Lipstick, high heels, push-up bras, and cancer

Editor’s note: Dr. Lois Goodwill is a retired clinical psychologist and co-author, with the late Don Asher, of Entangled:Lois Goodwill A Chronicle of Late Love, a memoir in two voicesreleased by Heyday in July. Born in Montreal, Canada, she holds degrees from McGill University in Montrealand the Wright Institute in Berkeley. She enjoys attending theater and symphony performances and volunteer work. She is an enthusiastic hiker and walker. She is the mother of four children and grandmother of eleven. She lives in San Francisco.

Six silvery cylindrical tubes stand upright is a small ceramic pot inside my armoire. These attest to my pleasure in color. None are vivid, all are slightly muted shades or rose, peach, wine and bronze. Each,  if only I could use any,  would give a thin gloss of color to my lips. I would carefully choose the shade dependent upon what I had decided to wear and with consideration for the occasion or activity. Light nude rose with a slight sheen for my early morning forays to the gym or out for a long walk; peach with less gloss, but not quite matte, to pick up a beige jacket worn with a straw colored silk and tangerine striped scarf; a more towards wine application for the lips when wearing deeper shades of blue; a brighter bronze applied on days when I wear black or grey tones. For weeks now I have been denied any and all of these enhancements.

I am being treated for a cancerous series of eruptions on my lower lip. This is nasty. The flesh eating ointment prescribed by the dermatologist to eradicate any remaining cells after a surgical process a few weeks ago leaves my lower lip blistered, cracking, stinging and even bleeding. There is a steroid cream to minimize those evil effects but I am cautioned to use it sparingly. It too has side effects. I also have a tube of an ointment that can be used for a baby’s bottom as well as aging stinging lips to provide a moisture barrier. Tomatoes sting; smiling hurts; salad dressing pains; sun exposure is forbidden and the prescribed sun block hurts too. What is a gal to do? The dermatologist assures me that at the conclusion of treatment I will have “a new lip”. “What”, I ask him “ would a seventy-five year old person want with a new lip?”

Ah, the frailties of the flesh as it thins and shows the consequences of holding body and soul together. Do rhinoceros have such concerns? Do I want to be one or even have the epidermis of one? Probably not. But they need not look longingly at  their collection of lipsticks as they dress for their day in the jungle.

I do not remember when I first began to wear lip color but I do remember the first pair of high heels bought at Larry’s Shoes a few blocks from home. Those badges of entry into womanhood were black suede with Louis heels, about three-quarters of an inch of curved Louis heels. I modeled them for my dad. “Nice”, he said as I attempted to saunter down the hall of our apartment. I might have been thirteen years old and until my seventy-third year I never wore any feminine footwear that raised me up more than  two inches. Never any bright lipstick; never any truly high heeled shoes. There was a further deficit as well.

In the female arsenal of charm enhancement along with the lipstick ( subtle or not) and the high heeled shoes ( not necessarily so high or teetering) comes the bondage of the bras. In today’s world young girls are fitted with training bras before they have breasts but back when I was showing signs of what would soon become abundant curves, bras weren’t encouraged before there was anything to put in a brassiere cup. I was precocious in that department and bras became one of the banes of my female existence as a generous endowment atop a narrow rib cage confined me to unattractive slings to support those which the boys found so enticing. No push up enhancers for this woman. Now this is an area that has improved much as now in my mid-seventies I am more slender than ever and fashion has turned its eye to creating lacey underpinnings even for well endowed femmes. Okay, the endowment may be a little lower than when it rode perkily high, but lace, wire and spandex compensate delightfully for the pull of gravity. And I have been blessed. Unlike some of my friends and relatives I have healthy intact breasts; no cancer there to necessitate invasive and mutilating procedures.

Win some! Lose some! The lip should heal. There are pretty bras in my lingerie drawer and on my closet floor there are at least three pairs of “grown up” shoes; not stiletto heeled but definitely big girl dainty shoes for special occasions. The lipsticks wait their turn too! Bravo for the pretty brassieres. Those are a daily indulgence, their lace froth reassuring my femininity, unseen but not unsung!