Wednesday, June 24, 2009


When a girl goes shopping at the urban intellectual’s favorite box store, she is faced with many choices. There are clothes for women who work in offices, clothes for women who walk on the beach, clothes for women who play tennis and others for women who run on treadmills at the gym. There are clothes for women who ate too much, and clothes for women who did not use birth control, but where are the clothes for the women who take multiple mega-doses of antibiotics and burn the moment the sun hits their skin?

Such a section would offer flattering wide-legged linen pants in a range of colors and gauzy tunics with cool and practical bell-shaped long sleeves. There would be broad brimmed hats that somehow managed to be dignified, even chic, instead of floppy and smacking of middle age. There would perhaps be delicately woven shawls that could be draped dramatically over the head and shoulders for some impromptu shade.

These thoughts drifted along with me as I wandered through the ladies’ section of Target the other day. I found no such articles, so I settled a pseudo-straw hat that was the best of the floppy bunch.

A month ago a ferocious sun burst out from behind Seattle clouds and ever since has reigned down fiery flames that scorch my skin on contact. This came as a bit of a shock to me, as I had been happily anticipating the golden sunlight that we Seattlites dream of, yearn for, reminisce about for nine months of the year. Now that I am taking Zythromax, and Rocephin, and Plaquenil and Diflucan, I can no longer manage even the meager fifteen minutes of daily basking in the mild northwest sun that last summer, when I was taking only Bicillin, I could enjoy. Thirty seconds is more like it.

And so I found myself pondering the organic sunscreens at the food co-op. The one I picked out met the approval of the checker, who was himself practically an albino. I took him to be an expert in sunscreens and was quite satisfied when he told me the titanium and zinc in it were micro-particles but not nano-particles, so they wouldn’t clog my pores or damage my skin.

The sunscreen worked, in that it kept my skin from turning pink. But it oddly created a mild burning sensation on my arms and face a few minutes after I rubbed it in. (This is probably due to my chemical sensitivity, a collateral of Lyme Disease. Although the sunscreen was 70% organic it still contained Potassium Sorbate and Phenosynethanol, identified as “preservatives.”) The micro particles also gave my skin a ghostly whitish hue. I decided to use the stuff sparingly, and thus my trip to Target for protective clothing.

I left the store in disappointment, and came up with the best anti-sun garments I could find on a budget: said floppy hat and one of The Poet’s old oxford shirts, about ten sizes too large for me. This combination, a friend has pointed out, makes me look like the Fat Albert character whose bell-shaped hat covers his face, save the strange holes for his eyes, and wears an oversized shirt to boot.

Within a few weeks vanity took over, and I had switched out the Target hat for a $3 one I found at H&M: much jauntier, with the trifling disadvantage that it didn’t quite provide shade for my chin. No problem, I had my sunscreen.

Or so I thought until two days ago, when a glance in the mirror showed that after a brief walk in the sun the skin around my mouth was covered with hundreds of tiny wrinkles. The whole area looked a bit red and was, to top it off, dry and bumpy.

I have always assumed that 99% of women’s beauty products are pure bunk. I use shampoo and conditioner, soap and a scrubby cloth. Due to my chemical sensitivity all these products have no chemical additives or preservatives, and I always assumed this simplicity was the key to youth and longevity. Now I began to reconsider. At this rate in about a week I was going to look like I was fifty, or at least my chin would. I needed a really good moisturizer, bad.

What was this Dr. Hauschka I had heard so much about? Hadn’t my sister said something about wild and organic botanicals harvested at the peak of their potency, then distilled by a brilliant chemistry PhD obsessed with creating the best lotions in the universe? I made a beeline for his or her products that afternoon at the co-op. Rose Day Cream, Quince Night Time Rejuvenator, special tiny jars for puffy eyes. I made my best guess for the appropriate potion for a wrinkled chin. Fortunately there was a sample tube of Quince Day Cream. I took a little and rubbed it in. Then I looked at the price tag: $36.99 for a one-ounce tube! Horrified, I rushed out of the Body Well Being aisle and carried bravely on with the rest of my grocery list.

Whether it was for better or for worse, at the end of fifteen minutes of grocery shopping my skin, having absorbed the sample quince cream, was noticeably softer and smoother. I found myself back in the face care section, contemplating paying thirty-seven dollars for a one-ounce tube of youth. I just could bring myself to do it. Instead I decided on $13 for two ounces of Aubrey Organics facial moisturizer, $28 on MyChelle anti-aging sun screen, and $10 on a second sun screen, in case the first didn’t work out.

I also found myself contemplating using a little Dr. Hauschka from the tester tube each time I shopped at the co-op. From the looks of the tube, I wasn’t the only one with this idea.

In life we are constantly weighing now versus later. Spend money now on things that make you happy, or save it for later when you might need it. Be relaxed and carefree now, or spend time and effort being organized to avoid bigger problems later. Go through grueling, painful medical treatment that worsens your symptoms now so that later you are healthy.

For the most part, when faced with such decisions, I prioritize the future.
My choice for the moment is about all about vanity: I can wear the chic hat now and walk down the street in dignity, or spend the next three months looking like Fat Albert’s friend Dumb Donald and prevent wrinkly skin later. I am choosing the latter. Next year, I hope to look good.

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