“How many people traveling in your party, madam?” The security officer at London Stansted Airport holds up two plastic bags full of a medicine cabinet’s worth of small tubes, bottles and jars. “Only one bag per passenger. Do both of these belong to you?” To look at me, I really doubt the first words that occur would be “high maintenance”. Especially at an airport. I didn’t have time to put on makeup, my hair’s in braids and there’s a widening grey streak down the right side of - I can’t even call what I achieve a part, I am that vague about hairstyling - the untidy bangs trimmed with whatever scissors I can find in whoever’s place I’m staying at the moment.
Yet here I am stopping traffic on the airport x-ray conveyor belt. I thought it would be simpler to carry on my one little weekend bag for a quick rock and roll trip to Norway. And now the whole line behind me knows - I am an emollient addict. Maybe if I say it out loud the shame might soften.
Softening! Based on the array of containers that are now fanned out between the two female airport employees who are very nicely trying to fit everything from the two plastic bags into one plastic bag, I am obsessed with skin hydration. When did this become my life?
Well into my forties it felt like all I did was fight oil on my skin, in my hair. Now I spend a fortune trying to put it back. From the trail of empty water bottles I leave behind me to all these products, it looks like my main pursuit is defense against drying out, withering up and blowing away.
The security lady is waving products in front of me to play Solomon and decide which can stay and what has to go in the bin. I practically scream at the thought of my precious blue bottle of Kiehl’s Midnight Recovery Oil going in the trash. Avocado eye cream must stay with me at all costs, but there’s another eye cream I need during the day and that has to stay too. Kiehl’s moisturizer with sunscreen, Weleda lip balm.
Now the ladies are pulling tubes out of pockets of my purse, things I’d forgotten about like Weleda Skin Food for dry hands; eye drops and saline solution. Extra lip balms in case I lose one. Travel-sized containers of shampoo and conditioner need to go. Eye makeup remover has to go. The security ladies (both impeccably made-up) seem determined that I not lose the most expensive items: Clarins lip perfector, Nars concealer, Clinique Sheer Makeup with SPF. They work Tetris magic in the plastic bag, turning products vertically and horizontally until the zip can be closed. “We did it!” they say, and the three of us practically high five in celebration.
I want to apologize to the people in line - look, this isn’t about glamour and extra pizazz. This is a moisture junkie trying to get straight, to square one. It doesn’t matter, they’ve all swept past me by now, on their way to Stockholm, to Majorca, to Brive and Bergerac.
And when I finally get through the security area, what’s the first thing I see? A massive Kiehl’s counter, an immense Clarins boutique in duty-free. I know this heightened scrutiny is for our protection but there must be some algorithms at work here, like when you look at hiking boots online and then a Swiss alps worth of hiking boots comes cascading down the right side of your computer screen. Had I been forced to ditch my lip perfector, well there would be a whole counter of them just waiting for me and surely security won’t be quite so tight coming back from Oslo…
I sit down with a cup of coffee, pull out my notebook to write - and find a non-sanctioned, overlooked can of hairspray in my bag. Maybe I pulled one over on the security ladies? Or maybe they knew so much about me by the time they let me through they figured it was safe. When you take a girl’s dignity, the least you can do is leave her her Elnett.