Beauty, Like A Dial-Hand

November 19, 2008

When I was growing up, I never thought that I was pretty. I was pretty certain, actually, that being a tall skinny girl with ruddy blond hair and what my mother always called a “distinctive” nose, I was anything but pretty. Nice-looking on a good day, maybe – and, later, “striking,” which is just a fancy way of saying “you’re kinda nice-looking, but in a weird way” – but not actually pretty. Which was discouraging, because I wanted to be pretty; not to stand out, but to blend in. I wanted to be like one of those characters in novels, the girl who doesn’t give a thought to how she looks but whom the reader understands to be quietly, unassumingly lovely; the kind of girl who doesn’t draw attention with her beauty, who doesn’t attract second glances, who might even seem plain at first sight, but who, upon donning a pretty dress or standing before a lover, is suddenly and unsurprisingly revealed to be beautiful.

I did not believe that I was beautiful. Ah, youth. You never know what you have until it’s gone.

I started getting over it sometime in my mid twenties. I settled into my looks, and came to accept them: every time I looked in the mirror I saw a matured version of my younger self – still tall, still skinny, nose still distinctive, blond hair turning prematurely platinum – but in my maturity I was able to look past what I perceived as my particular flaws and see myself as myself, my whole self, and what I saw wasn’t all that bad. I could see why my husband found me beautiful; I could see why my mother had always said that I was beautiful. As I got older, I was better able to appreciate my quirks, the little details that made me different. I didn’t worry about crow’s feet and fine lines and my platinum hair: I could see beauty in the intelligence in my eyes and in the humor in my smile. Also, I got my teeth fixed.

And so I got a little older, and became a mother, and then got a little older still, and – oddly – it became even easier. I could look in the mirror and see a woman, and – assuming that I didn’t spend too much time contemplating the rear view, or give too much thought to the muffin top – be pleased with the appearance of that woman. Age was serving me well.

And then yesterday happened.

I was shopping with Amy. I had Jasper strapped to my chest, and we were browsing and chatting and passing the time in idle contemplation of the random crap that fills store shelves during the holidays. We didn’t see the saleswoman as she approached; she came at us from behind, exclaiming something about hello and isn’t it cold and can I help you find something. I wasn’t even listening – didn’t even turn to see her – until she addressed me directly: is this your first grandchild?

Is this your first GRANDCHILD?

(I’ll let that sink in. Take all the time that you need.)

I turned to face her full-on. No, I said, after some bajillion seconds. He’s my second CHILD.

She crumpled. Oh! Of course… I mean, it was just… I didn’t really see… your hair! Oh… dear... you do have very light hair! I thought… I didn’t see you… I shouldn’t have… of course he’s not your grandchild!

Amy marched to the door and opened it for me. When we got outside, I said, that? Was AWESOME.

She said, erase it from your memory. ERASE IT. It means nothing.

I know, I know. I just can’t decide whether it was disturbing or funny.

It was funny. But forget about it.

Funny, maybe. But also discomfiting. I know that the saleswoman didn’t get a good look at me; I know that she saw the pale flash of hair and the glint of eyeglasses and a puffy winter coat and made an immediate association with age. I also know that age doesn’t equal unattractiveness. But still: she saw me, and whatever of combination of features she saw were features that said old. And/or frumpy. And/or not young/not fresh/not attractive. Not pretty.

For all that I say that I no longer care so much about my looks, that I’m perfectly comfortable with getting older, that maturity is, that maternity is, beautiful – that hurt. I’m comfortable – even, some days, happy – with how I look, and I know that the little signs of age that begin to creep up on you in your thirties are part of that look, but I don’t want to look old. I don’t want to be frumpy. I do not – no offense to any grandmothers out there – want to be mistaken for a grandmother, not from any distance. I’m not interested in looking like a twenty-something, either – although, for the record, I wouldn’t be writing this post if someone had asked me if I was Jasper’s babysitter – I just want to look like who I am. Thirty-something, mother of two, only uses her straight-iron for special occasions, usually forgets to put on lipgloss, hasn’t set foot in a gym in years. I don’t need to be gorgeous, or even beautiful – I’m long past that – but I would like to look like me, the me of my mind’s eye, the me that I’ve come to love so well.

So today, I’m coloring my hair.

(Or not. Am chickening out. I actually love my platinum hair – but maybe a bit blonder? Thoughts? OH LORD VANITY SHE IS A BITCH.)

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    Sam November 21, 2008 at 1:30 am

    Did no one tell you that today was national Ask Stupid Questions and Make Even Stupider Comments Day? I got it too. A fast food worker made my fucking day. Asshats. Keep the hair the way it is, okay?

    The Coffee Lady November 21, 2008 at 5:15 am

    oh this happened to my friend, and she looks FANTASTIC. Not frumpy. Not old. She has amazing coloured hair.

    Ignore the daft bat

    courtney November 21, 2008 at 5:26 am

    I personally think that your hair is an awesome platinum color and I would have never taken you for a grandmother. Take that for what it’s worth.

    bokker November 21, 2008 at 8:08 am

    I have always thought that your hair was already dyed platinum blonde- it looks very glam.

    Once I was flicking through the rails in a boutique, and pulled out a dress. The manager said “oh that kind of thing is made for women like her (nodding towards a tall, skinny model type girl also in the shop), not for women built like us”.

    I was flabbergasted a) that she’d make such a personal comment b) that she’d throw away a customer like that and c) that she was pulling me in to her own body image issues.

    Anyway, I was *totally* thinner than her. Sniff.

    Shannon November 21, 2008 at 9:01 am

    I love the platinum! Same boat, 30′s with 70% platinum, but mixed with brown, so vanity dictates I dye until 100%. Can’t wait for that day to come though. I think it will be fab!

    Jozet at Halushki November 21, 2008 at 10:06 am

    Well, think of it this way – maybe the stereotype of the frumpy, housecoat granny is being eroded. Maybe “grandmother” is the new sexy? I think Helen Mirren is doing wonders for my eventual image.

    As I get older, I am getting more comfortable with my “looks” – although I wish I would have appreciated more that there was something there to appreciate when I was younger.

    Now, that said, I just bought a highlighting kit. Being 42 with a 2 year old when my 44 year old neighbor has two grandchildren my kid’s age is…weird.

    Anyway…my dear, you’re gorgeous with any color hair. But can’t wait to see the results!

    Amelia Sprout November 21, 2008 at 10:20 am

    Don’t color! I need inspiration for my own black, getting more silver by the day, hair.

    We’ll soo how long I hold up, but I’m sticking to my, “leave it the color it is (so I don’t get skunk like roots) and moisturize more” for now.

    I love your hair, seriously, it is inspiring.

    Becky November 21, 2008 at 10:22 am

    The platinum is lovely, but I sympathize. Do like my mother in law and just get blonder and blonder with age!

    litanyofbritt November 21, 2008 at 10:25 am

    i say if you want a change, go dark. but don’t want a change because mall-lady is half blind. probably inhaled too much perfume.

    plus– maybe she has a really hot grandma?
    not helping. sorry.

    Amy November 21, 2008 at 10:34 am

    Personally, I think your hair is awesome just the way it is. And just because she thought you were older than you are doesn’t mean she thought you were not attractive/stylish/whatever. Youth and beauty are not synonymous.

    Mimi November 21, 2008 at 10:49 am

    I love your platinum hair! If you colour it, how am I going to pick you out of the crowd when it’s, ummmm, *crowded*?

    Dude. I’m so sorry.

    FWIW, my mom always called me ‘striking’–for exactly the same reasons. She also said I looked like Marlene Dietrich, which in my stupidity and youth I imagined to be an insult. Marlene Dietrich has a DISTINCTIVE NOSE just like me, isn’t pert and cute. Oh well. I grew out of my self-loathing, too.

    I wish my hair had gone lighter rather than darker as I got older, btw.

    mamatulip November 21, 2008 at 10:57 am

    Personally, I have always really loved your hair, and I don’t think you *need* to colour it, but do what YOU want to do. Do it for you, not for that saleslady who should have known better.

    wyliekat November 21, 2008 at 11:15 am

    I started going grey at 19. Which was cool, then. I had little shots of silver running through my otherwise very dark hair.

    And then, at 33, it became a sign of age. Which was thoughtfully pointed out to me by someone else.

    I’ve been using the bottle (of dye) ever since.

    It happens to us all.

    anita doberman November 21, 2008 at 11:26 am

    How about some streaks of pink?
    Just kidding, but maybe something out of the ordinary?

    Stefanie November 21, 2008 at 12:27 pm

    Okay, since we don’t really know each other, I will say that I think you should definitely go stronger with the hair color. Only because I think it can easily be mistaken for gray and in today’s world there are so many options!!! You will feel a hundred times better and look so much younger. And it’s a lot cheaper and less invasive than the Botox I most certainly need since my laugh lines turned into deep deep creases. I’m saving up. But, yes, do your hair! If I were you I’d even go dark and be striking even though you hate that (but I know you don’t want to do the maintenance – so how about honey blonde – not platinum cause it will look too fake -do a warm blonde. YOu will love it.

    Suki November 21, 2008 at 1:01 pm

    I made a similar faux pas once. Asked a gentleman holding a schoolbag with my school’s logo “Do you have a daughter or granddaughter in X school?”
    Would have been forgettable… had i not been Head Girl and had that man not later turned out to be my professor in Uni!

    verybadcat November 21, 2008 at 1:19 pm

    There’s a warm spot in your hair in these photos. I think if you colored it all that color- warmer- you’d look even hotter. ;)

    Tabitha (From Single to Married) November 21, 2008 at 1:35 pm

    I totally feel where you’re coming from! I got my first gray hair two years ago at 35 and almost cried. I’ve started to notice all the wrinkles and especially the change in my skin around my neck and it makes me kind-of sad. I will say that there was a woman at the hair salon the other day who had premature gray hair and she had it lighten a bit and cut short and she looked stunning – she was totally working it and she looked great!

    I think you look fantastic from your pictures and definitely do NOT look like a grandmother!

    Elaine November 21, 2008 at 1:43 pm

    I use the semi-permanent dyes that wash out after 28 shampoos. For me, I use a dark blonde and they never actually last 28 washes, and I have strawberry-honey-blonde hair to start with. You could go that route and see if you like it before committing to the permanent kind. I think a warmer blonde would be terrific, but then again, I’m not naturally blessed with platinum locks!

    Adventures In Babywearing November 21, 2008 at 1:46 pm

    I love your hair. I love your look. I am so sorry that she made you second guess your fabulousness.


    Adventures In Babywearing November 21, 2008 at 1:48 pm

    Well, obviously nothing could probably make you second guess your fabulousness, but just the whole faux pas of the situation. Bums me out.


    LAVANDULA November 21, 2008 at 2:07 pm

    catherine your hair is a stunning colour!…i can not tell you how many times i have been asked if i am grandmama to my 2 youngest…i have in the past dyed my blonde metallic gray hair pink & fire engine red…i suppose i am unlike a lot of women and have no problems with getting older in fact i have a friend in her 30's and told her i am going to start buying dove pro age because then salesgirls will think wow doesn't she look great for someone in her 50'

    CrazyCatMadame November 21, 2008 at 2:24 pm

    I have been lightening or dying my hair since my teens. I’m a color junkie. Mostly I stuck to blonde hues. It wasn’t until I decided to go red in my mid-30s that I finally felt comfortable in my skin. Not that I was ever uncomfortable, but there was just a sense of “this is what I’m suppose to look like.” During my recent pregnancy I colored back to my natural to minimize maintenance. DD is 6mo old and am once again back to red. I’ve decided the maintenance is totally worth it.

    An ex-boyfriend’s mum had stunning natural platinum. I had asked him what color her hair was before it turned. He said he didn’t know. She had been platinum his whole life. I thought she was the coolest thing on earth at that moment. She just owned it.

    Getting to my point…do as you like with your hair. If you are comfortable with your natural platinum then keep it. If you feel it needs to be enhanced, then do it. Own your look.

    and for what it’s worth…I think you look fabulous!

    Cat November 21, 2008 at 3:43 pm

    I was just telling someone today that a distant cousin of mine went silver – totally silver – at 23 or 24, some really young age – and I always secretly hoped I would get that gene somehow. I LOVE the platinum silver hair! You’re gorgeous :)

    Paradise Medspa November 21, 2008 at 3:53 pm

    You clearly have a beautiful, youthful look – not for a minute should you let someone’s erroneous assumption make you uncomfortable.

    Now, with that said, it’s a data point. So, if you’re beginning to detect changes in how you’re perceived by others, and you don’t like the misperception. By all means – do something about it!

    Karla November 21, 2008 at 6:30 pm

    First time commenter just popping in to say that your platinum hair is beautiful; you are beautiful – don’t change a thing, especially because of an obviously blind sales clerk.

    Myg November 21, 2008 at 9:02 pm

    Your hair is beautiful and that salesgirl is a dolt. But that said, do whatever makes you feel good. Hair grows out! (I had to stop coloring mine when I got pregnant and sadly it’s all its natural color again).

    Former Dyspeptic November 21, 2008 at 9:04 pm

    C — that would be disconcerting and upsetting. When I was 17 I tipped the scales at 297lbs and, as a result, it was difficult to discern what gender I belonged to — as adipose tissue renders one sexless. I could have been a man or a woman — judging me from the posterior view and, as a result, was addressed by a myriad of names some not fit to print.

    I have always thought that you are one of the most beautiful women I have ever known. I am surprised by your musings on your physical appearance as I have never seen the imperfections that you see.
    What I see is a beautiful and brilliant woman who celebrates life and the moments that count.

    Kim @ November 22, 2008 at 9:35 am

    Catherine, I’m not even going to try to tell you how beautiful you are. My guess is you already “know” that. And I’m sure, even though I didn’t read, you have a myriad of comments about that, too. Most telling you how beautiful you are and probably one or two taking this opportunity to make themselves feel better by kicking you when you feel bad. Because that’s the nature of humans. We feel better if we make someone else feel horrible. And just for the record? THOSE people we should totally point at laugh at if you have the opportunity. Maybe we can get together later and schedule that.

    But what I will say? I so get it. I was in a store recently and at 34 years old had a girl who looked to be maybe 20 tell me how this product would help with the “wrinkles around my eyes” and I literally wanted to throttle her. Ahh…but I think today I’ll change my view. I’ll pity both of these sales people for being the ignorant ones who just cost them self commission.

    Maggie, Dammit November 22, 2008 at 4:23 pm

    OH GOD.

    Oh baby. You poor, sweet, beautiful, young-looking thing.

    Fuck, that saleswoman must feel SO AWFUL.

    Oh, I’m so sorry this happened. You are beautiful. You are. Look at you.

    Liz November 22, 2008 at 6:16 pm

    Long time reader, first time commenter here :)

    I’m 24 and have more wrinkles than you, seriously, not kidding. I’m telling you it’s just the hair. She saw the hair and made an assumption. The first time I saw a picture of you (somewhere on this blog, or maybe from a BlogHer photo thing somewhere) I too thought you were older, not because of your face or clothes but just because of the color of your hair.

    Dye it if you want, it will definitely and absolutely make you look younger, if that’s what you want, which sounds pretty good to most of us I bet. But just know you’re not a frumpy-looking wrinkly old lady :)

    Shannon November 22, 2008 at 10:45 pm

    In the restaurant at lunch with some lady friends of mine (who, I grant you, are actually grandmothers and great grandmothers – none of them are under 55 and a couple are over 80), I’m with my 3 yo and 5 yo!!! and the waitress says, “Your grandchildren are so adorable!” I am 40, overweight, frumpy, but still. Ouch. It sucked.

    Shannon November 22, 2008 at 11:05 pm

    Oh yeah – and I have only one grey hair (neatly tucked under so it’s invisible) and don’t wear glasses. It sucked, I tell ya.

    Anonymous November 23, 2008 at 9:14 am

    I’m 32 and my partner is 38. I’ve lost count of the number of times when a salesperson/waiter/stranger has made a comment indicating they thought she was my mother. That’s not fun. Her hair is a really light blond, too. I’ve always chalked it up to people trying to figure out the relationship – obviously we are closer than friends. They go for sisters a lot but the mom comments have been pretty painful for her. Having our son out with us now puts the grandmother comment on the table. Ouch. It’s an unexpected hit to the ego for sure.

    Momily November 23, 2008 at 12:34 pm

    at the library where i work, I made the mistake ONCE of telling a little boy with a man who certainly looked to be in his 50s that he had “such a nice grandpa!” When the man snorted at me, “it’s daddy, thank you” i felt like the world’s biggest asshole. This was years ago and since then i always err on the side of caution – better to call grandma “mom” and make her day than the other day around. if it’s any consolation, i’m sure the salesperson who said that to you feels awful and will never mis-step in the same way! i’m so cowed that i never even comment on a very pregnant looking woman’s pregnancy on the off-chance that she is not pregnant!

    Momily November 23, 2008 at 12:42 pm

    PS don’t dye your hair because of this! i have kids that are pretty much the same age as yours (3yo and 7mo)an i don’t know about you, but i can barely keep up with my existing “beauty” regime (toothbrushing counts, right?) . . . i couldn’t imagine having to worry about roots showing on top of it. your hair looks fabulous to me . . .

    Shonda Little November 23, 2008 at 1:39 pm

    My good friend’s mother’s hair turned prematurely platinum, as you called it. I’ve always looked for the white way to describe her hair because it’s not white, nor is it silver. But, what it is is beautiful. People always commented on it. She says it turned that way when she was 23, before she even had children. While her daughter’s hair hasn’t turned, both her sons had silver hair by the time they were 25.
    Don’t color your hair. DON’T. I envy it.

    OHmommy November 23, 2008 at 11:35 pm

    perfect post.

    Kristin November 24, 2008 at 2:16 pm

    Late to the party, but that totally happened to me this summer… and I freaked the hell out on the dude… like bunny-boiler nutso.

    He totally deserved it.

    Mom101 November 24, 2008 at 3:49 pm

    Commenting on your comment-free post:

    I love you just the way you are.

    Now tell me to shut up and get off your lawn.

    cheesefairy November 24, 2008 at 5:06 pm

    1. the new hair looks great!
    2. not because of the colour, necessarily, but because the you under the hair looks happier
    3. IME – and I used to dye a lot – it’s the act of dying the hair that improves the mood, not the result
    4. controlling your life not vice versa
    5. which is why spending big $$ at a salon is rarely as good as shutting yourself in the loo with toxic chemicals
    6. and wine, too, sometimes

    Anonymous November 24, 2008 at 10:13 pm

    Get thee some Manic Panic and add a pink streak! Or two! You have the perfect hair for it, and it would look great.

    (Wouldn’t recommend blue streaks, however: it fades to green on blonde hair.)

    k_sra November 25, 2008 at 12:46 pm

    everyone in the world has weighed in, and the issue is already moot since your dyed your hair, but i am expecting my first and am discovering where the silvers have been quietly growing in my cinammon hair. i love them. they are like genius and brightness and light. i also realize they will make me look old, but age just means i’m doing something right. i say, skip color and go for cut. experiment with face shape and fresh ways to frame your gorgeous open eyes. i also have a distinguished nose and have learned to embrace it. not literally of course, that would be awkward…

    Surprised Suburban Wife November 26, 2008 at 1:22 am

    The new hair is great. Similar to the original but great. And believe me, there is nothing, NOTHING, great about being mistaken for your child’s babysitter when you are in your 30s.

    Sarcastica November 30, 2008 at 8:50 pm

    I think you’re gorgeous; not frumpy or old looking at all! And I love the new hair too, it looks awesome!

    Shannon December 2, 2008 at 1:59 am

    Did you just say you were pregnant? Did I catch that?

    Her Bad Mother December 2, 2008 at 10:15 am

    Shannon – ha – no (hell no) but you’re not the only one who thought that!

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