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I am on the border of what is known as the “derm” aisle, trying to resist the lure of the curving lines and cool blue tone-on-tone of the quasi laboratory environment where the big-spenders go.
The customer service ambassador in the “Beautiful You” department of my Shoppers Drug Mart is, as always, perfectly made-up, sleekly coiffed and clad in black. She tells me, in the gentlest way possible, that the hem of my coat has come down and offers to help me pin it up. It’s a slow afternoon and I imagine she’s probably also dying to give me a makeover, but has decided to take it easy on me.
I tell her I know I’m kind of a mess right now, but I’m on a quest to do what the signs say: to “discover” “enjoy” “cherish” and “embrace” myself—to find a 12-minute miracle that will give me the bubbly effervescence of the beautiful, happy, people on the posters high above.
I also have a gift certificate to fund this “surge of beauty” and that, more than anything, is what has brought this beauty school dropout into the wrong side of the store.
And then there’s the guilt, which I hadn’t anticipated. The gift card said, “Something special just for you” which probably didn’t mean “stock up on 3-play and call it a day.” So why am I racked with guilt?
Wall Street Journal columnist and behavioural economist Dan Ariely says, “When we get money, we’re likely to feel guilty about spending it on our more self-indulgent desires. But when we get a gift card, the guilt is much reduced.” The problem, though, Ariely says, is the “level of guilt alleviation depends on the type of the gift card.”
Shoppers Drug Mart gift cards are the least guilt-alleviating because they’re “basically the same thing as money.” I would feel no burden whatsoever if this were a Tiffany’s gift card because they just do diamonds—there’s no 2% and toilet paper at Tiffany’s.
Locked in an internal debate over whether or not to buy the cream of mushroom soup I need for tonight’s casserole or the awapuhi ginger extract which promises to fortify every strand of my limp, lifeless hair, I stand my ground, however shakily, in the shampoo aisle.
The Customer Service Ambassador does her utmost to draw me to the cosme-ceutical side where new technologies in skin care will penetrate my “superficial layers.” Knowing $50 won’t go very far if I follow her, I tell her I’m glad to remain strictly superficial.
Having been out of the high-end shampoo market for almost a decade I feel like Woody Allen’s character in the film Sleeper, stumbling into a strange new world, trying to make sense of the options, most of which are food-related. I don’t want to eat the shampoo I just want to wash my hair with it.
The lyrics to Fleetwood Mac’s Little Lies—“Tell me lies, tell me sweet little lies”—pop into my head. As it turns out the most robust fiction in the store is not in the books and magazines aisle.
I try to decide between foodstuffs for my hair, weird science (sulfate-free serums and expert reparatives), and spiritually transformative shampoos which will “detoxify” and “rescue” me. To keep things simple I hone in on oils, a sub-genre of shampoo food-fiction. At least they open up the possibility of a placebo-induced shimmer, such is my belief in the power of something oily to make me shine again.
But which one will it be? There is kukui nut, argan, white grape, marula, macadamia, maringa, sweet orange, avocado, almond or olive. In the end I settle on cupuaçu butter which sounds too fattening to eat but might be perfect for my hair.
I’m about to cry sexism to a passerby, pointing out the sheer scope of B.S. that women are expected to tolerate in their hair care products, when I stumble upon the men’s stuff and read what the next generation of marketing maniacs has in store for Old Spice:
“Old Spice Kickstart clean shampoo is formulated to help get rid of dirt, gunk and ninja blood while leaving your hair heroically clean and ready for ladyfingers.” Then there is the “Bulk-up” version that will leave a man’s hair “prone to wearing tight t-shirts.”
Whether the empty promises, heady fumes, or purple prose are to blame, I start to feel sick to my stomach. The nausea and oncoming migraine remind me that our household supply of pain relievers is low.
Returning the Cupuaçu butter to the shelf, I run for the shelter of the world I know, and fill my wire basket with Tylenol, Gravol and, yes, a trusty old can of cream of mushroom soup—something very special indeed.
Michelle Hauser is a former professional fundraiser turned humorist and freelance writer. She lives in Eastern Ontario (Canada) with her husband Mark and their son Joseph. Please click here to sign up for her monthly Newsletter.