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The cost of beauty has nearly 32 thousand books on beauty, a quality that has eluded me no matter how hard I strived to get it. No one ever called me beautiful. Cute, perhaps, but that was a long time ago. Even as a kindergartner, though, I knew that looking cute meant sitting still at the end of my parents' bed as Mom twisted sections of my hair into curls and then criss-crossed each one with bobby pins. Whenever I complained that she was pulling too hard, she always responded, "It hurts to be beautiful, dear."

I've always had stick-straight fine hair, a curse until the 1960s when locks that looked ironed were a must. But book-ending the 60s were decades when curly hair was considered a blessing. Because bobby pins alone couldn't do the job, my mother gave me home permanents, too. Tonette: the perm for those too young for the grown-up version, a Toni. The smell in the kitchen was overpowering as Mom wound my hair in little pink plastic curlers. She always put a length of cotton at my hairline and draped the ends around my ears but even so, the stinky wave solution dribbled beneath the terry towel wrapped tightly under the plastic cape covering my shoulders. All this in pursuit of that fleeting quality called beauty.

By the time I was a teenager, I'd learned to curl my hair and even use peroxide to brighten the drab color. I subscribed to The American Girl magazine and then, Seventeen, to learn the latest beauty tips. I walked back and forth across the kitchen, balancing a book on my head because magazine articles said it would give me better posture. Tried my darnedest to stop biting my fingernails because my mother said nifty-looking girls had nifty-looking nails. Bought an eyelash curler at the drugstore and more than once, crimped my lids instead of my lashes. Still, I kept trying. My friends could line their eyes in black with a steady hand and so I practiced that art over and over to get the sultry look of models and movie stars.

Still, I was just cute. And cute became a detriment when I was old enough to have a cocktail. Over the next 10 years, I was the one in my group of friends who had to provide a driver's license in order to have a frozen daiquiri. Even when my children were in high school, I didn't look old enough to be their mom. But those days are long gone. Now, I'd settle for cute. Even "kind of cute." It's been ages since anyone's eyes widened when they heard my children have children. And even longer since I've tried to curl my eyelashes or apply eyeliner; both impossible when you have to wear your reading glasses to see your face.

Which brings to me back to those books on beauty. How long would it take to read all of them? Or even carry them into the house? Talk about back-breaking work. I think I'll leave the beauty-reading to younger women. Let them find out my mother was right. "It hurts to be beautiful, dear."