Monday, July 6, 2009

The Beautiful People

I spent the Fourth of July long weekend down in Houston, Texas. One of my girlfriends invited me to visit her, as she has just moved from the suburbs into a building in a tony, urban neighborhood adjacent to downtown. The building is pretty fabulous, with a fully tricked-out gym, and two enormous fancy pool areas. We spent the most of the daytime hours by one of these pools, and it was a scene I don't think exists anywhere here in staid Fort Worth.

Almost everyone was young, and those who weren't young were really hard workers with good genes. I do quite a bit of work but thank my parents for the rest, and I felt like I looked fine, much better than I would have felt two decades ago. Back then I was self-conscious and and saw only my flaws in the mirror. When I did get attention I assumed that person was just being nice.

But raising two kids and knowing I can support myself has given me a sense of self I didn't have then. I know what clothes look good on me now. I can travel on my own with confidence, hail a cab in a big city. Years of being bookish mean I am comparatively well-read. I know how to find a good restaurant, order a decent bottle of wine.

That confidence was certainly put to the test poolside around all those tanned, hard bodies. As my friends and readers know, I put a high premium on intellectual growth and admire accomplished people. Part of what I consider a high-functioning life is staying in good shape and good health, so I still have some game. But clearly in this environment, my articulate wit was not what was on display.

That's not to say that I wasn't chatted up in the spring break cavorting that both afternoons ended in. (One day there was a beer pong table floating around, which pretty much gives you the idea.) I'm pretty sure it wasn't just the libations consumed by the gorgeous crowd, nor my proximity to my somewhat younger and very attractive friends. I am told I look younger than I am, and I just wanted to have a fun weekend. Still, I looked around and thought, maybe I should have stayed home and made sure the tomato plants got watered.

Because I live in Texas, I know many people who've had work done. I decided a long time ago that only the gym will stand between gravity and my body. But when I looked in the (admittedly magnifying) mirror in the sunlight on the plane on the way home, I wondered if it might be something to consider. Then I picked up the latest issue of Vogue (admittedly, again, not the best choice if I wanted to be intellectually reflective) and read an article about a woman who had been through a divorce before the economic meltdown and who has learned some lessons that might apply to readers who are giving up facials at Bliss or trading down from Christian Louboutin heels. She wrote, "Comparison is lethal to contentment."

Of course, I know she is right. There will always be someone more fabulous, someone with a better body, nicer clothes, an enviable house. Those things shouldn't matter, we're all told in those magazine articles. Then we turn the glossy page to see yet another impossibly perfect image and remember our economy is built upon turning wants into needs. We all feel evaluated to one extent or another upon how we appear.

While I was talking to a few of the breathtakingly gorgeous young men (some of whom were actually interesting, although maybe those six-pack abs blurred my objectivity somewhat) I realized when I was single the first time, these guys wouldn't have given me the time of day. At least now I know enough to enjoy it.

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