13 March 2007

She just wants to be

Yesterday, I got an email from a friend who characterized her news as "frumpy."

The picture that immediately sprang to mind was my mother, circa 1970, when I was quite young. I could see her in the sleeveless yellow nylon shell she wore with a pair of green bermuda shorts in the summer, tying a scarf over her curlers and carefully painting her lips with the lipstick of the moment--usually a sample from the Avon lady, who was generous with such things.

I was a young child in the age of Dippity Do, the green gunk that our mothers used to paste their curlers to their hair before sitting under the bonnet drier. There was a rhythm in our mothers' hair that went something like "permanent wave, cut and set" to "weekly wash and set." While she sat under that bonnet dryer, I remember my mother would sometimes paint her nails. She was a slave to beauty and propriety, was my mother. To leave the house in curlers was definitely frumpy. To leave the house without lipstick was not done.

Frumpy wasn't just curlers tastefully covered by a scarf if you needed to run to the grocery in an emergency. Frumpy was wearing a housecoat anywhere but the house. I didn't know many people who wore housecoats at all, and those who did were old in 1970. Frumpy was wearing a permanent wave that hadn't been washed or set, and just sort of sat there on your head like a stray poodle. Frumpy neglected the lipstick.

The women of my childhood had standards, by God. You wore a hat to church, Vatican II or no, and you wore it with a dress and hosiery. Lipstick was de rigeuer, and a gentle pat of tasteful rouge was acceptable.

While I can't say that my mother still wears lipstick to the store--she ditched the Dippity Do and bonnet drier decades ago--but she still has it on pretty much whenever she comes to visit.

I've never been especially good at the slave to beauty thing. My hands spend too much time in the dirt of my garden for manicures, and my finger tips are more likely to be stained brown from dirt than tipped a gentle, tasteful pink. Lipstick? Well, that's the crime. I love to buy makeup, but I never wear it. Permanents? Not since they went mercifully out of style in the 1980s, though my middle-aged locks are enslaved by the blow drier, not to mention the tasteful permanent color that comes closest to that I had before I turned 23 and got my first grey hair.

What are the standards of today? Anything goes. Around here, most women my age are more interested in showing off their boob jobs than keeping them tastefully covered. Then there is the dread "muffin top." By giving it a cutesy name, women of all ages think it's ok to leave it hanging over the top of their down-to-there jeans. Not so cute as they think.

And I have to own up to my lack of standards. I'll generally wear my good running pants to the grocery store, with a baseball cap tastefully covering my bad hair day. Sunscreen, most certainly, and Blistick with significant SPF, but nary a trace of lipstick. For all her quick trips out with scarf-covered curlers, my mother was probably less frumpy than I am.