Picture this: I didn't just smile and say 'Cheese'

September 25, 2005

I WAS TAKING QUESTIONS FROM THE audience after a speech when a woman called out irritably, "Your hair is different. Why did you change your hair?"

She was referring to the picture that ran above my column in The Sun. A picture that was taken in 1998.

I wanted to tell her, snappishly, that I had changed my clothes, too, and wasn't she grateful that I hadn't been wearing the same pink suit jacket every day since 1998.

But I didn't.

I smiled and said The Sun caught me on the best hair day of my life, and I was grateful to have that moment preserved. And that my hair had changed, like my mind, about a million times since then.

I remember the day that picture was taken more clearly than my wedding day. Probably because my hair looked better.

I reported to the beauty shop at 7 a.m., after staying up all night trying to decide what to wear. From there, I visited a television make-up artist.

When I told my 14-year-old son and his friend, Jack, that the woman who did the make-up on Homicide: Life on the Street had done my make-up, Jack asked, "Does she do only dead people?"

All these years later, Jack is still that deadpan funny.

And, all these years later, I look different. You all the things that have happened to me since 1998, but mostly, my kids.

When it was time for a new picture, I knew the drill.

Race frantically through department stores, purchasing the elements of four different looks.

Then, return them all, in favor of something already in my closet.

Stay up all night, worrying if that had been a good decision.

Report to a beauty shop at first light. Then on to the makeup counter of the local department store for a makeover. (Homicide has been off the air since 1999.)

I told the young makeup saleswoman that I just wanted my pale eyes "to pop," not much more. But when I finally caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror, I felt something between silly and ill.

I put my sunglasses on as I left the store, and I tried not to cry. No doubt, this makeup job would run.

She had done a beautiful job, and I looked lovely, considering what she had to work with. But I was as self-conscious as if I had been wearing a clown mask.

There is something about women, I think, that makes it so difficult -- after a Cinderella life of work, housework, volunteering and kids -- for us to go to the ball.

We don't think we have the right. We don't think we belong. Or maybe, we know it won't last past midnight. No point in getting our hopes up.

Or maybe we are just comfortable in our Cinderella rags, in our skin.

Anyway, I crept into the photo studio, and my hands shook as I tried to make like a fashion model. One hundred spontaneous smiles. Head tilted in 90 broken-neck degrees.

And instead of me snapping pictures of someone else's life as it unfolded, someone was snapping pictures of me and my every gesture. The world felt kind of upside down.

Anyway, I pushed my sunglasses up my nose, called my boss from the lobby and said I was going home with a headache -- I just didn't say what kind. And I sped home in the kid-carrying van I have been driving since my last photo opportunity.

Then I did what I always do after a photo shoot.

I took a hot shower, a long nap of forgetfulness, and I woke in time to make dinner.

susan.reimer@baltsun.com

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