Attention Women: You’re Being Scanned!

I call it the once over. It’s an art perfected by women of all ages. I’ve actually seen little girls as young as three doing it in the grocery store and at birthdays. I don’t know when we learn it, but we all do. I’ve decided it’s one of the few instincts left in human beings, as I have never personally seen an animal do this to another animal. But it is also peculiar to little girls and it is imprinted on them as clearly as their Mary Janes. It’s a quick flick of the eyes. Swipe—it’s done. Well, guys do it, too, but it’s not the same, is it?

When you’re the “scanee” on the receiving end, it’s like an ultra fast body scan. It’s as if you had been blown through a metal detector or an x-ray machine, at a speed (literally) of the blink of an eye. Nothing is quite as penetrating or quite as disarming when you’re on the receiving end. You can almost feel it.

Meanwhile, as the scanner, one’s goal is to attain the most detailed level of examination without getting caught: You have to perform the scan so the victim doesn’t see you doing it. But your target knows—she feels it just as you feel it when it’s done to you. So, you try to pretend you’re not, and she tries to pretend she’s not. Sometimes, though, the worst thing happens. Your eyes lock on the other woman’s eyes, your timing just right or just wrong, so that her down-and-up scan and your down-and-up scan coincide exactly, and you’re both caught in the act. You each look away, sometimes blushing lightly, pretending you hadn’t been doing what you were doing, although your hand might as well be shoulder length in the cookie jar. It’s a time-honored contest—a battle of speed and cunning. You try to take in as much as you can as quickly as you can before she sees you’re looking. She’s doing the same thing, and the game is afoot.

What are we looking for? Shoe styles, fabric colors, nail color, skirt length, stocking runs, unbuttoned buttons, falling hems, fashion statements, style gaffs. We look for hair color, hairdos, and grey hairs. We look at jewelry and accessories: scarves, belts, glasses, and purses. We look to see if they match or not, if they’re name brands or rip-offs. We are curious and catty all at the same time. The problem is, sometimes you don’t know whether she’s looking because you look good, or because you look horrible. “Did I wear the wrong thing?” always runs through your panicked mind. You look down to make sure you have the same color shoes on.

It’s fun, it’s mean, it’s a game, it’s war. It’s all of those things. Just don’t get caught. It’s embarrassing.