Saturday, January 21, 2012

Perfectly Imperfect

I've made it a general rule not to lean too closely to the mirror. It's a good rule, really, because there is something rather scary that happens as the distance between my noses starts shortening... something that has the effect of turning my content, oblivious expression into one that might be better described as 'horror', 'disgust', 'disbelief'. It might have something to do with the thick layer of peach-fuzz that is threatening to turn into a manly beard and mustache, or maybe it's those dark veins that run so prominently along either side of the bridge of my nose. It could be the blemishes and freckles, or the wayward hairs that try valiantly to give me a uni-brow, or the unsymmetrical smile that looks vaguely like I've had a minor stroke... but whatever the reason, my slightly fuzzy vision makes me much happier with the girl standing a few feet away from the mirror.

But I had a date last Friday night, you see.

A date with a tall, handsome, funny guy that I happen to be falling madly in love with. A grown-up date at a real restaurant where they served steamed asparagus and gently smashed potatoes - there wasn't a chicken nugget, finger, tender, or crisp in sight - and the anticipation of the date turned me a bit giddy. I curled my hair, folks. And... I got uncomfortably close to the mirror.

I wanted to look ... nice. Date nice. Close-up nice. So I leaned in close and tried not to be disappointed when I saw, first hand, what every-day living for almost 30 years has done to me. I trimmed and plucked, scraped away dead skin and covered up discolored skin; using eyeliner, I tried to create an illusion that would turn my round eyes into a more appealing almond shape; I pulled out the lipstick and experimented a bit on how to use it in conjunction with the lip liner and lip gloss that had almost never been opened. And then I reached for the eyelash curler.

Eyelashes are always the last thing I do when I'm getting ready. My mom passed to me a set of long, thick, low maintenance eyelashes... but leaning into the mirror as I set my lashes in the curler, I noticed with a rather disappointing feeling that I could count each and every eyelash coming out of the (apparently) balding tip of my eyelid. Great, I thought. Now my eyelashes have made it to the list of reasons I don't get close to the mirror.

My mind flashed back 15 years and I was climbing up into the passenger seat of our red Dodge Durango. I put the shopping bags from our mall trip at my feet and clicked my seatbelt into place. My mom shifted the SUV into reverse and smiled after she stole a quick glance at me from across the car. My eyebrows furrowed into a questioning glare. "What?" I asked.
"Nothing," she responded.
"Mom, you can't do that. What? What did you just smile at?"
Still smiling but saying nothing, she slowly started backing out of her parking space. And then, as if thinking better of her silence, she took a deep breath, "I was just thinking that I hope you enjoy those while you have them." I swept my eyes around my area to see what she could be talking about and came up with nothing probable. "Enjoy what?" I asked.
"Your eyelashes. They might not always look like that, you know." I remembered the compliment the cashier at Claires had given that day for my eyelashes and wondered if Mom had been thinking about it ever since.
"Really? Why?"
"I don't know... sometimes when you get older they start falling out. Mine used to be just like yours."

I was confused and let the conversation turn stale as my mind tried to make sense of the new information it had received. It's true that I hadn't realized that my eyelashes might, one day, become thinner... but the thing I was most confused about was why I had detected a little longing through that last sentence. Did my mom care about what her eyelashes looked like? That made no sense to my teenage brain. She was my mom. My best friend, my therapist. Loving, accepting and generous towards all of my friends... even the ones that maybe weren't so deserving of it... and smiled lovingly each time one of them called her Mom. She had her finger on my emotional pulse at all times and wouldn't hesitate to excuse me from class, or start up a conversation, or let me shut myself in my room if she felt it was best for me. She often made nachos or banana chocolate milkshakes in the evenings just to make us happy. She was selfless - so selfless - and fun and spunky and happy. Completely understanding of my mistakes and tirelessly cheering me on and encouraging me in my talents... To me, all of these things made her the very definition of beautiful.

Why would she care about her eyelashes?

Of course now, feeling the disappointment of holding the eyelash curler to my own balding eyelashes, I understand. I understand that seeing inside your own heart is so much harder than seeing your reflection in the mirror. And, when you focus on the reflection in the mirror, I understand that the voice of the world - shouting it's messages of beauty - is deafeningly loud and can so easily drown out the still, gentle voice reminding you of your own, unique beauty. And, like a two-edged sword, when you are able to focus on your heart, I understand that seeing the good in yourself - the deep down, soul emitting good - is painfully hard to see when the flaws and mistakes keep getting in the way.

I put down my eyelash curler and smiled at my reflection. My hair is neither blonde nor brown, my face is not symmetrical, my teeth are not perfectly straight, my skin is not blemish-free and my neck has wrinkles. But harnessing that unconditional love I have for my mom, that love that somehow separates the things that matter from the things that don't, I worked on turning it toward myself. I tried to remember that there is so much more to me than my eyelashes. Or my waistline. Or my grandma-hands. Or my fill-in-the-blank.

Instead of feeling down on myself, I tried to find strength in those that love me. Who don't care about trivial imperfections and who love me for the good of who I am. Those friends who have stuck with me through tough times and who offer sincere and kind words to build me up. Those sweet kids that call me mom and cuddle up next to me even when I haven't showered in three days. Those in-laws who feel comfortable in my home and make me feel comfortable in theirs. Those parents who listen to my irrational frustrations and sprinkle advice and wisdom to taste. And, most of all, to that tall, handsome, funny guy that I happen to be falling madly in love with. I have no doubt that we could have happily gone on our date with my hair in it's signature ponytail and all my make-up still sitting in my make-up bag. That man unquestionably loves me for my heart.

I don't plan to change my rule... I will still get ready a few feet away from the mirror... but whenever I start to get down on myself I will remember to find strength in those who think:

"You are amazing. Why do you care about your eyelashes?"


  1. I love these thoughts Linds, and will try to remember them myself...

    But don't you know that there's a prescription for that? Have you not seen the Claire Danes commercial on TV? Brian can hook you up!

    But really, I loved these thoughts:).

  2. Beautifully said!! Something all women need to hear occasionally. Your mom is truly an amazing woman and I love her just as I love her equally amzing daughter! Miss you!!!

  3. Funny, I was sitting in my sink yesterday analyzing many of the things you mentioned. When I was 16 I never thought I would be discovering veins and manly staches on my face. SO not cool.

    But I'm really happy about the fact that, though jarring, these little discoveries don't affect me much. 16-year-old Melissa wouldn't have left the house. 26 yr. old Melissa points them out to her friends and makes them feel like beauty queen in comparison. :)

    Maybe you should try rubbing nail polish remover on your face? I heard that helps. (Was it nail polish remover?)

  4. Funny...every time I see you I just think how lovely you are, inside and out. :)

  5. Thanks Linds. I needed to read this.

    By the way, I think you are one of the most beautiful women I know.

  6. I have to agree with my mom and laugh - I'll confess, you've always been one of those women whose effortless loveliness I've envied a little! ;)

  7. Oh man... My first comment didn't send. :o( Here we go again. :o)

    I love reading your blog. You have such a way with words and I always seem to get lost in them. I too, have been having these feelings and thoughts lately and you but them so fantastically into writing.

    You are as beautiful as ever. You have such a beautiful smile, that lights up a room and makes it brighter wherever you are. Thank you for sharing your fabulous thoughts! I too, will try to follow your advice. :o)