When I was a child, my Uncle George would grab my cheeks so hard I thought he’d lift me off the ground.
“Such a shayna punim,” he’d exclaim with joy.
“Yes!” my parents would reply with equal joy.
At six, I hated Uncle George and I hated my parents.
Now, at 67, I hate my hollow cheeks. My sagging jowls and my nasolabial folds (If you don’t know what they are, it means you’re lucky. It also means you’re a man.)
These days I look more like an old Shar-Pei dog than a sweet young shayna punim.
I know Judaism stresses the importance of inner beauty, but secular society says external beauty counts too.
So, to combat this distressing Shar-Pei reality, I went to the dermatologist two days before my birthday.
“Fill ‘er up,” I said.
And man, did that smooth-skinned, glowing, high-heeled dermo-doc fulfill my request, pumping four vials of God-knows-what into my face. One hour later, I emerged swollen but sleek.
When I got home, my husband asked where I’d been. “Oh, running errands,” I replied, trying to conceal my whereabouts from my “oh, you’re perfect-the-way-you-are” sweetheart of a guy.
He tried to kiss me, but since my face was simultaneously sore and numb, I flinched and turned away.
“Are you mad at me?”
“No, of course not,” I replied. Then, changing tactics quickly, I asked. “Why? Did you do something wrong?
“Huh?” he asked confused.
Bad liar that I am, I instantly dropped the pretense and fessed up. Jon shook his head in disbelief, kissed me (on the top of my head), and kindly uttered the “Oh, you’re-perfect-the-way-you-are” line.
Two days later, my face still numb, I could not kiss my kids nor blow out the candles on my birthday cake, which, given we’re still in the middle of a pandemic, was probably for the best.
Still, everybody on my FaceTime birthday calls said I looked great and that I “hadn’t aged a bit.” So, hooray! Vindication! The pain and expense of facial fillers were worth it!
Even nature boy, my ever-loving spouse remarked later that evening, “You really do look great. Those fillers really are something.”
Which is, of course, the truth. The fillers had lifted my sunken cheekbones, filled in those nasty nasolabial folds, and softened the look of my droopy Nixon-esque jowls.
Yes, sadly, Mother Nature is tough on her daughters especially those of us raised in a sexist shayna punim era. I was lucky though. My parents also emphasized grades, achievement, and career.
Growing up in Las Vegas, my two-decades older brother didn’t date ugly girls. He dated zaftig showgirls. They were true stunners, never arriving at our home with a hair out of place or make-up less than perfect — even on a 114-degree day.
I could have been intimidated by their looks, but no. Instead, my mother taught me to respect these women’s hard work, grit, and talent. She talked about their years of dance lessons, grueling schedule of daily rehearsals and costume fittings, constant harassment, and nightly risk of career-ending injury during performances. She also made me understand how short their careers were in an industry that prized youth.
Of equal importance, both parents taught me to value the gift of my education and the lifelong opportunities I would have thanks to that education.
And so today, thanks to the lessons of my parents, I have built a career focused on my education and what I like to think are my “intellectual” strengths.
As for my vanity, I admit it’s there. I may still long to be a shayna punim — minus Uncle George’s cheek pinching — but before you get too judgmental about it, please note: the last time, I went for fillers was two years ago. A real devotee would go much more often. As the dermatologist not so subtly noted, “You really need to keep this up more regularly. Say every six months for best results.”
What can I say? I’m vain, but I’m also a bit cheap and pain adverse. It’s a fun splurge every now and then, but every six months? Really now! Vanity, thy name is mine. But my middle name is “In Moderation.”