Monday, October 24, 2011

Believe It or Not, It's Just ME!

Today's my birthday. It's very hard for me to simply state that because I always want to say it like this: TODAY'S MY BIRTHDAY! I love my birthday. I've only had 2 birthdays that I can remember that I didn't love to pieces. Not a bad record when this is number 37.

I have chosen this as my birthday theme song this year:

Undeniably adult now. No one is mistaking me for the nanny when I'm out with the kids. No one checks my ID for anything - except that one guy at 7-11 who checks it every time I buy gas but that's a whole other thing. College was more than a decade ago, I'm coming up on my 20th high school reunion. I've been around long enough now to see the high fashion of Junior High come back in vogue as "retro". People of a certain age look uncomfortable and a little sad when I reference pop culture in conversation. And I'm OK with that. We live in a culture that values youth and beauty above substance; where growing older (or at least looking like you are) is to be avoided at all costs, and where actual good health takes a backseat to an unrealistic ideal. It's hard to resist the gravitational pull of popular opinion sometimes, even with the best of intentions. The hair dyes are purchased, the creams, the outfits, the depilatories,  the "special" undergarments. But over the last couple of years, along with those attempts at staving off the inevitable, what I really was purchasing was a whole boatload of guilt and self-loathing.

Flower pot hat.
As a mother of a daughter, I am ever-vigilant about teaching her to be proud of the person she is. To accept her uniqueness and celebrate it. She's 7 now, so it's not much of an issue for her. You wanna wear a hat that looks like a flower pot? Awesome. You wanna build a time machine that will transport you to colonial times at recess instead of letting the boys chase you? Go for it. You wanna wear a shirt with a picture of a monkey wearing glasses to school for picture day? Rock on. Right now my wee girl is in her own orbit. She's got this whole world that she inhabits that is all her own. She's friendly and outgoing, she gets along with people in a way that I find almost enviable, she's relatively unscathed by the politics of being a little girl in a society that's in a rush to grow them all up. But I know in a few short years, her orbit will start to feel that gravitational pull. She'll start to notice that she's different at a time when that's about the last thing anyone wants to be. And then what? I want to be able to say, without hypocrisy, "Just be yourself. Your self is fabulous."

These are our actual faces. Deal with it.
I quit wearing makeup on a regular basis when one time, in my 20s, I was especially late for work and didn't put any on. All day, people kept asking me if I was sick. It was so disturbing to me that when I didn't have my warpaint on, people thought there was something wrong with me. Thus began my campaign: "This is my actual face! Deal with it!"  Now that face has crows feet and little parentheses around my mouth. I'll be honest, sometimes those little footprints and punctuation startle me when I look in the mirror or see a recent picture of myself. But they are also a happy reminder of all the years I've thus far been able to laugh and smile and etch those little lines a little bit deeper. I've been OK with the makeup thing for years. But on this, my 37th birthday, I am chucking the hair dye: the makeup I've been applying to my steadily whitening hair. It wasn't fooling anyone, least of all me. I started to go gray when I was 22, I'm now reaching that point where there's a little more salt than pepper. I've spent years and thousands highlighting, low lighting, and desperately coating those amazingly resilient diamond strands. This is the year I say "Enough." This is the year I look in the mirror and see my ever-changing mane of crazy hair and say "You are part of me and I love you." It seems a small and silly thing, but it's a huge leap for me to banish the mental images of Barbara Bush from my mind when I brush. "This is my actual hair! Deal with it!"  I'm doing it for me, and I'm doing it for my daughter.

When she looks at me, I want my little girl to see a woman who has enjoyed her life, appreciated herself and loved her person. I want her to see a woman who didn't spend a lot of time, money and energy trying to deny and defy nature. These bodies we've been given can do some amazing things and I believe we should take care of them. But ultimately, they are disposable. They were made to wear out. When our jeans reach that pinnacle of just-right comfort and ease, we rejoice. We wear them every day we can get away with it. We are sad when they're in the laundry. Why don't we do that with our bodies? I'm not quite old enough yet for unsalvageable and unsightly holes. I'd like to think I'm at that "favorite jeans" phase of life. A little bit faded, worn in, comfortable and still highly functional.

It's a new year for me. Another year of being undeniably adult. I want it to be a year of being undeniably fabulous. I think there should be a secret meeting for all preteen girls to explain to them this wonderful secret: regardless of your structure, your clothes, your hair, your face, the hottest woman in the room is the most confident woman in the room. Embrace your hotness!


  1. Brava! I get so neurotic about finding the balance between good basic grooming and excessive primping. I've even been known to put on makeup just because certain men seem to be more attracted to no makeup than to lots of it. I don't color my hair, but I think it's because I'm too vain to risk looking ridiculous by sporting platinum hair at age 75. How much is too much? How little is inconsiderate to the people around me? In what ways is the answer to that question affected by my society? If I moved to England would I learn to let myself stink?


  2. Sarah - for me it's a matter of accepting who I am, celebrating who I am vs. doing things to hide or cover or deflect that. I know some women that wear a ton of makeup and always have fabulously coiffed hair and love it to death because that's who they are. It would be just as false for them to suddenly go without. I've just never been comfortable with feeling like I "had" to. For me, it has definitely been as a result of societal pressure (or more accurately, parental pressure)and always something that didn't quite feel genuine for me. Anyone who knows me, knows I'm not terribly afraid to risk looking ridiculous, I just want to do it on my own terms. I say, it's your country and you can stink if you want to! :)


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