finishing touches

Examining my reflection in the full-length mirror, I carefully added a few more finishing touches. First, I donned the crystal, dangling earrings, and cocktail ring. Next, I put on a gardenia encrusted bonnet, beaded handbag, crimson red lipstick, and sky blue eye shadow. Last came the piece de la resistance, a gray faux mink wrap, and two-inch plastic high heels. Even at four years old, I understood an outfit wasn’t complete without the right accessories.

As the granddaughter of a silent movie actress, the true meaning of being ready for your close-up was ingrained in my psyche from birth. Both my grandmother and mother never left the house without being completely dolled up and fluffed. Whether it was to the grocery store or a lavish party, they consistently looked like they came from the pages of Vogue magazine.

While the matriarchs in the family called this compulsion “taking pride in one’s appearance,” others might look at it as narcissistic. My children liked to call it crazy.

As a part-time fitness instructor at the YMCA, looking cute in the latest workout gear was one thing, but my going in full hair and makeup was ridiculous. In their opinion, why get so made up when you’re just going to sweat?

For the past twenty-seven years, until COVID hit, I enjoyed sharing my love of catapulting endorphins to an obscene high while gyrating to loud, pulsing aerobic music. Getting my students to dance like a crowd of whirling dervishes made my heart sing. Their clothing, on the other hand, left something to desire. While I was brightly lit up, they looked unkempt in a mishmash of gray colors and basic, oversized shirts. I decided a change was in order, so I created a contest.

“Ok, everyone,” I began one Saturday while stretching our limbs. “I’m giving you four months to buy new shoes, and they can’t be black or white. Go get something flashy, say in neon green.” Rolling their eyes at the sound of spending money, I quickly added, “There will be prizes for those who do!”

Before long, the students entered in feet of hot pink, bright purple, lime yellow, and for the truly brave, multi-colored. Utterly delighted that they decided to play along (bribery does work), I found myself smiling at how much better they appeared as they gathered in clusters. What a difference a new pair of shoes can make!

But as I continued to study them further, I realized their newfound beauty wasn’t coming from what was on their feet. It came from the way they interacted.

Off in one corner, a group of women laughed together. In another, congratulations were expressed at the birth of a new grandchild. To the side, hidden by the giant exercise balls, a tear was gently wiped off the face of a woman sharing a recent sorrow. It wasn’t long ago that they showed up for class only to burn calories, not socialize. Now, the brightly colored threads of their friendships were woven together, creating a lovely tapestry.

I found my breath taken away by the beauty of it all as I realized our finest asset is not in what we put on but the people we wrap our lives around. Those unique individuals who walk with integrity, shine with dignity and sing the truth. When we spend time with people who carry a positive outlook, with warm, loving hearts, we can’t help but mirror the same exquisite attributes.

Now, I may still be my Norma Desmond neurotic self when dressing in the morning (sorry, some things at 68 just never change),but I’ve learned there will never be an embellishment more attractive than the people I share my day with. Just by being in their presence, I feel beautiful, glamorous, and fashionable. Now, that’s what I call the finishing touch!

Think about the friends that make you look spectacular. I’d love to hear about them.