When I pull the tape off in the morning, there's dead skin on it (bonus exfoliation!). There are also pale hairs: My eyebrows start to look like someone is waxing them with her eyes closed. But my wrinkles—I swear—are disappearing; my humor is improving; I'm onto something. In the bath one evening, I suddenly remember the Old Farmer's Almanac I paged through in the tub as a child—in particular, the ads for those old-fashioned “Frownies” beauty patches. The company still exists, it turns out, the Web site offering smiling head shots of women with papery beige triangles between their eyebrows and promises about safety and guarantees for happy results. Plus they're totally cheap. I order some, and they arrive in the mail, nestled in pearlized tissue paper inside an elegant little box sealed with a gold sticker—the fancy wrapping in hilarious contrast to the product itself, which looks like a stack of gummed corners snipped from manila envelopes. You're supposed to separate them at their perforations, lick them, and stick them to your skin. I smell one, and it has the gelatinous, faintly minty smell of envelope glue; maybe they really are snipped from envelopes. All in all they are as high-tech as pebbles or cheese.
But the kids don't care that I look like a recurring guest alien on Star Trek: The Next Generation, because they understand the beige triangle to be a symbol of my renewed benevolence. When I sigh one night over a pot of borscht, Ben asks if he can get me a Frownie—the way you might offer aspirin to someone with a headache. My daughter, Birdy, her own face aglow with toddler sweetness, touches it with a serious fingertip and asks, “If I pull this off, then you'll be grumpy?” (Since a triangle of skin will come off with it: Yes.) When I see the brown delivery truck, I open the front door to sign for my Lands' End swimsuit—am I trying to become a caricature of frumpiness?—and only when the puzzled UPS guy looks me right between the eyes do I realize that I've all but come outside with curlers and a blue gel mask. I would twist my face into embarrassment, but I can't—so I smile at him instead, and he shrugs, tucks his clipboard under one arm, and smiles back.
I'll tell you what, though: Slinking into bed with a nude-colored sticker between your eyebrows is probably very sexy if you're being initiated into some kind of Cult of the Foreheads, but with a regular old husband, it's just silly. “ Rowr, “ Michael teases. “That Frownie is hot!” Really, I could be as creased as an origami crone, or as wound around with tape and stickers as a mummy, and still he'd grope me while I was flossing. And if I were already the person I hope to become, I'd write that when Michael cups my face in his palms, I am cherished into a happy acceptance of my flawed person. He loves me, wrinkles, irritability, and all! I'd write, And that's all I need. I'd write about my renewed commitment to feminist politics and the reclaiming of my facial herstory. I'd write about my children's own taut and rosy faces, my realization that self-love is the most important thing I can teach them. The answer is not cosmetic, I'd write: It's cosmic! And it is—it's all true. But I'm still taping myself smoother and happier; it's like a dermatological bell of mindfulness, reminding me to smile even as I grapple with my own vanity. It's not exactly purgatory, this, but a kind of holding pattern: I'm circling around between conflict and harmony, between bad temper and blessedness. Or maybe I'm just stuck somewhere between youth and wisdom.
Catherine Newman is the author of the memoir Waiting for Birdy (Penguin) and the weekly column Dalai Mama on wondertime.com .
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