A favorite game I play with myself is to open the internet browser on my phone and compare the open tabs to one another. I feel this is the truest representation of a person: impulse searches, emergency searches, drunk searches, bored searches, I-know-I-recognize-you-but-from-which-show searches. Tabs with noble causes or lofty ideals: a link to Save the Food; a New Yorker article about immigration; a list of most anticipated books to come in 2018. Tabs with no lofty ideals, but I will keep open forever: images of lewd cake toppers; a direct link to a Florida Orange Juice commercial featuring Robert Loggia. And then there is another tab, one that I have returned to again and again, because it is too important to dismiss.
It’s the search results for “best bleach creme.”
What are you trying to bleach? You might ask.
It is my mustache, I would say in response.
I’ve written about this topic before (or at least I did years ago on some other now-defunct blog) and the topic comes up so often because it’s on my face and I look at it everyday. I am also a vain, vain woman who still maintains a host of crippling physical insecurities, so obviously I am aware of it, and yes, I think about it all the time.
A brief history: I started getting my upper lip and eyebrows waxed when I was, I believe, 12. It was necessary. I walked into my first day of 7th grade, fresh from the full facial waxing, and I was greeted by a classmate saying, “Awww. Katie got her eyebrows waxed!” And I was like How can she tell but, come on, you could tell. I had a whole new, hairless face! And it was awesome. I continued to get my face waxed every 4 weeks for the next 10 years solid. Then I moved to Chicago and just stopped doing it. It was crazy how quickly I went from being fully dependent on getting waxed (I would drive home from college to have it done) to just not seeing it as a necessity. It was a financially-motivated decision, a I-don’t-have-time-to-research-this-I-don’t-even-know-where-the-grocery-store-is decision, a I-don’t-think-I-care-about-this-anymore decision. All the anxiety about what I looked like was eaten up by the anxiety of being a new college grad and not knowing what to do next. And then that anxiety turned into a different one, evolving and expanding and taking on the form of things that had never before been anxiety-inducing. And so it goes.
And yet, here we are, back on the upper lip train. The truth is that I never fully got off. I have used creme bleach off and on over the years and I like it so much because, frankly, it doesn’t hurt. Getting your lip waxed hurts. I had a good callous built up for a number of years but I don’t know that I can go back. I was braver when I was young, willing to do whatever it took to be smooth and hair free. But now, I just don’t wanna. I’m scared! I’m not going back. I also had an unfortunate incident in college where I tried to give myself cleavage and to do so, I used duct tape, and when it eventually came off (ripped off) it was a real bad scene. Anyway, this is all to say, there was a time when the sound of my face getting waxed awakened some traumatic memory in my bones, and I could feel the tape ripping off all over again. (There is a WHOLE story about that, complete with what led me to the tape in the first place, why I felt my cleavage was insufficient, if it made a difference at all and if anyone ended up caring. Let me pitch this story to your publication! The personal essay we need right now! Or I’ll type it up and whisper it under this rock, aka, My Blog.)
But eyes up here. I was fully reintroduced to my facial hair when I took stock of all the zits that had broken out on the left side of my face. This was last week. They were mostly hidden by my grown-out bangs, but when looking closely, the zits were a deep red, blood immediately under the skin types, tiny molehills ready to burst into full-fledged mountain ranges. And from the temple they cascaded down, turning into big lonely pimple oasis, sprouting arbitrarily from oily pockets in my cheek. And then finally, of course, the chin zit cluster, tiny dermal boulders arranged just so: craggy, rough to the touch, only ever on the verge of popping or having just popped. Why the break out? I don’t know, skin is weird, I guess. I suppose it was a perfect storm of periods, sleeping on my left side, and being right-handed, therefore, having my left hand available for face-resting and chin rubbing. I’m also extremely oily. I mean we’re talking, like, a lot of oil. This actually isn’t much of a mystery. The point is this: I was following the trail of acne when I stumbled into the brush.
And I looked at my face and kind of had that moment of Whoa! Hey, that’s my face! Which is a little insane sounding, but a valid reaction nonetheless. And I took note of the ever-darkening upper lip hair, yes, but I also saw how tired I looked, and wondered if it was just for the moment or a new normal. And I inspected the bump on my nose and I ran a finger over my weird pointy chin and then I smiled as big as I could to see the dimple on my right cheek. I checked each item off, one, two, three, all there as they have always been, but just a little different. And to be clear, this is not commentary or a reflection on beauty, that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about the features of one’s face and how one day you look in the mirror and things have changed. “Aging,” I think, is the official term for this, but I know better than to tackle that topic at age 28. But I do reflect on my own relationship with my face, the hours I’ve spent removing hair, rubbing the driest eyes, shellacking perpetually chapped lips; all the upkeep and the maintenance required to simply be comfortable. Imagine if I regularly wore makeup! I would be writing a different post, perhaps. But this is no complaint, merely a reflection on what it means to be a vain woman who also happens to have a host of physical insecurities. But who isn’t?
The zits are all gone, they’ve had their way with me this month, and the upper lip hair is here for now, until I bleach it and it’s invisible for a little while. And then I’ll grow my bangs out and cut my hair and start wearing under eye liner to look less tired and I’ll decide that bright lipstick is the best way to distract from zits and facial hair and it will all be okay because I will have made all these decisions on my own. And then I’ll find myself in the bathroom mirror again, staring at a woman I know and understand to be me, but also kind of asking Wait, but really? And then I’ll pull out my phone and see all the photos of lewd cake toppers I have saved, just because they’re funny and I want to imagine a wedding cake topped with the weirdest most hilarious items imaginable and then I will say Yes, really.