Updated: Nov 19, 2019
Last weekend I attended a dreamy masquerade ball downtown. The room glowed in pink light and oozed of luxe, from gilded chairs to the constant pop, fizz, clink of champagne. Dressed in my krewe costume with a mask, I wore white opera length gloves. Although slippery on a flute stem, they were a perfect finishing touch for such an extravaganza. And then the beef carpaccio with beets beckoned me.
One bite and I knew I was doomed. As soon as I bit down I felt the beets cozy up to my gloved thumb. At first I thought that if I ate it in one bite, I could salvage the situation. But when that failed, and what felt like a side of beef was dangling from my mouth, I had one option. I squeezed the sides of the toast point and forced it into two more dainty bites. This was all at the expense of my gloved thumb, which was now pink. Little Jack Horner had come to the ball.
From then on, the pink thumb was my obsession.
“There’s a reason it’s proper to remove your gloves before eating,” I joked to everyone. And then I’d show my thumb. They responded with either a courtesy nod or a “didn’t notice.” Finally I stood at the bar with my thumb dipped in club soda. The stain disappeared, and I used a fork the rest of the evening.
Whether a stained glove, bushy eyebrows, or my son’s dirty fingernails, I reveal my flaws before you see them. I’m that person who discovers spinach on her teeth in the ladies room and returns talking about it. It’s this bizarre compulsion that I have to make sure that you know that I know I’m not oblivious to my blunders.
It wasn’t until I had the worst case of adult acne in the history of epidermis last fall that I even realized this ridiculous habit of mine, a pathetic insecurity disguised as humility. Even with a breakout hidden under makeup, you knew of my flawed skin because I couldn’t bear to see your eyes wash over my face and see it first. It was easier to eliminate the embarrassment of your pity by appearing pitiful first. But it was a ruse.
If I’m forthcoming, I’ll get your approval quicker. Inevitably you’ll say something like “that was so me yesterday.” This triggers a comfort that lets me know I’m not the only one battling pimples in her thirties. Or you’ll say you don’t see it. It’s affirmation that I’m not too different. But shouldn’t I already know that? And more importantly, why do I care? It all goes back to these silly games we play, and as I inch closer to the epiphany of not giving two shits in my late thirties, I realize that I’m over these games.
If I look deeper, I’ll see that the larger problem is that I don’t approve of me. While I’ve told you to focus on my mishaps, I’ve turned a blind eye to real insecurities. I wish I was more poised, more organized, or had more self-control. Mostly, I wish that I could finally stop caring about what people think of me. My pink thumb at a masquerade is your clumped mascara. It’s tiny. It’s trivial. But it’s key to the obsession of looking like we’ve got it together and being accepted. It’s a different masquerade—one in which we forget that we’re human.
Do I notice when your roots are showing? Sometimes. But I won’t say anything. In fact, they are reassuring because you’ve freed me to show mine. I didn’t want to spend the money on my roots this month. I’m not alone. You didn’t clean your house before I came over. My living room is a disaster too. You’re not alone. You didn’t go to a party because you’ve put on weight. I hid when I had acne. We’re not alone. I accepted you long ago—roots, messes, pounds, and all. Pop an Altoid, and let’s be humans together who sometimes have bad breath.
I know enough to know that in my effort to not appear an oblivious ass to my flaws, I sound like an ass the second I open my mouth and point them out to you. If I don’t make it known, it won’t be a focus. In my obsession to leave good impressions, I leave worse impressions. If I continue to disclose what I don’t like about me, you’ll never know the real me. And, I’ll never be secure with anyone, especially myself, if I let my insecurities represent me.
When I returned home from the masquerade, I noticed the other thumb was stained. No one had mentioned it. It simply hadn’t mattered. We’d had a ball.
Originally published in New Orleans Magazine online.