Like many people, I have scaled back on my holiday shopping, instead knitting colorful hats, amidst the usual onslaught of commercialism. On some level, it feels like the relief I’ve always wanted from the burden of the season’s overkill of happy Christmas cheer and frenzied buying. As a Jewish child in a household of quiet tension and heavy depression, I spent many hours escaping into the joy of Christmas on TV. My mother, who struggled with many demons, lit up during the Christmas season.
Our house was filled with little elves and toy sleighs, and we had a pink – need I say, fake? – Christmas tree, which sat on the mantle next to the Chanukah Menorah. This was to the dismay of my father, an avowed atheist who had been brought up in a strict Orthodox Jewish home. I loved Christmas, and I liked Chanukah. It’s one of the plights many Jews endure. How can Chanukah – a relatively minor holiday for Jews – possibly compete with the glamour and excitement of Christmas?! So perhaps it’s no surprise that the season conjures up a complicated mélange of feelings for me.
This year, as I neared the end of my knitting projects and gift buying, I ventured out to an upscale mall to buy that final present. I timed the visit so I would arrive the moment the mall opened on a Saturday morning, in hopes I could be in and out within a half hour, max. To my delight, the place was empty. I briskly walked by Gucci, Ann Taylor, Coach and Dolce & Gabanna, feeling somewhat smug about being a 99%-er in a 1% mall. I had only two stops to make. At the first, I purchased an item from a weary salesman who was bracing for yet another long day and seemed to appreciate my kindness and empathy. At the second store, I was greeted by a smiling saleswoman who said, ‘wow, you’re movin’ fast!’, helping me to maintain my pace, as she quickly processed my order.
As I was about to step onto the escalator to exit the mall, victorious in my rapid sweep, I heard a woman call out to me. Was it possible that someone knew me in this phalanx of the upper-class? No, it wasn’t anyone I knew; it was a well-heeled salesperson calling out to me from a small cosmetics stand. I turned around a second time, and we made eye contact, and she gestured for me to come over to her. Normally, I resist being roped into buying anything, much less a beauty product, and much less at a mall. But I had managed to not spend much money, and something about her friendly call amidst feeling stressed out in this upscale environment lowered my resistance.
The woman offered me a “simple treatment”. And I thought, why not take a moment for myself, a free moment with no obligations, and then I could sashay out of the mall feeling more relaxed and pampered… She took a calculated and up-close look at me, all the while, spewing a waterfall of words to both compliment me and convince me that I needed to buy a special “eye serum”. She bathed me in what you might call “back-handed compliments” – “you must have been very pretty when you were young, ah yes, you have lovely high cheek bones, and look at your gorgeous eyes! I’d love to see more of them!” I knew it was time to leave, but exhaustion and curiosity kept me there. When she blithely transitioned into the final hook, saying, “I have the product that will make you look much younger”, Mindy #1 said “leave immediately”, and Mindy #2 didn’t budge.
I allowed her to apply an “eye serum” around my eyes – clearly named to imply its scientific nature – while the saleswoman claimed it would reduce my wrinkles, dark circles and puffy eyes. Why didn’t I scream out “NO! I am fine the way I am!”, circles, puffy eyes and all? Mindy #1 knew she was falling for societal messages that glorify youth, and seduce middle-age and older women into spending millions of dollars to appear “young”. But Mindy #2 said that there was no harm in getting a freeby, and wouldn’t it be interesting to see the results of this magic application? Sensing my resistance, the saleswoman assured me that the product was safe and included only “organic ingredients” and “natural herbs”, all the while massaging my face (which felt good!) and telling me I was already looking younger. She worked only on one side of my face, promising me that I would see the difference when she was done.
And then she handed me a mirror and asked me to self-evaluate. Didn’t I see how much less puffy my ONE eye was? Couldn’t I see how the wrinkles had disappeared? Wasn’t my ONE eye looking brighter? Mindy #1 looked very closely and she agreed that one half of her face looked, for the lack of a better word, better… Then the saleswoman pulled out her calculator, as if we were close friends sharing a secret, and sidled up close to me, wordlessly holding it in front of my face to show me the price. You can guess that it wasn’t cheap. Mindy #2 took over, and got incensed. Seeing this reaction, the saleswoman appealed to Mindy #1 and counter-offered, whispering that she would use her special discount card, but no one else could find out. Do you think that the red flags shot up and sirens went off in my head? Yes, but, sadly only in the distance…
Even though I balked at the price, I had momentarily sipped the kool-aid, thinking that I could – or should – look younger through the application of this mysterious eye serum. The next price tag offered was still outrageously high, and the saleswoman got flustered (or should I say, “acted” flustered), moving about in her work area as if she were actually looking for something. Perhaps she was biding time as she thought of her next move, or maybe hoping her behavior would wear me down more. Finally, she stopped fidgeting and offered me an even “more special” discount, and, hooked into the bait, Mindy #1 said “yes”.
When I got home, I googled the product and confirmed that I was one of many, many women who have been bamboozled. The serum could be purchased on-line for about one-tenth the original asking price at the mall, and this so-called natural product was producing an allergic reaction for many of the angry women who “bought” into the youth serum argument… It was only after I realized I had been taken that I reminded myself that I’m fine with who I am, wrinkles and all.
What is aging well? It’s not about botox, eye serums and face lifts, although our consumerist economy would like us to believe that. It’s about eating well, exercising, staying intellectually engaged, and open to new people and ideas. We live in a youth-oriented culture where even young women are getting botox as a preventative measure! It’s time to reclaim our graying hair, our wrinkles and our sagging body parts! To love ourselves as we are…
At the time of this writing, the eye serum saga continues. I have returned to the mall twice to get a refund, but with this so-called “independent” business, only the owner has the “authority” to credit my account, and the owner is avoiding me. Should I camp out at the mall and demand my money back? Should I bring a group of 99%-ers to protest our culture that commodifies youth? Or should I not waste any more time on this foolishness and just accept that I lost some money? If nothing else, this experience has reminded me that I am not impervious to our youth-obsessed culture and am vulnerable to persuasion. Good information for the next time…
** When I first posted this piece, I said “stay tuned and check back at this site. I’ll let you know how the situation resolves (e.g., get my money back, have a raging argument with the owner, start an anti-anti-wrinkle campaign for older women!)…”
After two days of not getting a promised call-back from the owner, he finally called me this morning and said to come back to the mall for my refund. And lo and behold, I got it! THE END! P.S. This was only part of the battle won. I still may start an anti-anti-wrinkle campaign!