Here is the link to my new essay just posted on the website dedicated to newspaper columnist and author Erma Bombeck’s legacy at the University of Dayton. I have great memories of my mom and her friends reading and sharing Erma’s newspaper columns when I was growing up, and then I grew to love her work as well.
But I also wrote my essay with author Nora Ephron’s influence. Her funny essay about feeling bad about her neck kind of gave me the inspiration to take her commentary a little further.
Two women writers who many of us today really miss… (I will also copy the essay below if you can’t link to it for any reason.)
I FEEL BAD ABOUT MY NECK HAIR
by Kathy Stevenson
(with apologies to Nora Ephron)
One weird side effect of this extended period of time sheltering in place is that many of us are spending more time looking in our mirrors. Maybe not those of you with small children at home – who rarely even get to go to the bathroom alone – but the rest of us are doing some really odd things to fill our days. A lot of us are trying things for the first time – baking bread, cleaning baseboards, flossing every day, cutting and coloring our own hair. Many of us are looking in our bathroom mirrors more than we ever have in our lives. And it ain’t pretty.
In the olden days of the past fifty years or so, my “beauty routine” has been remarkably consistent. I buy “product” (moisturizers, skin treatments, entire makeup lines) and then in a frenzy of self-improvement I use the “product” once or twice, at which point it goes where all product goes to die. Into one of the bottom drawers in my bathroom vanity.
These bathroom drawers themselves are like an archeological dig into my flaws and their potential remedies. Miracles have been promised; youth restored by tubes and vials and small glass jars that I blithely and enthusiastically put on my department store credit cards, urged on by perfumed saleswomen whose main sales technique is to stare appraisingly at my face (devoid of any product) and declare me a candidate for much improvement.
As a writer, I am seduced by the words on these products. “Pure Vitality,” “Healthy Radiance,” “Restructuring,” “Hydrates and Tones,” “Bio-Repair.” And the ingredients! Rose stem cells and extracts. Smoothing acmella flower. Bilberry and chamomile. Red ginseng root and Manuka honey. Yum, yum.
“Do you use a styling paste on your hair?” asks a lovely woman with perfectly styled hair and moist skin behind the makeup counter at Nordstrom. I had come in for my annual purchase of one tube of mascara. Somewhere I had read that you need to replace your product every so often, even if you haven’t used it. This seems somewhat of a scam to me, until the makeup lady frowns and shakes her head knowingly, “You wouldn’t eat a pastry that had been sitting in your kitchen cupboard for a year, would you?” Ahem. I might?
Back to my bathroom mirror. There is no nice Nordstrom lady any more. In fact, my relationship with Nordstrom – a relationship I have cherished and nurtured over many decades – has been reduced to the same two or three things I know I can order online.
Which brings me back to product. And my bathroom mirror. And a mistake I made in looking in those lower two bathroom drawers full of free samples of product. I decided that this would be the perfect time to start a new beauty routine, and use some of the product samples that had accumulated there like the ghosts of past flaws.
I pulled out my vanity mirror to take a good look at my facial and neck area. I turned my head slightly up and toward the side, the sunlight streaming in through the window to the bathroom mirror, and that’s when I saw it. Neck hair. I mean it wasn’t a pelt – you couldn’t comb it (yet) – nevertheless, it was there. Thanks, Polish relatives, I thought. We are a hirsute race, and I immediately wondered how long I had been walking around with this neck hair, with nobody telling me about it.
Not even my husband, who I corralled and screamed out, while pointing to my neck, “YOU NEVER THOUGHT TO BRING THIS TO MY ATTENTION?!” He froze in place and blinked rapidly, like he always does when he thinks I am accusing him of some transgression.
“THIS. THIS NECK HAIR! THIS FUR!”
“Hmmm…” As he peers at my neck. “It’s not that noticeable.”
And so, dear reader, I shaved it. With my pink Bic disposable razor. I Googled it first, of course, but then I decided that I would be my own beauty consultant for once. There was no nice Nordstrom lady to help me anymore. There might not even be a Nordstrom. And I was not going to live with neck hair, even if I never saw anyone outside of my house again for the rest of my life. Even if we all had to wear masks forever and ever, and probably nobody would notice my neck hair.
Because even in a pandemic, one has to have certain standards.