I inherited my mom’s shapely legs. Every year I won the award for “Best Looking Legs” at the high school dance team’s gala. On its face that’s a superficial award. However, for a teenager who had spent the previous years wearing a variety of back braces and still required spine surgery for scoliosis, it was thrilling to recognize that there was something attractive about my scarred body.
When I was pregnant, I acquired another of my mom’s traits, but this one wasn’t so alluring. Purplish spider veins popped out on my legs, with a big clump located over my left knee. This area was tender to touch and I looked like Bill had been beating me in odd places.
“No worries,” said my ever-cheerful mother. “I have a doctor who can zap those suckers with a little saline and they’ll be gone!”
I resisted at first. Wasn’t I supposed to love my body as it is: big feet, tiny bosoms, fireplug nipples, scar from neck to crack, and battered looking legs? Shouldn’t I wear those veins proudly as pregnancy souvenirs?
“Are you high?” my mom asked. “I’m making you an appointment with Dr. P immediately.”
And she did, and I went, and after a couple of visits and the humiliation of wearing constrictive orthopedic pantyhose for a week or so, my spectacular legs had returned.
Over the last eight years, I’ve dealt with some serious shit– the hepatitis C treatment, the second spine surgery to correct problems caused by the first, my mother’s unexpected death. These events may be irrelevant. Maybe it’s just the passage of time that added veins and splotches on my face that drove me insane. There was one red blotch on the side of my nose that I covered with concealer every morning for years. I named it “Perpetu-Zit” although it wasn’t a zit at all.
Whatever the reason, the blemishes were bothering me enough that I booked an appointment with Dr. P and told him to take care of things. I may be less than a month from being forty, but I’d prefer to look thirty-five.
Dr. P lasered here and there and sure enough, the splotches, including Perpetu-Zit, disappeared. It’s cheered me up, plus I figure I’m saving a fortune on concealer.
You may consider me vain. Or not.
What would you do or refuse to do to your body? I’m particularly interested in knowing about your experiences with Lasik. As someone who’s worn glasses or contacts since the Bicentennial, I’m about ready for some peepers that work.
I set aside an hour and a half for beautification today. My skin tends to be oily, so occasionally I apply a coat of Queen Helene Mint Julep Masque to my face. I spread the thick green mask on my face, wait for it to dry, and wash it off, along with the impurities and tension that mar my complexion.
Male readers may need an idea of the color and consistency of this beauty product.
For obvious reasons, I use the Queen Helene Mint Julep masque in private whenever possible. I’m an obsessive multi-tasker, so I often pay bills, unload the dishwasher, make phone calls, or write while waiting for the masque to dry. Today, however, I had ambitious hair-coloring plans I intended to perform while the masque dried.
It’s not unusual for me to color my hair myself. I’ve been using the same color, Feria Creme Brulee (aka “Golden Brown”) for years. It’s a wonderful reddish blonde. My mom hated it and always tried to get me to dye my hair plain blonde. Since her death many of her friends have told me they’ve secretly liked it the whole time; they just agreed with her when she complained about it to make her happy.
Salon professionals sneer at the idea of having only one color on your hair, because hair is naturally composed of strands of different colors. Thus, stylists will often weave highlights (a lighter color) or lowlights (a darker color) into your hair to contrast with the main color.
I decided to acknowledge the passing of summer into fall by adding some lowlights to my hair. In addition to my regular Creme Brulee, I purchased boxes of Hot Toffee (“Rich Golden Brown”) and Crystal Brown (“Light Brown”). (I guess they ran out of brownish dessert names). I also bought all the accouterments I’ve seen the stylists use at the salon when they add highlights using foils.
At the last minute I decided to confine myself to the Brulee and the Toffee and not go completely crazy on my first try, which turned out to be a wise decision.
I wanted to be sure I applied the dye correctly, so I Googled the procedure. I Googled “how to apply lowlights when coloring hair” and “dying hair with different colors” and thousands of related searches. Apparently you can learn how to build a bomb on the Internet, but if you want to dye your hair using more than one color you have entered dangerous territory and the sites universally agree that you “must consult a hair care professional” which I had no intention of doing, since I considered myself sort of an amateur hair care professional, albeit one who had only seen two colors applied and hadn’t actually done it.
My unhelpful research took so long that I only had an hour to slather on the masque and figure out the hair color technique before I had to pick up carpool.
I had chosen Hot Toffee as my darker color because according to the colors and descriptions on the boxes, it seemed very similar to Creme Brulee and I thought it would match well without being too much darker than the rest of my hair.
In case you don’t know much about brownish desserts, here’s a picture of Creme Brulee:
Here’s what toffee looks like:
When I mixed up the dye, however, I was shocked by the color.
That’s my beloved Creme Brulee on the left and Hot Toffee on the right. Hot Toffee my ass. That dye could be called “Hot Chocolate Pudding” or “Melted Devil’s Food Cake” or “Tepid Tootsie Roll” but it was dark as hell and frankly, it scared me. Until I saw it, I’d figured that if I ran short on time I’d do my whole head Hot Toffee, but now that wasn’t looking like a viable option. It may be close to Halloween, but if I want to look like Elvira, Mistress of the Dark:
then I’ll go buy a wig. And I like that one slow song Amy Lee of Evanescence sang a couple of years ago, but that doesn’t mean I want to dye my hair in homage (even though I wouldn’t mind knowing what shade of lipstick she’s wearing):
I decided to go along with my original plan of using both colors. If I ended up looking like a zebra I’d wear a scarf for a day while I decided which color was better, and dye my whole head the more flattering shade.
The dying began. At first I tried to copy proper salon technique as I had witnessed it, which is to stick a piece of foil under the hair to be colored, paint the dye on the hair, then fold up the foil to keep the darker dye from getting on the rest of my hair, like so:
While a hair care professional can make this maneuver look relatively simple, I quickly discovered that it was damn unreasonable to expect an amateur to try to isolate small pieces of hair on her own head, secure the foil, use the brush, and so forth. I can’t blame the awkwardness on my bum wrist or my unfamiliarity with the technique. It was apparent immediately that even Paul Mitchell, John Freida or the Bumbles would need a friend to accomplish this task satisfactorily, especially if the back of the head is involved.
At that point I quit using the brush and resorted to dipping my fingers in the inky gel, grabbing small pieces of hair and covering them with the dye. As I finished each one I squinched a piece of foil around it so that it looked like a piece of Christmas candy. A piece of buttery toffee.
When I’d had enough of that, I switched to the Creme Brulee dye which I spread liberally over the rest of my hair and rubbed into my roots. Then I stood back to gauge the effect.
Honestly, I’ve looked better. For the sake of my vanity, I’ll take this opportunity to remind you of that, because there’s at least one equally unflattering picture of me coming up and I don’t know that I can stand it.
I decided to unwrap my toffees and see exactly how dark they were getting. They were getting this dark:
The photo may not show the dark strands to be as scary as they really were, but surely you can see the hunk of brown hair balanced precariously on top of my head. Beauty alert!
I may be adventuresome, but I’m no fool, and I saw a disaster in the making. I wasn’t about to leave that combination on my hair for twenty-five minutes. It was fine to talk about looking like a zebra when it was an abstract concept, but now that it seemed to be approaching reality it was time to throw in the towel, so to speak.
I stepped in the shower immediately and rinsed out my hair. The dye, masque, my facial impurities and tension rinsed off all at the same time, so at least my hour of beauty had not been a complete waste.
Today my hair looks much the same. I still have roots, but I fancy they are not quite as noticeable because I do have a few strands of hair here and there that are darker than others. Actually, it appears that the Hot Toffee dye wasn’t going to turn out Elvira-ish. It might even have been pretty if I hadn’t been a chicken and let it process the full time.
In this case, better a chicken than a zebra.
Here’s a multiple choice test to get you in the mood for today’s column. If you saw this, what would you do?
1. Grab a frying pan, a mallet, butter, capers, lemon juice, and wine and make a delicious chicken piccata.
2. Say, “Modern art doesn’t interest me very much, but I hear there’s a fabulous new lunch place down the street.”
3. Slap those suckers on your chest and strut your stuff like Dolly Parton.
All are good answers, but in my world, the correct answer is 3.
Behold: the NuBra.
Those of you who have been keeping up with the replica of my breast I made out of food and the embarrassment I suffered when I tried on approximately forty bras with Bill’s help due to a roller-blading accident (rather than privately as I had planned) will be happy to hear that the Breast Wars are over.
First, a little background on my bra situation prior to the beginning of the wars. Before I discovered that there is a bra for women like me (women with itty-bitty titties topped with fireplug nipples), I was resigned to the fact that if I wanted a bra that actually fit, I’d be wearing two triangles of fabric with a little rosebud centered between them. This is the kind of bra you buy in the preteen section at Macy’s–the ones where the package shows some girls at a sleepover painting each others’ nails. When the wars began, at a minimum I hoped to purchase a bra from the women’s department bearing a tag that pictured an actual grownup wearing the bra (preferably a woman).
The best solution I had found to hide my perma-nips was the NuBra, which is a sticky, gel-like breast form you stick on top of your boobs. You can use it as a regular bra or a strapless bra, if you’re small-breasted, like me. As long as you wash it off after each use, you can wear it over and over.
The NuBra has two drawbacks. One is that it’s funny looking, which is why Bill often says,”You wearing those chicken breasts out tonight?”
The other is that the forms don’t stick so well when you have sweaty boobs.
Aunt Lulu had a lovely outdoor wedding on a sweltering day in May 2004. In Alabama. Here is a picture of me just before the ceremony, when both sides of my NuBra were firmly attached to my breasts, sort of filling up the front of my extremely pink dress.
There were four bridesmaids, and we all stood in the searing sun wearing our chicken breasts as Aunt Lulu and her husband promised and vowed. Just as I felt a trickle of sweat run down my back, I heard a thwa-kink! and another thwa-kink! and I realized that my NuBra had popped off and was nestling in the band of my dress between my boobs and my stomach. A moment later I heard several fainter, but unmistakable thwa-kinks! on both sides of me, and soon there were four bridesmaids standing up front with eight uncovered nipples in thin Pepto dresses. We walked down the aisle with our NuBras lying limply at the bottom of the bodice of our dresses.
I tried to stick it back on several times, but it was a hot day and I was dancing and sweaty and therefore unsuccessful. Here’s a picture of me later, after I stuffed the chicken breasts in my purse and resolved to party all night, regardless of nipple protrusion.
So the NuBra is good, but not great in my climate. A real bra that fastens with straps and snaps would have been helpful in that circumstance.
Another recent discovery I’ve made is this product:
Low Beams are basically flower-shaped band-aids that you put on your bosoms to paste your nipples down. They certainly flatten my Tootsie Rolls, but they don’t add any fluffiness to my pancake. And at $9 for 5 pair, I find them pricey. I do like the package, though, which has a key ring and the slogan “Headlights are for cars.”
Because neither the NuBra nor the Low Beams fully met my boobie needs, I whiled away an afternoon at a lingerie shop while I was in New York waiting on Aunt Lulu to have her large bundle of joy. There an elderly woman measured me and pronounced me a 34AA, not a 36AA as the last three “breast experts” had. My bust size is difficult to assess, not because I’m uncooperative or unduly modest, but because I have a hump under my right shoulder blade because of my scoliosis, and even my second spine surgery didn’t reduce it. Apparently I stood different ways for the various women who measured me and that accounted for the discrepancy in the calculations.
The difference between a 34 and a 36 mattered because the cups in a 34AA are smaller than those in a 36AA, and tinier cups were exactly what I needed, as I illustrated with fruit in the second part of my description of the wars.
Once I had the correct numbers and letters to work with, the sales lady advised me that Wacoal is great with petite bras, and her suggestions were right on the money.
To my great delight, I arrived home with five bras that fit.
I bought this bra in ivory and nude:
You can just take my word for it that it doesn’t mush in if you press on it, and there’s no extra room for an avocado or turnip in the cup.
Then I bought this bra because it has a bow:
You do remember that Bill has a thing for bows, don’t you?
That’s why I think he’ll go wild for this bra, which I bought in nude and black:
That’s not just a bow; it’s a lace-up mini-corset looking thing, which is far sexier than anything I’ve ever worn on a bra before. I don’t think this ad gives you a true picture of the vixenish quality of this brassiere. For a lady used to slapping silicone chicken breasts on her front and calling it a day, this is a definite improvement.
Picture an average pancake, sitting on a plate. Now think about the tiny Tootsie Rolls people give out on Halloween. Cut one in half cross wise. Put a dot of syrup in the middle of the pancake and place the Tootsie Roll on it like a rocket. When you are finished, you will have made an extremely realistic (and edible!) model of one of my breasts. It should look like this:
(I could have made this a little thinner to more accurately represent my breast, but I didn’t want to burn it.)
I read a lot of Renaissance poetry in college, and poets always described bosoms as “orbs” or “globes” in recognition of the fact that the area supporting the nipple is usually three dimensional and round, like a baseball or a cantaloupe. I have yet to find a poet who says:
For gladly would I give up burritos, and water, and coins
In exchange for your smooth, flat bosom, so like a compact disc
That plays the music of the fire in my loins.
Unfortunately, bra makers also seem to think that all bra-wearers have round boobs, not pancakes topped with a Tootsie Roll. Finding a bra that fits me is even harder than getting all my laundry folded. I can go braless, but then I flash headlights regardless of the temperature. Bill doesn’t object to this, but in the Tiny Kingdom you can’t exactly hang out by the frozen foods at Publix with your party hats on and not expect to start a rumor that your marriage is on the rocks and you’re trolling for men by the DiGiorno pizzas.
Last week I decided to tackle my titty problem directly. I paid off my American Express bill, then sat at the computer to find the perfect bra, one that doesn’t crumple from unused space, that doesn’t chafe with prison-quality underwire, and most importantly, one that provides a smooth silhouette, with no wrinkles or obvious nipple.
I found BareNecessities.com, which had a huge selection. I ordered a wide variety of 36A bras, ranging from the $20 Warner’s “Be Flirty” to the $127 La Perla “Vintage Contour Bra.” (I figured if it was the magic bra, I’d just buy one and wash it out every other day or so and maybe wear Band-aids every once in a while to save wear and tear.)
Then, because I was already on the site, I ordered some new underwear as well, because mine are getting ratty. I had already ordered Bill fancy new underwear and undershirts from Nordstrom, and I figured that I deserved the same level of undergarments.
Many clicks and dollars later, my order was complete. The boxes would be delivered in a couple of days, I’d try on all the bras and underwear in private, then ship the rejects back quickly so my credit card could be credited.
The next day was a busy one. Drew and Porter had spent the night at camp, and Finn was sleeping late, so I headed to Jazzercise before I ran errands to get ready for the beach. We were leaving the next day and I had to get decorations for Bill’s 40th birthday, beach toys, and groceries.
While I was doing rock-claps to “It’s Raining Men” my cell phone rang. I answered it, panting, and heard a teenager on the other end of the line calling from camp to tell me that Drew was vomiting and needed to be picked up. I estimated that I was thirty minutes from camp.
“It will take me at least forty minutes to get there,” I told the counselor. “I’m on my way.”
I ran to the minivan and headed up the highway, making only an eight minute detour to purchase some decorations for Bill’s 40th birthday party, which would take place at the beach. I wasn’t at all confident that I could find what I needed once I left the city.
Drew wasn’t looking so bad when I picked him up. I let him drink a couple of sips of water as we headed home on the crowded highway. Moments later, he made a choking sound, and then I heard splattering. He threw up twice more on the way home, and we stopped each time to clean out the van. By the time we got home, Drew was pale and trembling.
I bathed him and tucked him in bed. I surveyed the van, which reeked. I sprayed rug cleaner liberally over the affected parts and decided to opt for the “let it soak in” method of cleaning. The van had to be sparkling and the smell at least tolerable by the next morning, when we’d be pulling out and heading toward the ocean.
With Drew consigned to bed, my day of running pre-vacation errands was shot. I headed to the computer to pay bills. The phone rang.
“This Geneva, from Bare Necessities,” a woman said. “You get our email about you order?”
“No, I haven’t had time to check emails today,” I said.
“Ah. Well, because you are new customer, and because of size of order, we must needs to check your credit card information more exactly. Can you send us copy of you drivers license, front and back, and credit card, front and back?”
I looked at my caller ID. Geneva was calling from Bare Necessitites.
“Certainly,” I said. I got her phone number and email address and hung up.
As I prepared to scan the information, I realized that I had put the order on my American Express. I believe that card is somewhere here in the room near our computer, and I’ve kept a close eye on the account, so I know no one else is using it, but I haven’t actually seen the card in over a year. I just have the numbers and expiration date and I use it for ordering online. There was no way I was going to be able to send Geneva a copy of the American Express.
Instead, I retrieved my Mastercard, and sent it. I emailed all the information, and included a note explaining that I had substituted one credit card for another.
Moments later the phone rang again. It was Geneva.
“I get you email,” she said. “But I cannot put order on new card. System will not let me do. You cannot send me the American Express?”
“No,” I said truthfully. I didn’t want to tell her I didn’t actually have it, so I said, “you see, one of my twins is throwing up, and I’m not at the office today, and I don’t have the American Express with me. I have this problem with my bosoms– they’re just so tiny and flat, but my nipples are really protrusive, and I can’t find a bra that really fits me, and your company looked like it had a good selection, so I was ordering a variety of 36As to see if I could find the perfect bra. And then I decided maybe I deserved some nice underwear. But really, I’m almost forty, and I’ve dealt with it this long, so maybe you should just cancel the order. I’m not going to be able to leave the house, and I’m leaving town in the morning.”
There was silence on the line for a moment, and then Geneva said, “I talk to manager and call you back.”
I barely had time to check on Drew before the phone rang again and Tatiana was on the phone. “Geneva tells me you have uncommon breasts,” she said.
I’ve seen a lot of naked ladies in my day, and I’ve never seen anyone with boobs like mine, so that seemed like a fair assumption. “I guess you could say that,” I agreed.
“I am sure Bare Necessities will be able to provide a bra that fits you,” Tatiana said smoothly. “We were able to confirm that the names and addresses on your American Express and Mastercard matched, so I have simply canceled the order from your American Express and reordered it on your Mastercard. Will that be satisfactory to you?”
“Sure,” I said. “I certainly appreciate your going to all that trouble.”
“It is our pleasure at Bare Necessities,” Tatiana replied. “Let me know if I can be of further assistance.”
The customer service at Bare Necessities certainly put me in a good mood, which was just as well, because I still had to pack for the beach, clean the van, and tend to Drew.
By the time Bill got home, I was bone-weary.
“You seem quiet,” Bill remarked.
I told him about Drew, the vomit, and the rest of the day, which included a tearful goodbye to Finn’s best friend, who was moving to Tennessee, Porter’s return from camp, apparently germ-free, and the creation of piles of beach clothes for each boy, neatly laid out in the den.
Then I told him what was really on my mind.
“Honey, today a lady who knows a lot about bosoms told me I had ‘uncommon breasts,'” I said.
“As in uncommonly small?” Bill asked. “I’d say she’s right on the money. We’ve always said that when we got married, you gave up long haired men and I gave up big titty women.”
“Yeah, but you could grow long hair if you wanted to,” I pointed out.
“Don’t go worrying about your boobs, honey,” Bill said. He handed me a glass. “Drink this gin and tonic.”
Then he slapped me on the bottom.
“Besides, I married you for your ass, not your tits, honey.”