pretty young thing
When I was born, I was completely bald–save a tiny little patch of red near the base of my skull. My parents didn’t have money to buy baby clothes, so my Mama’s best friend gave her the clothes her son had outgrown. He was a year older, so it worked well. Still, for all intents and purposes, I looked like a boy. Mama would put ribbons around that one little tress, and she bought over-the-top girly things whenever she had any money. So, sometimes, I’d wear red velvet fantasias with bonnets.
It wasn’t until Mama went back to work that she could really afford to buy any real clothes for me. By then, I was two. For the rest of my childhood, she’d buy me a crazy feminine dress every holiday–complete with bonnets, purses, and mary janes. Luckily, there were plenty affordably priced Asian boutiques in our little neighborhood.
What’s funny about the whole thing was the fact that my Mama wasn’t really a fashion plate. She wore clothes from the 70s well into the 90s. Her uniform was pants or cut-offs with some kind of t-shirt that was always stained from her cleaning expeditions. If it was a special occasion, she’d wear simple sleeveless shift dresses–from the 60s. Her hair was rarely done. It was almost always out of her face. She never wore heels. But details mattered: always a dramatic scarf–to keep air out of her ears on cold days; cat eye glasses; and bright fire engine red lipstick. That was my Mama.
I remember her fussing over my stick-straight hair–curling it with pin curls. It took hours. I remember the closets full of quaint coats and elaborate dresses. It was so not my thing. I was a tomboy and would rather die than wear knee socks and lace. I remember scratching my legs and squirming when she cut my bangs–knees covered in mud from my exploits under the swings.
I have wondered since if Mama did all of this to make up for that couple of years when I wore boy clothes. Or if she did it for herself–for the person she couldn’t be and wanted to be. But I’m not sure she wanted to be that. I never asked her.
I was never really all that interested in gender roles–well, not until college. In high school, I wore sweat pants and sweatshirts. I’d put on a dress if Mama made me. I kept it simple and boring. I worked and studied so much, I had zero time for fashion. And, besides, there was that whole wanting to disappear thing.
In college, I started to notice my appearance more. I still wore comfy clothes, but it wasn’t appropriate to wear sweats everywhere. I had jobs, and I often had to look nice. So, I found a bland set of clothes that were generic enough not to be too offensive. I never wore makeup back then, and mostly had the same haircut for my entire adolescence.
But when I started changing on the inside, I started developing a personal style. Simple, quiet makeup and jewelry. A mix of full-on comfort and ultra feminine–complete with ruffles and lace. Fun hats and scarves. Bright colors always. Comfy, outlandishly bold shoes.
When certain relationships ended, I started experimenting with my hair–which I always vowed I’d never dye. I went as opposite as I could: black. Which melted into a slate gray with highlights that looked like flames. It changed my face entirely. I had to wear bold makeup just to stop looking ghostly. Then, I went blonde. I did bolder reds. I got bangs again. And, after my last relationship ended, I cut it all off–went full-on pixie. I hated it when it started growing out.
I’m kind of amazed by how many clothes I have now–by the degree of girly-ness that exists in my closet. Me today is some amalgamation of my mother’s priss and a polished version of my adolescent sloth–with tons of fun thrown in. It is truly my style, and I’m kind of proud of it. I kinda love that one of my past stylists called me the wild child because I was up for playing. It reflects who I really am–much more than that sad, shoulder-length bob ever did.
Today, I got a new hair cut and dyed my hair again. I have big things happening this week, and I wanted to look my best. Mostly because I need confidence, and confidence lately hasn’t been my forte. I think, since my surgery, my ego has taken a hit. Realizing you’re human and flawed…and that you nearly died because of those flaws…welp, it makes it difficult to trust yourself. I also made some choices prior to the surgery that I’ve been questioning big-time. I’ve been trying to figure out who I am now exactly and who I want to be–and how to get to that place where I’m no longer wondering. Which is odd because I am usually so self-aware and comfortable in my skin. I think I still am, but I think I’m really seeing the things that need to change–and me seeing them also means (on some level) beating myself up. I’ve been having many Mama dreams lately–which means there’s some unconscious thing happening inside me. It’s caused me to be a quiet version of myself…to essentially be in a state of perpetual fetal position. I have never really taken care of me, so doing it is hard–and knowing I must do it means I get hyper-focused on it. Which really means I’ve been really careful.
It means I cleaned my surgical incisions four times a day with alcohol. It means I sat sleeping up for a month because I was too afraid to move when I felt pain. It meant I didn’t take a bath for a month–showered instead–because I was afraid of infection. I ate bland food for a week longer than I needed to, too. I didn’t tell friends when their lack of acknowledgement of my condition hurt my feelings. I just avoided them altogether. I didn’t tell my boss I needed two whole weeks off instead of just one because I didn’t want to burden her with my crap–or risk losing this job. Because now I needed it to be safe. I didn’t tell her, during that first week, that I was eschewing my pain meds just to stay awake–and that it was impacting my recovery. That I was so exhausted, I literally cried every night because I didn’t know how I’d do it the next day. I didn’t tell people just how terrified I was about getting sick again–and how committed I was to never, ever being sick like that again. I didn’t stick up for myself when people attacked me. I just got angry.
Until it kept building up, and building up, and Thursday–I blew.
Instead of being afraid of loosing something, I stopped giving a crap. I became comfortable in my own skin again, and I trusted my experience. I counted on who I was to make it okay. And, shockingly, I earned respect. And that afternoon, another great thing happened: I stuck my neck out. I showed people exactly who I was, and it paid off. And, now, everything feels a lot easier. And I’m not so angry.
Today, as I was waiting on my color to develop, I sat on a couch in the corner of the salon. A woman came into the salon with her little girl. She was dressed in a frilly summer dress that she, clearly, hated. She scratched her leg, and it made me smile. She was an absolute tomboy, complete with the messiest hair ever. Her mother was fairly frumpy looking (not to be judgmental). She was wearing sweats, and her hair was a mess. My stylist and the woman chatted about haircut ideas for the little girl and then attempted to talk the child into it. She balked a little, but finally relented. The woman and the stylist had decided on a super-feminine cut–which made me wonder if the woman was asking for herself or her daughter.
Anyway, it was pretty clear that the woman didn’t feel great about herself. And that it was passed over to her child. It sort of broke my heart. When it was all done, the kid looked like a child model. Only not weird–age-appropriate and how a little girl should look. And everyone told her how pretty she was.
And, in that moment, I could see the lightbulb come on in her head. How her perceptions of herself changed. She saw that she was pretty and could appreciate that others saw it too. And it became an option for her.
It was interesting to me–and emotional–that kind of emotion that reminds you you’re alive and can do things. It reminded me of the things I want to do.
Earlier today, I had talked about how I wanted to provide road maps for people…to change their ideas about the world and how they fit into it. And here–I saw exactly that.
I left the salon, feeling good, and went to a nearby restaurant to wait for my roommate who was also doing something new with his look. I drank a margarita, chatted with the owner (also my waiter), the tequila guzzling older couple down the patio, and then the younger woman who’d walked 8 miles hungover because she misjudged the distance between her house and her friend’s house. She was in need of hydration and cheese. Behind me, there was a couple older gentleman talking nonprofits. So, we all kind of chatted across this big patio in the middle of this ultra-trendy–yet still soulful–community. Surrounded by little girls in bright dresses running down quiet streets, pastel painted houses, and plenty of puppies. I talked to a couple who was about to have their baby. A young Irish guy told me he liked my hair, and I flirted–and smiled bigger than I have this entire year. And I laughed hard. Because I meant it. And I just felt like I should stay there, and when it was time to go, the owner was sad because he wanted me to stay, too.
We almost moved here earlier this year, but life conspired against us. I couldn’t help but think this would be my place if I had. That I’d walk by and wave at Julio, the bus boy, on my way to somewhere else.
Today, I felt a shift inside me. A comfort in my own skin. A willingness to be vulnerable and present with people. An invitation to stay and linger in places I’ve avoided for months because I felt like shit. A return to being me. And a knowledge that, while I don’t feel like running the marathon this weekend, I fucking will. And a knowledge that I am open–wide open to this life and unwilling to accept anything other than what I deserve.
An acknowledgement and a gut feeling, deep in my soul knowing that the next chapter is coming–and I am absolutely, finally ready. And I am not afraid. There’s nothing to hide anymore.