Timeless, Imperfectly Perfect Beauty


My 20-something sits cape-covered in a black salon chair chatting easily with Amanda who paints certain of her tresses and then enfolds them in foil. That Amanda can get a comb through my sweet girl’s hair at all is proof that “this too shall pass,” and that even daughters resistant to hair hygiene, do, eventually, come around.

It wasn’t that long ago—was it?—that her older brother implored me, “Mom, if you don’t make her wash her hair, kids are going to start making fun of her.” She was barely half my size but I wasn’t going to get her in a headlock to tend her greasy hair. Her will was stronger than her stiff neck. She had then, and still has, thick brunette locks. No comb passed through it crown to end without a struggle and a few tears.

When my friend agonized over the lice discovered on her daughter’s head saying, “Lice love clean, blond hair,” I took some comfort knowing the invaders would never visit my daughter’s head or our home. They never did.

And now, just years after those elementary school skirmishes, I watch her. Gone are tangled, lop-sided pony tails, hairy legs, braces with bubblegum pink bands and a complexion that frustrated a caring dermatologist. In her place is a graceful young woman with a sense of style, a bright smile, dancing hazel eyes, and heavy, soon-to-be highlighted hair that sweeps and swings around her sun-tanned shoulders. Of course I’m not objective, but even strangers tell me she is beautiful.

What makes her more so is her casual regard of it. Having been (a little) dorkish for so many years (sorry, honey) seems to have re-shaped her mirror. Her reflection never was never foremost about being perfectly beautiful, but about being perfectly Haley—and knowing that was enough.

I heard a news report yesterday. It said that of the $12 billion spent on cosmetology services in 2014, an increasing number of those dollars are being offered by women in their 20s for Botox and other age-defying injectables. After what I have spent on hair dye, anti-wrinkle cream, and teeth whitening, I have no stone to cast. But, really, in your 20s? The bud is barely formed at that tender age. Just wait, sweet daughters, wait and see what beauty blossoms.

I think about beauty of the timeless sort. That kind with a softer, warmer quality—a feminine patina, that doesn’t so much demand attention as much as it quietly attracts it.

Glennie, Lila, Marianne, Edna Lee, Mary, Jannie… not one of them younger than 75 and each one a stunner. I am sure you have your list too.

Nothing shiny or tight about these women’s faces. These eyes that have looked long into sorrow but reflect only its sweetness. Their brows once furrowed in concentration (and some consternation) now arch in delight over something new and wondrous—like Instagram or a delicacy from the trove of Trader Joe’s. They have smiles on the ready and voices expressing more interest in the happy mayhem of my life than the difficulties of their own.

Oh, and then there is Alice Marie. My mother-in-law. She was prettiest in her final hour. Up against pancreatic cancer, she knew it would likely take her life. That she allowed. But she would not let it take her joy. She owned that til the end.

After a particularly caustic chemo cocktail, she lost much of her hair. Never a drinker, just one of those cocktails was quite enough, thank you.  She styled what remained of her hair in a pixie cut that months before her eventual death, made her look younger than ever. Pre-pancan, she would prepare for a travel adventure with a perm and shellacked “do.” If she managed a 10-day trip without having to wash it, the style was a success. (Hmm. So this hair-washing thing could be genetic.)

At the end of her 78 years, her wash-and-go pixie cut liberated her. Strangely, so did the cancer. It required her to own her days. Not one passed without notice or intentionality. She chose joy, and in the process got beauty. Her blue eyes sparkled like she had a secret she couldn’t wait to share. Though her body was gripped in a tightening vise, she glowed with the “imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit.” (1 Peter 3:4) Not a manufactured look that screamed, “Notice me!” but the kind of loveliness that beckoned, “Come sit beside me. Let’s visit awhile because the world if full of mystery.”