There are many places where you could begin blogging about life in the Middle East. A hospital waiting room seems an unlikely choice but maybe it’s appropriate to start with a part of myself that I’m tackling on a daily basis: my vanity.
I was waiting to see a dermatologist when I was confronted by it again. I was so distracted by the pictures adorning the walls of the waiting area- pictures of luminescent women with glossy manes, pearly white teeth and dewy skin- that I didn’t notice it lurking there. As I gazed on jealously, Vanity whispered: dermatology doesn’t just cover the hair loss that has left me feeling older than my years, it equates to cosmetic procedures too…
At the end of my appointment, I stood to leave and as I did, I caught sight of something in the dermatologist’s horrid mirror. It was worse than the mirrors in a badly lit changing room. I didn’t immediately recognise the tired woman staring back at me. She looked a bit like me. She needed to get a new abaya to replace the hand-me-down one she’s still wearing, mysteriously smeared with chocolate. And then it hit me. It was me.
Nervously, I sat back down and found myself asking what, if anything, could be done about the eye bags I seem to have picked up from a decade of motherhood. Unlike the reusable supermarkets shoppers I only ever remember are stashed in the boot of the car once I’m at the supermarket checkout, I never forget about these bags. They are a sad reminder that I’m not the girl I once was, physically anyway. It doesn’t matter how much sleep I get, how many vitamins I pop, or what I eat, they won’t go away. But part of me was hoping maybe only I notice them. Maybe they belong in my little handbag of personal, paranoid anxieties.
I remember someone once telling me that no one ever notices if you get a facial tick from tiredness, something I routinely have. It’s only something you know about, they reassured me. But perhaps these general rules don’t apply to me. When I was standing at the school gates at the height of our preparations to move to the Middle East, a friend asked me why my eyebrow was winking at her.
The same was true at the dermatologist. Instead of reassuring me that, as a sprightly 39-year-old, he didn’t know what I was talking about, he reached over and grabbed one of the bags. He gave it a good tug (I’d have handled my old supermarket shoppers with more care) and informed me that the only option available to me was surgery. ‘Nothing else is going to shift those.’
As I made my way out, bruised physically and emotionally, I found myself being guided me into a small room where the hospital manager presides over her glamorous department. Not realising it, I was walking into round 2 of this eye-bag-bashing. There was nothing ‘baggy’ about the hospital manager, though, apart from her exquisite clutch. She could have just stepped off the pages of Vogue. I wanted to know her secrets. For a moment, I wanted to be her.
She didn’t seem to need to hear from me- perhaps the bags were doing all the talking. She got out a calculator and scrutinised my face, all the time bashing in very long numbers with her gel nails. She quoted me for the bags and then almost doubled the price- ‘That’s how much it will be for us to sort out your droopy eyelids as well.’
I wrote down the figures as though they contained the secrets of the universe, barely noticing that I still had my 3-year-old with me. He was spraying Capri sun over the pristine office but I couldn’t focus on anything other than myself, my bags and my need to acquire £6000.
On the journey home, I decided I couldn’t wait for my husband to come into into ask the question: ‘Can I have eye surgery for my fortieth?’ Instead, I rang him at work. He was probably doing something very important but I didn’t care and I didn’t ask. I was cross when I got the response I knew I would get. My face was ageing but my behaviour was regressing. If only I could switch these two processes over. The answer remained the same when my husband came home that night. And I think it’s likely to stay that way.
So where does that leave those of struggling to accept some unwanted aspect of ourselves? If I had £6000, would surgery offer me any meaningful answers? Without getting into the right and wrongs of cosmetic surgery, and the evils of advertising designed to prey on a woman’s insecurities, there’s clearly a deeper issue to discuss.
Where, exactly, are we deriving our value? Do we see the significance of our lives in our looks, our youth, our intellect, our belongings, clothes, shoes, our children, our careers, the number of FB likes we got that day? Maybe we see our value in more noble pursuits- in ‘gold-chained addictions’, as I once heard William P Young, author of ‘The Shack’, describe them here. By that, he meant things we do to create significance, or to please God, or to please someone else. Maybe writing a blog has the potential to be one…
When I’m not being tempted away from my core beliefs by beautiful hospital managers assessing my value with their calculators, I believe our true value lies in the fact we are loved. We are loved unconditionally, warts and all. We are not valuable because we look a certain way or because we’ve had a good annual appraisal or because we’ve managed to make cupcakes with the swirly icing for the nursery party instead of lobbing a shop-bought one in the weekly groceries. To pinch a line from Bridget Jones’ Mr Darcy, you are valuable ‘just as you are.’
A song by Chris Tomlin attempts to answer the question of who God is. We’re told he is a ‘Good, good father, that’s who he is.’ It also offers a suggestion about our identity: ‘And I’m loved by him, that’s who I am.’ Our identity is to be found in the simple fact we are loved: we are loved by a good, good father, a father who takes great delight in us, eye bags and all…
‘Since you are precious to me, you are honoured and I love you’