To be a woman in L.A. involves upkeep. Just not during coronavirus

 <span class="copyright">(Tara Ellison)</span>
(Tara Ellison)

Alone in my bedroom, I’m Zooming my first Kundalini dance class and doing hip circles to get rid of the “emotional garbage” the teacher said is stuck in there.

It’s a good thing we’re all staying home and I have plenty of time to devote to this activity because, at 51, my hips have collected a lot of emotional garbage.

I’m tempted to chant the names of ex-boyfriends during the heavy exhales and pelvic thrusts, but my husband is within earshot, so I don’t. But all the hip swinging and arm flailing turned out to be more freeing than I had imagined. After 30 minutes, I felt as if I had blasted out at least a few deadbeat relationships.

I prefer to turn off the camera on my many weekly Zoom sessions because do I really need to see that much of myself? At this point in life, I’m not searching for reminders of what I look like; I’m actively avoiding them.

A girlfriend on a Zoom hangout said, “Are you OK? Your face looks puffy.”

She’s right; the webcam is not my friend. It’s unsettling to see my face staring back at me, only much older than I remember it. And much saggier.

Like Nora Ephron, “I feel bad about my neck.” If I didn’t live in sunny Los Angeles, I could throw on a turtleneck. There are lots of helpful tips posted online about how to look better on Zoom, but to go to all that trouble and admit I care almost seems worse.

Pre-coronavirus, I was concerned life might be slowing down. As an actress years ago, I used to audition for ingenue roles. On a good day, I might turn a head or two. Now I’d be lucky to get a commercial selling erectile dysfunction pills.

In this town, with its primary focus on exteriors, women my age get used to not being seen. We have already been primed for the shutdown. Our expectations are lower. My Twitter feed reflects this. One woman I know, Karen Alea, wrote, “My isolation goal is to make 2 age spots on my hand lighter. What are yours?”

I have no isolation goals. But according to Instagram ads that have been rudely targeting me, they think I should use this timeout to plump my lips, buy lash-extending mascara and pop pills to help me lose “menopausal belly fat.” If that fails, they suggested Spanx leggings.

Tara Ellison isn't concerned with appearances during quarantine. <span class="copyright">(Lorenzo Hodges)</span>
Tara Ellison isn’t concerned with appearances during quarantine. (Lorenzo Hodges)

To be a woman in L.A. usually involves a lot of upkeep. The surprising coronavirus upside is I feel no pressure to keep up with anyone. There’s zero motivation to highlight my hair or try to assemble a cute outfit. I often wear the same housedress three days in a row.

I’m not running out to buy a do-it-yourself box of Clairol as my mother used to do. My roots have decided they’re edging toward an ombré effect. And my toes have never looked this hideous, sans pedicure, but I’m not showcasing them in sandals, so who cares?

Certainly not my husband. He seems to favor this more relaxed hausfrau take on my appearance. When I told him I had to order new underwear because the old pairs are too tight, he laughed and said, “I think you look great.”

“You think it’s sexy my panties are straining to contain my flesh?”

“Works for me,” he said.

Forget being “good” about my diet; I’m just thrilled to be alive! I’m glad I’m not downing green drinks or being tempted to splurge on $6 matcha lattes. I’ve given up trying to be mindful about each morsel that goes into my mouth. Every day spent at home now involves some reward of ice cream and red wine, not one or the other once a week. Happy hour has become a daily ritual that rolls gently into the Netflix portion of the evening.

It’s nice not to feel pressure to achieve anything. The smallest of goals feels like a win right now, which is the opposite of how it usually is. I’m released from the expectation my days should amount to something. If I manage to take the dog on an hour walk, I’m a rock star. At least in her eyes.

Even before COVID-19, as an introvert I was guilty of sometimes bowing out of social engagements. L.A. traffic was my usual excuse. I was thrilled not to have to drive all the way to Pasadena for a book club meeting. But now, thanks to Zoom, it’s harder to get out of anything. How do you dodge a 5 p.m. birthday party? Or turn down drinks on Zoom? You’re trapped. What else have you got to do? Rearrange your closet again?

I can always vacuum the floor in the never-ending battle against the clumps of dog hair everywhere, courtesy of our German shepherd. At least someone around here is shedding more than I am.

These days my husband lets me cut his hair. Cut might be a generous word; I’m allowed to hack at certain sections in the back. He does the sides and the front. He’s given up shaving and has been cultivating a corona beard. This is his version of letting it all hang out. We’ve both been liberated.

When I think about it, I could really lean into this “letting it all go” theme. It could turn out to be my thing. Why not just own it? After surviving decades as a woman in L.A., I think I’ve earned it.

Tara Ellison is the author of the novel “Synchronized Breathing.” She lives in Los Angeles.

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