There comes a day when we look in the mirror, see the turkey neck, and admit to ourselves that the Pretty Train has left the station. It pulled out unnoticed while we were busy fumbling with our baggage.
I’ll admit to being a vain and shallow creature at times; I started this blog to give voice to that part of my personality. But I come by it honestly, having been raised in an appearance-obssessed family where it was drilled into us girls that our fortunes in life hinged mostly on our appearance (attracting a good husband), that thin = pretty, and that being fat was an indicator of a flawed character (weak/undisciplined/greedy).
But I never was one of the pretty girls. My mother thought long hair looked “stringy” so mine was always cut in a pixie or dutch girl (how I longed for braids!). Until the last few years, my weight was an up-and-down drama, and although I would proclaim myself “plain” (or even “ugly” when the mean reds got hold of me), I entertained the fantasy that beauty would be mine if I could only lose enough weight. Reality didn’t make much of a dent. When I could manage to starve myself down to thinness, my face looked long and haggard. My hair was still thin and stringy. My body rather than being willowy, was still short with linebacker shoulders. It was easier being fat because then I could keep the fantasy alive.
And the fantasy is that being pretty will make everything else in my life fall into place. Work and relationships will be easy, money will never be a problem, and my life will be one long walk on the red carpet in a vintage Dior dress with flashbulbs flashing. (Geneen Roth describes this brilliantly in her books.) It doesn’t matter a) that the rational part of my mind knows this is pure and utter bullshit and b) that I’ve been busy all this time having a pretty great life. The fantasy is a powerful one that we’re hammered with daily from friends, family, and especially the media.
So when I’m not obsessing about my weight, or what to wear, or finding exactly the right lip gloss, I’m freaking out about my hair. Right now my hair is what you see over to the right. For many years, it was very short and red, and I’ve been itching to go back to that. (After having grown my hair out a few times in my adult life, I’ve decided that Mom was right about this one.) But when I started adding blonde highlights, people started complimenting me and telling me I looked younger, and it’s a drug, I tell ya! Because our culture has a kneejerk “blonde = attractive” Pavlovian-dog-drool response, I’ve also found myself receiving better treatment from sales clerks and male work associates, which seems to increase with the number of highlights my kooky stylist adds. It’s been well documented that people who are perceived as attractive are also judged as being more intelligent, more successful, better adjusted, and having better smelling B.O. That little, fleeting sense of conventional attractiveness, it’s not an easy thing to give up when I’ve assigned so much meaning and significance to it, and experienced so little of it.
And yet, I find I’m still not comfortable with cookie cutter attractiveness (like the “after” in an Oprah makeover) or in my case, trying to achieve a conventional type of beauty. The people who I tend to admire are the ones who swim upstream, who have their own style, the ones who don’t give a rat’s ass about trying to look young or beautiful, but use their physical being to express who they are. Now that’s something to aspire to, and something that time cannot steal.
Edited to add: I don’t mean to imply that older women or fat women can’t be attractive. When I talk about “pretty,” I’m referring to the current media standards of beauty.
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