I slid the container of pet odor/urine remover across the counter. The cashier, a woman about my age, looked at the product and then me. â€œOh oh. This canâ€™t be good.â€
I sighed with the weight and frustration that comes with needing to buy urine remover. â€œWe have a cat with issues.â€
The cashier nodded in a knowing way. â€œI have two cats myself.â€ She slipped the item over the bar code reader and grabbed for a bag. Then, in a quiet voice, â€œYou have beautiful lips. Are theyâ€¦yours?â€
This isnâ€™t the first time a woman has asked if my lips are â€œmine,â€ or â€œreal,â€ in a conspiratorial way. In a culture that encourages the plumping of some areas and the lipo-suctioning of others, itâ€™s a fair question. Nonetheless, it still startles me a bit.
As a child my full lips were the targets of family jokes. Mom referred to me as banana lips, and my brothers said if I licked my lips they could probably stick me to the ceiling like a suction cup. It wasnâ€™t until my late teens when a male friend noted he thought my lips were incredible, soft, inviting. I was stunned. My banana lips were a good thing?
On a similar note, I have a beauty mark on my right cheek. Itâ€™s just a little dark brown dot, a part of me I ignored until Grandma said I was lucky to have it. â€œElizabeth Taylor has one just like you, and sheâ€™s considered one of the worldâ€™s great beauties.â€ It was an uncommonly nice thing for her to say to me, and I tucked the complement away. Some years later, the man who was to become my first husband said, â€œWhy do you try to hide your beauty mark?â€ The truth was I didnâ€™t try to hide it. I also didnâ€™t try to showcase it. If my makeup covered it up on some days, so be it. If not, so be it. It was just there. Part of me.
Some years later my medical doctor licked his finger and tried to rub my beauty mark off. It stayed put.
â€œOh I thought it was fake,â€ he said. â€œHow long have you had it?â€
Aghast at having doctor spit on my face I somehow managed to blurt out, â€œIâ€™ve had it, um, forever.â€
â€œWell, keep an eye on it so it doesnâ€™t turn to cancer.â€
So much for the perception of great beauty ala a tiny brown dot.
And thatâ€™s the gist of it, isnâ€™t it? Perception. My full lips were not my friends in my youth, but now garner attention because full lips are in style. My so-called beauty mark is either intriguing or a possible marker for skin cancer.
The lesson comes so oftenâ€¦we must love ourselves for who we are and let cultural judgments go.
As I accepted my purchase from the cashier she said, â€œYour are so lucky. I have frog lips.â€
I looked at her perfectly lovely lips and said, â€œWhat do you mean?â€
â€œWhenever I smile my lips disappear. Look.â€ She smiled and her lips thinned a bit, yes. But what I saw was her smile, her happy face, and shining eyes. Frog lips would never, ever, have been my thought.
â€œMaybe you and I need to work on our self-esteem,â€ I offered.
She smiled again. â€œItâ€™s just so easy to see our personal faults.â€
I left thinking she was right. After a lifetime of conditioning any feminine deviation from the of-the-moment beauty trend seems like a fault instead of a gift. I caught my reflection in the window. My banana lips were not smiling.