So, it’s a Sunday morning; upon rising before the rest of my family, and with no other urgent business to attend to, I decide to treat myself to a facial mask. This particular beauty treatment is a transparent gel that one applies to one’s face, leaves to dry, then peels off like a second skin, supposedly leaving one’s first skin much improved. If you’ll pardon the sexist generalizations for a moment – ladies, you will probably know what I’m talking about, and gentlemen, you will probably have no idea what I’m talking about, hence the unfortunate misunderstanding that is about to be revealed. I’m in two minds about the use of these salves and unguents for beautification purposes; one of those minds says that they’re all just nice-smelling snake oil, and even if they weren’t, I shouldn’t be pandering to the patriarchy by trying to make my skin prettier. The other mind is quieter but more insistent. What if, it says, you stop using all this stuff, and your face shrivels up like a deeply unattractive and prematurely aged prune?
The quieter voice almost always wins – but I digress.
I’ve slathered this gloop on my face, pottered about in the kitchen for the fifteen minutes required for it to dry, then return to the bathroom to remove it. In the meantime, my husband has risen, and is just stepping out of the shower. I lean across the bathroom sink and stare into the mirror, then gently dig my fingernails into the mask at my forehead and begin to peel. My gaze meets the reflected face of my husband standing behind me. His eyes widen, his mouth falls open, and he yells. It is a cry of unbridled terror, the universal signal for “RUN!!!”
It’s important to note that my husband does not scare easily. He is ex-New Zealand Army. He has rappelled out of helicopters and parachuted in the dark. He has stood up against bullies and captured large insects in his bare hands. In the microsecond between registering his scream and reacting to it, my brain went through the following process:
Is anything on fire? Nope. Is the roof about to cave in, or the mirror about to fall off, or a gaping crack opening up in the wall? Nope. He’s looking at my head, and I can’t see what it is, so…ohmygod there’s a spider on me! And if he’s screaming, it must be fecking HUGE!!!
I scream too, and with my limbs enlivened by a sudden jolt of adrenaline, leap straight up in the air and come to land on the bathmat. I clutch at my husband while he tries to push me away, and we simultaneously yammer at each other –
Me: “What? What??? What is it? Get it off me, quick!”
Him: “What…what…WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!?”
I catch a breath, the reality of the situation slowly dawning on me. “I’m just taking off my face mask. It’s a skincare thing…”
“Oh,” I say. “I just thought there was a giant spider on my head.” I am suddenly disappointed in myself; it’s probably the first time in 16-plus years of marriage that his imagination has outstripped mine in outlandishness.
Ooh, but what if I was an alien lizard creature peeling off my skin…
I feel a story coming on. It will be a story of gender stereotypes and over-active imaginations, of feminine vanity and the human brain’s extraordinary capacity to very quickly jump to the wrong conclusion.