This spring I turned 40, my daughter turned one, and to commemorate both, I bought an unlimited month-long hair and makeup package, “The Ultimate Zsuzs,” from a little salon down the street.

My intention is to explore how, or if, radically upping my grooming game will impact my life. Below is the second installment of my momover experiment. You can read week one here.

Momover Day 8

“The Ultimate Zsuzs” was getting me out of the house — both because I left to go to the salon, and because once I’d been at the salon, I felt pressure to go do something.

There was a block of time, from about 7 p.m. when my baby went to bed, to about 10 or 11 p.m. when I went to bed, that had only recently opened up as free time. Only recently had that window of time not been dominated by abject exhaustion. I wandered into realizing this, like stumbling into an energy oasis after a year of walking in the lack-of-energy desert. It was not only a few extra hours in the day – it was a few more hours that I could have child free, with my husband or on my own. 

Tonight I went to an arts event that I probably would have skipped if I hadn’t been looking for a reason to be out  in the world. Meg did my makeup. The baby came to the salon with me and Zsuzsi held her, played with her. At my request she tried an evening look, a smoky eye and a dramatic lip. It felt like so much – too much. Like if I ran into anyone I knew at the event I was going to, I would have to explain to them that I was working on a story about hair and makeup.

I didn’t see anyone I knew, though. I smiled warmly and sheepishly at appealing strangers in an effort to counteract the look of being a Robert Palmer girl.

I was still uneasy inside of that kind of glamour. I didn’t like the way it made me stand out. I felt like it might send signals that weren’t accurate, like it might deter down-to-earth people from identifying me as one of their tribe.

Day 9

Meg gave me a haircut. It had been eight months since I’d had one. I didn’t do anything dramatic, just took care of my split ends, and tended to the layer of weird bang-length hair that came out of my scalp at the ears that is common to women who’ve just had babies.

I knew I’d be attending a birthday party for the three-year-old daughter of one of my best friends later, so I kiddingly suggested to Meg that she make me up as a clown. She countered with the opportunity to do a big glittery eye and we went for it. It looked ridiculous but it was fun-ridiculous.

Glitter eye = fun-ridiculous

It was an incredibly good party, as parties for toddlers go. My champion child delighted herself in the company of other children and ate a lot of the chalk she was given to decorate the concrete. I hung out and enjoyed beer and delicious sandwiches with other mothers and fathers. A few of the more buttoned up parents at the party seemed vaguely alarmed by my big glittery eyes, but grownups who are scared of slightly ridiculous people are fascists at heart, we all know that.

I’d like to try some other odd things this month. Why not and when else? It feels healthy to play, to experiment, to see myself in new ways.

Day 10

Putting myself together this morning took about seven minutes but it was a dignifying break from the weekday morning scramble: feeding and cleaning up and changing and entertaining and changing and cleaning up and cleaning up and cleaning up again. 

I told my cousin,Lily, about the Zsuzs experiment and she said it reminded her of middle school, of coming to an age when, charged with the task of figuring out what kind of young woman she wanted to be, she played with hairstyle, makeup, and clothes all the time.

For me that time of self-discovery was enmeshed with anxiety and shame. Our culture at large didn’t help — it doesn’t help much now, either. There’s not an inch of our bodies that hasn’t been targeted by the cosmetic/fashion/fitness/plastic surgery industrial complex as having room for improvement.

On this topic Meg, who co-owns Joli Beauty Bar, has thought deeply and she has created her business to be a feminist salon. Zsuzsing and feminism do not need to be at odds, she said, pointing out that there are hugely influential feminists, like Naomi Wolf and Gloria Steinem, who project a very traditional feminine glamour. She gets that a lot of women have ambivalence about beauty rituals. She gets that many women have been diminished by the beauty industry. She wants to change the way women feel about beauty,one zsuzs at a time.

And yet many of her clients are dolling up for dates, which I found myself grumpy about. It reminded me of all of the wasted time and energy of my adolescence, the years not believing my worth unless men were confirming it, the belief that my “real life” wouldn’t begin until I had a husband. What a load of phooey! Life begins when a woman says so.

Day 11

Weather was shitty.

It was sluggish-ifying.

It said: don’t bother.

That is a haiku.

Day 12

Woke up to another rainy day. My good jeans were in the hamper because the baby spilled a pint of beer on them when we were out watching the Warriors game. In my closet I had my too-baggy jeans, which I have to pull up all the time, and my too-tight jeans, which clench my muffin top. I also considered spending the day in my sweat pants because all I was going to do was go to the Writers Room, where nobody gives a shit, and then come home, where nobody gives a shit either.

But I recognized that while it was perfectly okay to spend a day in the clothes I’d slept in, and while it was true there was no specific reason I ought to look put together, part of my experiment is just that: Putting myself together every day even when there’s no specific reason.

Because there is a reason. When I’m put together I feel a smidgen more proud of myself, a smidgen more content with my life, and those smidgens can add up to a different, more confident, more life affirming set of behaviors.

I wore the too-baggy pair. But I put some makeup on.

Day 13

joli owners
Joli Beauty Bar owners, Meg and Zsuzsi

This week I only went to the salon twice. (Only! That’s still twice as much as I’d been for eight months!) I could have ostensibly been going every day but logisticating the time for that would be nearly impossible or a giant pain. And I feel an obligation towards the salon owners to avoid being (what I would consider) exploitive. When they do these unlimited packages, they’re hardly making money, but they’re devoting big-time labor because they have a new business and want to cultivate clients. Going too often would feel unfair. 

Day 14

I half-assed it today, grooming wise. I wasn’t going anywhere and, again, didn’t really see the point. I know, I know, there is a point. Smidgens. Still, it didn’t happen.

I guess I’m still ambivalent about upping my game. One of my friends from college used to say, “I’m secret hot.” She meant that she wore baggy clothes and didn’t put a face on and just let her sensuality be known to herself and her boyfriend. I loved her confidence.

Plenty of men, like my husband, aren’t attracted to done-up women. Our first date was a hike in the woods in the middle of the night — there was no option for me to fancify and it was part of why we had such substantive conversation through the woods, because I was released from worrying about my appearance. It was a deep meeting of the minds and, given that we’re both much more defined by the inside rather than the outside of our heads, it was the right kind of first date.

At 40, I feel unencumbered by the terrible hangups of my teens and twenties and I like the idea of expressing pride and beauty and sensuality on a day-to-day basis. Somewhere between hot and “secret hot” is where I want to be, but I haven’t quite found it yet.