The Unwritten Code Of Grooming Conduct Hurts More Than It Helps

A week or so after the holidays this past winter, I lit up when my boyfriend casually mentioned that he had one more present for me. In the immediate wake of gift-giving season, his timing was unprecedented, which made the announcement all the more special.

Slowly, I opened the envelope handed to me, savoring every second of the unveiling process. Inside was a single piece of paper. As I flipped it over, I wondered whether it was a certificate for an hour-long hot tissue massage, or a sweet coupon reading something like: You are hereby entitled to one month straight during which I will perform all household chores without complaint.

Instead, staring back at me was a Groupon issued by LaserTouch Aesthetics in Soho.

“It’s for laser vein removal,” my boyfriend said, smiling.

I sensed that he sincerely expected me to be pleased. My boyfriend is a wonderful man who makes me feel beautiful, safe, and loved. But while squinting to read the fine print, my expression automatically morphed from you-didn’t-have-to-do-that! glee into you-really-should-not-have-done-that confusion.

“It was a great deal,” he added. “I paid 250 bucks for it.”

“Sounds like a lot of money to me,” I managed, then grabbed a book and sat on the couch so I could pretend to read while mulling everything over.

Many a facialist had pointed out the tiny red marks flanking my nose in the past. Obviously, I had never loved the way these minuscule ruptured vessels looked. But I didn’t consider them a major flaw worthy of a medical professional’s attention. As a body confident 32-year-old, I prided myself on avoiding the oh-so-slippery cosmetic procedures slope. If my boyfriend had a problem with my face, he could find a more taut, feline one to adore! What a ridiculous way to spend hundreds of dollars, anyway!

Finally, I asked: “What prompted you to buy this for me?”

“Well, I’ve seen you stare into the mirror to put makeup on those little broken veins nearly every day since we’ve lived together, so…“

I could see the point my boyfriend was making: that since I bothered to conceal the blemishes, it was reasonable to assume I’d jump at the chance to do away with them once and for all. A solid argument. But no matter how well intentioned or sensible his defense, I was intent on countering his position.

“What led you to believe that cover-up was an insufficient measure? It’s not like it’s a major pain in the ass. A dab here, a dab there. I’ve never complained about it, have I?”

“Not exactly, but I figured you’d be happy not to deal with that process anymore. You might even feel better about yourself afterwards.”

My boyfriend’s statement, while aggravating, was cloaked in a remarkably endearing brand of candor. Still, I couldn’t find it in myself to relent just yet.

“No interest,” I said.

“The coupon is good for a year,” he noted.

Months passed during which I refused to redeem my Groupon by scheduling an appointment with Dr. Ali Vaffa at LaserTouch.

It took the arrival of an especially irritating zit one April morning to make me reconsider.

photo by Mélanie Berliet
Photo by Mélanie Berliet

While inspecting the mound that had formed on my right nostril, I was faced (quite literally) with the reality that I was clogging my nasal pores by caking makeup onto a specific area way too frequently. If it meant avoiding future pimples, I was suddenly willing to explore laser vein removal.

A quick Google search led me to a video depicting the procedure. After scrutinizing your face through a large magnifying glass, the doctor rubs a cold substance to the target area and then zaps the culprit veins with a laser, ultimately reducing any discolorations.

I walked into Dr. Vaffa’s pristine office at 4pm one Friday, and I was out by 4:15pm.

Photo by Mélanie Berliet
Photo by Mélanie Berliet

There was very little irritation or swelling, and my skin looked fresher within a few hours. Just as my boyfriend predicted, the disappearance of those tiny squiggly nuisances made me feel better almost instantly.

On the way home, I thought about why it had taken me so long to come around, and why I’d freaked out about the whole thing in the first place. I was the one who insisted on the value of practical gifts, after all. Plus, I knew that my boyfriend had my best interest at heart. He was the one who forced me to go to the doctor when necessary, and who called the dentist in advance of my scheduled cleaning appointments to make sure I would get x-rays when appropriate. And yet, I’d accused him of being a vain pig. I had failed to consider the possibility that he might be reacting naturally to a behavior he’d witnessed, and that he might just have my mental health in mind above all.

The truth, I realized, was that my boyfriend had unintentionally bruised my ego, and I had responded by posing as someone who was too modest or too grounded or too superior to undergo a benign elective treatment. Like many, I spend money on clothing and haircuts and a gym membership without thinking twice. I also dedicate myself wholeheartedly to tackling any zit with every weapon at my disposal. Also like many, I’ve always abided by the terms of an unwritten code of grooming conduct, which compels us to hide—or at least downplay—the lengths we go to to look our best, even from those closest to us.

So when my boyfriend suggested a reasonable solution for eliminating the rogue veins he’d seen me smother in beige goop routinely, I felt embarrassed more than anything. To reestablish my precious identity as the relatively low maintenance gal I aim to be, I accused him of overestimating my enthusiasm for clear skin.

The beauty directives that fly our way are punishing and confusing. We’re supposed to care about the way we look, but not too much. The fact is that being body confident does not preclude caring about your appearance. It’s up to each of us, ultimately, to decide how far we’re willing to go in the realm of personal upkeep. And when it comes to the maintenance work required to meet the standards we choose to set, we might all benefit from a little more honesty—with ourselves, and each other. TC mark

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