I question what message we, as women, have internalized when we spend thousands of dollars to alter our bodies for the sake of a selfie.
My husband and I got engaged in the spring of my senior year in college. I was 23. Just days out from graduation, I defended my thesis on a Tuesday afternoon, came home, and there he was with a ring that had belonged to his grandmother.
It was beautiful. And big. And strangely incongruous with the collection of inexpensive craft fair, handmade jewelry I was partial to at that time. (OK, the only jewelry I could actually afford.) I’d never had any jewelry worth anything more than sentimental value, and that had never bothered me.
This, a diamond nestled in a pretty box, was the prettiest bauble I’d ever seen. We’d talked about marriage, but hadn’t talked about rings, and truth be told, I hadn’t expected or needed that as a symbol of our dedication to each other.
Of course, once it was in front of me? That thing was pretty!
It also didn’t fit. And so we did what anyone might do—we got out the Scotch tape, wound some around the underside of the ring and went out to walk our dog. There were no selfies. No photos at all. We called our parents and then went out to dinner, just the two of us enjoying what felt like a special and wonderful secret we were sharing.
I’ve always considered myself what I call a “Messy Marvin” kind of gal. Sure, I like to look nice, and I think about my appearance, but mostly, I like to do things and sometimes, that can be at odds with caring too much about what I look like. If choosing between doing and looking, I will always choose doing.
The next day, we decided to take the ring to be sized and opted for the big fancy jewelry store downtown. I put another round of tape on the ring, just in case, threw my bike gloves on over it, and we rode 12 miles to the store.
I can still picture the look on the face of the woman charged with helping us. Two sweaty cyclists in their early 20’s, me with a nose ring, taking off their bike gloves to reveal “THE RING,” at which point she said, “Um, you rode here ON BIKES wearing that? DON’T do that again!”
We talked over our options, handed over the new/old ring to be adjusted, then went outside, laughed, and continued our ride.
A New York Times Weddings/Celebrations section article last weekend let me know that these days, some women are doing things a little differently. Apparently, many women are so consumed with how to present their rings and their engagement status on Facebook, Instagram, and various social media outlets, they are having cosmetic surgery on their hands to “improve” the appearance of their engagement selfies. Hand-lifts, skin peels, and injections to make their hands look “plumper” in photos are growing in popularity.
“Dr. Matthew Schulman, a Manhattan plastic surgeon, said he sees about eight patients a month specifically for hand treatments. ‘Everyone wants to see pictures of engagement rings, whether it’s looking at their wish pic or sending photos to their friends to announce an engagement,’ he said. ‘They are becoming more aware of what their hands look like, much more than getting a manicure.'” (NYT, “Raise Your Hand For An Engagement Selfie,” May 24, 2014)
When I read this, I felt so saddened for these women and for the pressures they feel, the desire for perfection so strong, they are willing to do these things for a photo of a ring.
It’s fine to love your ring and to show it off. I don’t judge that. Do whatever you want. It’s your ring and your body. But it’s a ring. It’s not your relationship, your love, your commitment. It’s just a ring.
I question what message we, as women, have internalized when we spend thousands of dollars to alter our bodies for the sake of a selfie, removing the marks of a life well-lived, by subjecting our hard-working hands to surgeries to erase our history.
“Age spots, veins, or a bony appearance (or, horrors, all three) have become an obsession for some women…’Once you see what your hand looks like on your computer or phone, you start to notice things you didn’t think were a problem before,’ said Dr. Schulman, who injects dermal fillers into the skin in the back of the hands to diminish that bony or veiny look. He also offers laser therapy, along with consultations with an aesthetician in his office.”
I posted about this trend on my personal Facebook page and within minutes, friends started posting photos of their own unaltered and beautiful hands. Hands with scars, with or without fancy manicures, with engagement and wedding rings or not. Hands wearing casts and hands with age spots and wrinkles and dry skin. All of our hands have “problems.”
They are the hands of real women who do real things. We garden and run and work on computers and cook with sharp implements and take care of our kids and do art and ride bikes and a million other things. Many of us are women who have chosen to share our life with another, building a family history together that will mean more nicks and dents and spots and imperfections.
I’m proud of my hands and the work they do, even though it means they’re not pristine. That cut on my left hand? That’s from a fantastic camping trip with my 13-year-old son. The nails trimmed short? They feel better when I swim. The wonky knuckle on my right ring finger? An old fracture that I rehabbed so well, I regained full mobility because of my physical therapy diligence. The dry skin? That’s because I forget to moisturize. Oh well.
The ring is pretty and I wear it when I feel like it. But it’s still just a ring and it doesn’t represent the depth of our love, or mean something significant about our relationship. It doesn’t mean he loves me more. I’m not going to have surgery for a false glamour shot presenting a perfected, fairy tale reimagining of our life together.
My hands are veiny and calloused and on my left ring finger, there’s a set of simpler bands that represent 18 years of marriage, love, commitment, laughter, and history. I don’t want to erase any of it.
Sydne Didier is a writer living in Western Massachusetts. She is currently at work on a memoir about her family experience with international adoption from South Korea. When not writing, she enjoys swimming long distances in open water and running as far as her dog will go.