For several years I worked as a beauty and skincare expert, selling high-end cosmetics to New York's elite clientele. These customers were mainly comprised of women in need of a slick, quick, expensive fix. That, and of course, hope, packaged elegantly into whatever well-designed bottle might catch their eye. The ever-engaging descriptive phrases, such as, "tighter, firmer, lusher and younger" proved to be the time-tested and most sale-successful lures. Implied was the promise of an elastically perfect fountain of youth, a hefty price tag, and a confidence that could only be purchased.
I would never suggest that it is in any way wrong to desire self-improvement, but as one who has seen firsthand what some women will put themselves through in order to achieve this renewal, I have come to discover that the real price paid has nothing to do with money.
In other words, to see hope in a bottle is to see despair without it. There has to be an element of self-disgust, and in this society, one doesn't have to look too far to have that idea reinforced for them. The fashionable world of cosmetic beauty disapproves of imperfection and has given us a nice, long list of exactly what we need to hate ourselves for.
An anecdote comes to mind. A very young woman -- gorgeous -- about 19-years-old, approached my counter. Her beautiful, big brown eyes were welled up with tears and as I greeted her with a warm smile, she burst into a sobbing fit.
What could possibly be so distressing that this total stranger would choose to publicly display such grief?
Ah. It was her cellulite. And as she lifted the hem of her ever so short shorts for me to investigate what I assumed would have to be an atrocity of puckered flesh, all I saw was a pole-dancer-ready leg and butt cheek. What was I missing? The woman was flawless.
She was, however, not without the ability to get attention, and as the other cosmetics associates hung back on their perches, waiting on my next move, I could feel their thoughts boring into my skull:
Sell her your most expensive cellulite product. Do it. Do it! If you don't... I will!
But, there was something about the young woman's sincerity that got to me. She really believed she was ugly. Her sadness was genuine. She came to me for help and as much as I was tempted to whip out the crème that would boost my commission check to the stratosphere, I knew that nothing I could sell her would address her real problem. So, instead of selling her the snake oil of self-hate, I thought I'd toss a little self-help advice her way.
Another associate stepped in and sighed. "Cellulite. Unfortunately, there's no cure for it."
I looked at the vulture and with my eyes I told her: back off.
The young woman wept softly. "Is that true? Is there nothing I can do about my appearance?"
She looked at me for the truth. In the same way I saw that she was honest about her concerns, she saw in me someone who wanted to ease her pain.
I wasn't going to sell her something that I knew wouldn't bring results. I wanted to introduce the idea of self-esteem to her. I wanted her to concentrate on how beautiful she was, as opposed to how awful she believed herself to be.
"You know, there is no real cure for cellulite. But the perfect solution to your problem does exist," I said.
The floor went silent. All eyes were on me now. I continued.
"The real cure for cellulite is self-acceptance. Imagine? Imagine loving yourself enough to accept everything you've got? Imagine not caring what other people think--"
They all looked at me as if I'd just said, "Ting Tang Walla Balla Bing Bang," and after a short silent pause, the din of the sales pitches drowned out my good intentions.
The young woman ended up spending nearly $1,000 in other people's cellulite products. She walked out with a smile on her face and a happy lilt to her already perfect step.
I, on the other hand, made no commission that day. But that was OK, because I was happy to know that I was true to my own self.
I wish her well.