“Mom, you really need to wax your mustache, because you’re playing with the little hairs and it makes them curl and that looks weird.” So said the daughter of a friend of mine. My friend wondered why none of her friends had told her she needed a good waxing. (Personally, I could use a good waning. But that’s unrelated and I’m determined not to go on too many tangents today.)
At what point do we tell our friends the embarrassing but maybe important things? Seems to me that, if you’re really close friends, you can (and should) tell them whatever you think they would want to know. If it turns out they would rather have not known, then you can always apologize and a close friend will forgive you (and then you can both have a good cry and hug each other and go out for a glass of wine).
Now that I think about it, there are probably different levels of things you should tell other women depending on the situation and how well you know them. How about this:
Level 1 Alert: Tell her immediately, whether you know her or not.
I wore a lacy, flowy white skirt with an uneven hemline to church on Sunday. The fabric is see-through, but with a built-in slip; the top half is opaque and the bottom half shows the silhouette of my legs. Nice, right? It flows around my feet as I walk and makes me feel very much like I’m wandering through a field of flowers in a tampon commercial (or, if I was holding hands with Paul, then in a Viagra commercial. Wait! Not that he has problems in that area, but just because those ads are always like… never mind, this is getting weird). Anyway, halfway through the service, I had to go to the bathroom. I came back to my place on the choir risers and continued to sing. After awhile, I had a premonition; I felt around my waistband and discovered a suspicious clump. The slip was up around my waist, and was tucked into my (black) underwear in the back. And remember the skirt fabric itself is white? And see-through?
It could have been worse. The whole skirt could have been tucked up. And I was in the back of church with only a handful of baritones behind me. And as Paul says, it was church, so they really shouldn’t have been looking at my ass.
Now, if I had been wandering around with my black undies on full display, I really hope some nice woman, whether I knew her or not, would take me aside and say, kindly, “Honey, your skirt is tucked into your underpants. I’ll stand behind you so you can fix it.”
This alert level would also encompass such instances as toilet paper stuck to the bottom of the shoe or… I don’t know. Blood stain on the back of the pants? Would you tell a stranger that? I would certainly want to know, but jeez, how embarrassing…
Level 2 Alert: Tell her, even if you’re not close friends.
So, skirt tucked into underwear: tell her immediately, whether stranger, friend or foe (even if I really dislike someone, I think I’d tell her about her underpants, wouldn’t you? because, really, who deserves that level of humiliation?). But what about food in the teeth? I’m not talking about a couple of little poppy seeds, but what about a big clump of spinach right in the front? Would you want someone to tell you? I’m not sure I’d say something to a total stranger. But if I was in a group of women I wasn’t super-close with and we were all discussing, for example, which movie star we would have sex with if they showed up on our doorsteps and if our husbands gave us a free pass*, and one of the women had a spinach-tooth, I would definitely feel free to tell her.
Wait. Not a good example. If I felt free enough to have that conversation with a woman, I’d certainly feel close enough to give her the universal “you have something in your teeth” gesture. (I actually had this movie-star-sex conversation recently with the folks in my book group. One of the women was brand new, a friend of a friend. She never came back. I think I’m the one who started the lively conversation and everyone seemed to enjoy it. But still, I feel bad. And I didn’t even point out the spinach in her teeth.)
Anyway, what about in line at the pharmacy? You’re on good terms with the checker. Not besties, mind you: just friendly. Would you tell her? I think I would. I know I would want her to tell me. I swear, I’m at my pharmacy every other day to pick up some damn thing for this highly-medicated family of mine, so I’m definitely on a first-name, how’s-the-family, did-you-enjoy-your-vacation basis with the woman who usually helps me. If I was sporting a big old glob of something and I was giving her my big old friendly smile, and I got in the car and checked my teeth (because for some reason that’s what I do when I get in the car) and there was a whole snack hiding in there and she didn’t tell me, I’d be pissed.
In fact, true story told me by one of my readers who shall remain nameless, but she writes books for young adults and gives lots of talks at schools and libraries (Hi, Mom!): she was in some southern state at a book signing and had tried grits with her breakfast. She went to the school, gave her talk, signed books for the kids. Afterwards, the woman’s host told her she had something on her face. The author reached up and wiped her chin to find a glob of, yes, grits sticking to her face. When she enquired politely (but probably working hard to hide her annoyance) why the woman hadn’t told her before, the woman replied, “I thought it was a skin-tab or something.” That’s, like, rude on two counts (Level 2 Rudeness?). She should have just told her — and before she got on stage, for God’s sake!
Level 3 Alert: Tell her only if you really love her (and if she loves you back).
This is where we get to the mustache question. If I desperately needed a lip wax or that pesky, single hair on my neck plucked, you had better damn well tell me, my friends. BUT, if I don’t know you and you mention it, that would be intrusive. And embarrassing. And maybe even antisocial.
My mom (Hi again!) always says if she’s on her deathbed and has no awareness of the world around her, it is my responsiblity to pluck any chin hairs that may appear. I will honor my promise. If you’re ever in the hospital in that situation, Mom, I swear I will never visit without my tweezers in my pocket, just in case. Maybe I should get one of those Swiss Army knives with the tweezers in them because that would be a more normal thing to carry in my purse (wait, would it?). I could unfold the tweezers and bend over my mother, reaching out with the knife… Oh. Not a good idea. One of the nurses would catch me in the act, knock me out with the IV stand, and call security on attempted matricide.
(Not, by the way, that my mother even has chin hairs. Buy maybe someday: you never know when or where those suckers are going to pop out.)
This Level 3 Alert (when you only mention it to very close friends) would cover other elements like bad breath, body odor, camel toe in too-tight jeans or workout pants, pubic hairs poking their little curly selves out of bathing suit bottoms at a public pool or during a bikini contest (you never know, right?), nose hair, and lipstick on the teeth.
What do you think? Do you agree with these guidelines?
One other thought: these are all about appearances. What about actions? Would you want a friend to tell you if you acted inappriately at a party, said something unintentionally insulting, flirted outrageously with the, um, the elevator operator (do those even exist anymore?) or drove like an asshole with unacceptable levels of road rage?
Would you want them to tell you if your child was dating someone who was bad news, or if your child was drinking or doing drugs or smoking? Last week, I learned that the son of a friend of mine was going out with a girl who I happen to know is a brat and a meanie. I told the friend to watch out for her. Then I kicked myself. Why the hell did I tell her that? I’m sure her son is smart enough to figure out if he likes a girl or not, and why is it my business to get involved? On the other hand, if the bratty girl was into drugs or something else serious, then I would have felt okay about telling her.
*My choice: Kevin Klein of 20 years ago when I saw him play Hamlet in NY. Or Colin Farrell. And most of all, Jamie from Outlander. OBVIOUSLY!