looking at my arm party or necklace or brightly colored top, it’s because you won’t notice me as much.
In fact, all of it’s a ruse of some sort or another. My wit, my intelligence, my humor, my smile, my style…it all leads you away from seeing me. If I throw enough quips and bling your way you won’t notice anything else and I’ll escape unseen. At least that’s the idea. This tactic is mostly unconscious on my part, so I suppose it’s a bit unfair. I’m sorry for this, because I don’t really mean it. I definitely DO want people to know the real me behind it all. Still, I have a tremendous fear that someone will come along and see through the smoke and mirrors and call me out on myself, which would be uncomfortable to say the least. Why would they want to do that? Do they know what they’re getting into?
Probably not. It’s even difficult for me sometimes.
Images: Marcel Duchamp L.H.O.O.Q., 1919; Cindy Sherman Untitled #96, 1981; Friday Kahlo Self Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird, 1940; Vincent Van Gogh Self Portrait, 1889