Every woman over the age of 55 knows what the worst thing about old age is.
It’s not that your husband, now flabby and flatulent, has snagged a divorcée fifteen years younger than you, or that your best friends have abandoned you to move to Seattle to be near their grandchildren who are being perfectly indulged by their parents and don’t have a spare moment for grandparents, or that your own parents at age 90 refuse to surrender their car keys and spend Saturday mornings weaving across double lines on their way to McDonald’s to meet the geezers, or that arthritis has built an impregnable wall of ever-expanding pain in the thumb of your writing hand, or that you suffer from vaginal dryness, which may or may not make a difference, because nobody’s paying attention to that part of your body any more, and if they are, there are remedies and those parts aren’t visible when you’re all dressed up to go to the symphony or church.
You know what I’m talking about – it’s your beard.
It starts out harmlessly enough, with one tiny hair sticking up like a small gopher in a perfectly smooth desert of chin. You make the mistake of plucking it, which you can do easily with thumb and middle finger. But a couple of months later another one appears and then another, and you figure that tweezers will take care of them. This is the signal for them to multiply like rabbits and you have a small field of post-menopausal fuzz, which sends you to the pharmacy’s depilatory department where you select among the tubes and waxes guaranteed to restore your silky feminine epidermis.
You follow the directions on the tube and pat the few spots on your chin and, heavens, now upper lip, hiding in the bathroom so no one sees this embarrassing growth and depilation process that looks worse than an actor’s white make-up remover. You sit on the toilet or the side of the tub, novel in hand, until the depilatory has burned into your chin whiskers, dissolving them with some magical formula which needs to be rubbed with a sturdy washcloth and followed up with a soothing cream, and you delude yourself into thinking that you are now restored to your youthful self and all is well. You’re ready for perfume and earrings and no one will be the wiser.
Except two days later you rub your chin and feel – surely not! – stubble! Stubble like the kind on your husband’s face when he’s gone out to mow the lawn and hasn’t bothered to shave. If no one touches you for a day, you’re okay. But one more day and the stubble suddenly becomes visible in the slant of sunlight pouring through the car’s windshield. Should you tweeze, depilate or wait a few more days until there’s really something to work on?
You pick up a brochure at the Skin Center and see that electrolysis is an option. At several hundred dollars per hair, you figure the process will now cost you at least $25,000. You could have laser hair removal but only if you have dark hair, because the laser beam only recognizes brunettes and can’t find its way to the chin hairs of dumb blondes or gray-haired grandmothers.
You think back to childhood when your dad took you to the freak show at Barnum and Bailey’s and you watched the Siamese twins, the 600-pound man, and the bearded lady, whom you thought you might turn into at any moment, and now you realize you have. How long should you wait from tweezing to tweezing, depilation to depilation? Should you let your beard grow until you turn into one of Macbeth’s witches and you can scare off your friends’ unruly grandchildren? Should you finally admit that you’re an old lady, a crone, a wise older (old) woman?
How do Joan Collins, Helen Mirren and Sophia Loren handle this problem, not to mention the stars that now appear on high definition TV? The rest of my old age I can deal with. I’m mellow, don’t wear mini-skirts and white patent leather boots or rub foundation into my wrinkles so that’s all one sees. I grow old gracefully, smile like Helen Hayes, and accept compliments about my stunning white hair. But the beard … that has me stumped, or stubbled, if you will.