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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    Baby in the City November 20, 2008 at 12:48 pm

    Dude, that’s shitty. Although I can tell that you already know that the saleswoman didn’t get a good look at you and that once she did, she immediately knew she was way off. And keep in mind that in smaller towns, mothers of infants are usually a lot younger and had you been sporting a slogan across the ass of your yoga pants, that prolly woulda turned the tides in your favour.

    I myself love the platinum hair cause, for me too, that is you. Whom I love of course.

    Assertagirl November 20, 2008 at 1:00 pm

    Oh that was my least favourite shopping moment EVER. My heart leapt into my throat for you in that millisecond because that stupid saleswoman was oh so wrong and had no idea how hurtful her careless comment was.

    You handled your beautiful yourself gracefully in a yucky situation.

    For what it’s worth, I love the platinum but it can be fun to try out a new colour…what shade are you thinking? Drastic or subtle?

    Laura November 20, 2008 at 1:01 pm

    you are one step ahead of me, because at least, you KNOW who YOU are. I lost myself four kids ago…and am still searching.

    Color your hair, get a boob lift, go get some botox….whatever it takes to make you feel un grandma like. But for the record, I think you look pretty hot just the way you are. (cue Billy Joel’s I want you just the way you are)

    The Ex November 20, 2008 at 1:01 pm

    I have to admit I’ve often wondered about your hair myself. Sorry!

    KayleighJeanne November 20, 2008 at 1:01 pm

    I vote for light purple hair, maybe a shade of lavender.

    By the way…the age thing goes the other way too. When my daughter was first born, I was out shopping with my husband. He was on one side of the store grabbing something and I was on the other. Two nasty ladies came up behind me and started talking about how it was so sad that there are so many unwed teen mothers and that the poor baby would never have a real family. In a not post-partum mental state I would have torn them a new one. All I could do at the time was cry. Damn hormones.

    Laura November 20, 2008 at 1:02 pm

    Oh…and pink. I think pink hair would be very cool and hip. Not even joking. Ok well, maybe a little joking…..

    Ariel November 20, 2008 at 1:02 pm

    I like your hair:( And I think you are beautiful.

    Her Bad Mother November 20, 2008 at 1:02 pm

    Amy – I’d just dial up the blond a bit. Can’t do maintenance.

    Tho’ maybe I just need a pair of Juicy yoga pants ;)

    Araldia November 20, 2008 at 1:03 pm

    My husband was asked that last year, and he has long bright red hair.
    He was 37, it was our baby son.
    I am glad that my Aspergers means that I do not ask questions that could be taken badly or contain assumptions!

    Laurie November 20, 2008 at 1:05 pm

    Perspective is such a funny thing, and we are so much harder on ourselves, because just yesterday I was moving some BlogHerBoston photos over into the BlogHer header pool on Flickr, one of which was one of you and Jasper with the baby he was greeting in the other carrier. (Forgetting Mom’s name…I’m sorry!) And all I could think was how striking you were and how sweet you looked together and how I wished for the love of God that I could look as nifty if I’d just let my hair go as gray as it’s trying valiantly to be already!

    Was in a store with my best friend a couple years back and a woman walked up to her and said, “OH! You’re just GLOWING!” She was 52 at the time. She knew what she meant. We just kept walking, neither of us little girls. We can laugh about it now…but in the moment, just awkward.

    Me: Well, at least you look happy.

    Perhaps it would be a better world if people just didn’t speak. ;) And what I said about your hair notwithstanding, I hope you have fun coloring it. I have to admit that I do, even though the maintenance, she’s a bitch.

    Expat Mom November 20, 2008 at 1:06 pm

    She obviously didn`t see your face . . . your hair might look old from the back, but you are obviously young when you see your face! I think coloring your hair is a great idea, but don`t let this get you too down!

    Caroline November 20, 2008 at 1:07 pm

    Awful. That was an AWFUL HORRIBLE moment for your self esteem. (Only thing I could relate it to was helping newly PG SIL shop for maternity stuff and was asked how far along *I* was.) I think your hair is simply beautiful as is. I really do. But if you feel drop dead, ungramma-y with a new color – HECK YEAH, DYE AWAY BABY! (What color? I think you’d make a hot blonde, from one blonde to another…)

    sassymonkey November 20, 2008 at 1:08 pm

    Aw, I love your hair just as it is.

    Fairly Odd Mother November 20, 2008 at 1:09 pm

    I think people say things without really thinking far too often. I’ve seen you and you do NOT look like a grandmother. I also personally think you could rock pink, the one color I regret never doing.

    I recently was asked when I was due. Saying this to someone who once had major body image issues is NOT cool. I wish there was a good retort to say to these careless remarks.

    Don Mills Diva November 20, 2008 at 1:09 pm


    Honestly, I would be hurt too, even if it was a meaningless comment for all the reasons you mentioned.

    Maybe dying your hair will give you a lift and if that’s the case I’m all for it, but I know you and I know that you ARE a striking woman who does NOT look anything like a grandmother!

    Sheliza November 20, 2008 at 1:11 pm

    you are simply beautiful :)

    catnip November 20, 2008 at 1:11 pm

    Well I color my hair all the time to cover the white fishing line sprouting from my 30 something year old scalp, so I can’t judge, but I think your hair is gorgeous, and definitely not grandmotherly.

    mothergoosemouse November 20, 2008 at 1:11 pm


    Don’t you dare change your hair. I *love* your hair.

    On second thought, do whatever makes *you* happy. But know that I think you look young and beautiful no matter what.

    bad parent November 20, 2008 at 1:12 pm

    Oh F the salesperson. Seriously, don’t pay that any mind. Sometimes people aren’t even thinking.

    Evidence: I used to run a sandwich shop, and, being the clever idiot that I am, used to joke with the customers.

    Until one day, being my normal “punchy” self, a woman walked in, ordered a sandwich and asked what kind of drinks we had.

    Thinking I was Rico Sauve, and knowing it was a popular drink, I said “we have some delightful Diet Coke on tap today.” Not even thinking. She is a woman.

    She said “Thank you but I DO NOT NEED DIET COKE” and ran out the door. Yeah, I was insensitive a bit, but not even thinking. And she was TOO sensitive, and thinking too much.

    Strike a balance. Then strike a pose. And forget about it. By the way, you are a MILF

    Don Mills Diva November 20, 2008 at 1:12 pm

    Oh, and to put it all in perspective, I weigh 138 pounds and was recently at an industry party feeling quite great about yourself when someone remarked to me how nice it was that a colleague (who actually IS pregnant) and I were experienceing pregnancy together.

    I pretended not to hear her but…ouch.

    April November 20, 2008 at 1:12 pm

    awwwww. i’m sorry you feel like you need to color your hair. i think it’s spectacular!

    if you do end up taking the plunge, though, we will need pictures. and lots.

    Velma November 20, 2008 at 1:13 pm

    I’ve been coloring my hair to cover the gray since I was 26, but since my natural color is dark brown it was an easy choice to start that young!

    Your natural hair is beautiful and distinctive, but part of what makes it so striking is that anyone who sees your face knows you are obviously still a younger woman… which doesn’t help when the comments are coming from behind, right?

    I bet it will look great. We could all use a little brightening up with winter on the way.

    Mouse November 20, 2008 at 1:13 pm

    Trillian started getting grays when she was a teen. She went a long time without coloring it, and I truthfully didn’t care, until… Several people would ask her if Scooter was her grandson. Then one day, someone said this. While I was standing there too. And they obviously understood that I was his mother. The combined suggestion that she was his grandmother and old enough to be my mother convinced both of us it was time for her to make that appointment.

    zchamu November 20, 2008 at 1:14 pm

    I think you’re beautiful. And that saleslady is obviously legally blind.

    If you want to colour your hair because hey, new hair colour is fun once in a while, go for it, but if you are doing it because you feel you should, then don’t do it.

    Mary Wallace November 20, 2008 at 1:16 pm

    My poor ex was white haired from mid 30′s, it used to KILL him when older people noticed ‘how well he got along with his grandkids’!!!! People aren’t mean, they just aren’t taking that extra second needed to SEE each other. You are a gorgeous woman and I’d never mix you up with a grandma. A young, hot nanny, maybe, but not a grandma…:)

    Neil November 20, 2008 at 1:18 pm

    OK, a man here, with a man’s POV. I remember the first time I saw your photo, it was a little surprising to see your hair because it was unexpected. But clearly you were NOT a senior citizen, so I immediately thought it was really cool… and sort of sexy, as if here was a woman who wasn’t hiding her hair color, but was emphasizing it, showing confidence. That’s right, SEXY! And then when I saw your CBGB logo and “Her Bad Mother” title, I figured this is EXACTLY what a true punk-rocker would do as she ages. “Screw coloring the hair. I’m a rebel!” Hey, just like the girls like the bad boys, some of us guys like the bad girls.

    But I can sympathize with you. Recently I wrote a blog post about going into McDonald’s and asking for a cup of coffee, and the high school student behind the counter asked, “Would you like the Senior Discount?” That was a low blow, considering that in my mind’s eye, I still look the same as I did in college.

    Colleen - Mommy Always Wins November 20, 2008 at 1:20 pm

    I have the Billy Joel song in my head now, too…seriously, you look great. Forget the asshat of a salesperson – something will come around to bite her in the butt…

    Color your hair if YOU want to. It could be fun!

    kaila November 20, 2008 at 1:20 pm

    I had something similar happen to me earlier this year. My solution was the same as yours – color the hair. I did go drastic though – from strawberry blond to rich auburn. Now I am addicted to coloring it.

    Mama Smurf November 20, 2008 at 1:24 pm

    Oh God…don’t do it! Take it from a brunette. Premature greying runs in my family. I’m 36 now and I’ve been dying my hair since I was 25 years old. Without color on my hair I’m probably 75% grey. I now have to color my hair religiously every 5 weeks. If you go darker…the gray will stand out like a sore thumb. Seriously. Your light hair is a blessing!

    A dear friend of mine just told me a similar story. He’s in his 40s. He went into a Taco Bell 2 days ago and asked for 2 burritos and a coffee. When she gave him the total he said “that’s not right”. She responded by saying..”Yeah, it’s right, seniors get free coffee.” He said he didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.

    Cagey November 20, 2008 at 1:32 pm

    That sucks! Yikes.

    As I put it, I will go gray when my grandmothers go gray. As neither of them have any intentions of ever doing so, it is unlikely I will, either.

    Once, someone asked my husband what color my hair was. He answered “I don’t know, it changes every month.”

    Damned straight, it does.

    Karen Sugarpants November 20, 2008 at 1:32 pm

    Clearly you need to go shopping with me next time. *growl*
    p.s. I was looking at you all sly-like in Boston and jealous over how awesome you are, inside and out.
    p.p.s. I have eyes. Saleslady? Not so much.

    Patrick November 20, 2008 at 1:33 pm

    Know how you feel. People have occasionally asked me “How I’m feeling” or “When is your baby due?” Only problem is…I’m a man!

    Besides that, I have had way more salt than pepper since I was about 28. I’ve gone natural and I have dyed it, usually blatantly artificial colors so my pride wouldn’t suffer. Dying is fun, but keeping up with roots is SO LAME! Back to silver with some black flecks now (42).

    Lawyer Mama November 20, 2008 at 1:34 pm

    That sucks. It actually happened to a friend of mine about 6 months ago. Lauren met me for lunch at the mall and had her 2 year old in a stroller. She has short curly hair with blonde streaks in it & glasses. The woman at the make up counter asked her how old her grandson was. Oof. She then made it worse by saying she assumed I was Lauren's daughter & Caleb was my son. Double oof. No, I do NOT look that young & Lauren doesn't even look her age. And the make-up counter lady was at least 20 years older than us.
    Some people are just blind idiots. Don't color your hair. It's a great natural color.

    Miss Grace November 20, 2008 at 1:35 pm

    Oh dear.

    If it makes you feel better (maybe?), when my mom went to the grocery store with her youngest son and her dad, the checkout girl assumed that her son was her grandson and her dad was her husband. Which I think was upsetting on many levels.

    Chicky Chicky Baby November 20, 2008 at 1:35 pm

    Coloring ones hair is a slippery slope. I haven’t seen my real color in years except for the occasional grays that refuse to be colored. Damn them.

    Your hair? Awesome. But it’s fun to color too.

    I’m no help, am I?

    Kristy - Where's My Damn Answer November 20, 2008 at 1:37 pm

    Just so that you know you aren’t alone … Lindaloohoo had something similar happen to her on the playground and she’s not old either.

    If you want to read her entry on the story check it out here:

    I think you look fabulous and should just go back and duct tape that ladies mouth closed with her foot still in it :-D

    gurukarm (@karma_musings) November 20, 2008 at 1:37 pm

    In regards to the pregnancy comments, haven’t those people EVER learned the truism that you should NEVER ask a woman if she’s pregnant (or comment that you think she is) unless you actually see a tiny head issuing from between her legs?? (credit, I think, Dave Barry :-) )

    As for your hair, having never seen you in person, I can’t really know, but you look lovely in your pics! and pink would go very nicely with your complexion, I think ;-)

    Veronica Mitchell November 20, 2008 at 1:38 pm

    So sorry that happened to you. I spent my twenties – my young and cute twenties – being mistaken at least once a week for a man. I got called Sir a lot, by people looking right at me. Even with my generous curves.

    People really don’t look. All they saw was my short hair, and the purse didn’t matter, the curves didn’t matter, nothing else mattered.

    You do not look like a grandmother.

    Jaelithe November 20, 2008 at 1:42 pm

    1.) Have seen you in person. Love your hair. You don’t look old. Color it if it feels like fun.

    2.) Am 28. Blonde hair definitely developing distinctive GREY streak. NOT the lovely platinum shade (your shade) I had hoped for. Not sure what to do about it. Thinking of possibly dyeing hair red to match son’s to finally stop people ignorant of Mendelian genetics implying I’ve kidnapped him or something. Kill two birds with one stone, right? But then, I’ve never dyed my hair permanent colors before. It seems unnatural to me. Am on the fence.

    Perhaps we could have a long-distance dithering about hair-dyeing party?

    Shania November 20, 2008 at 1:47 pm

    I’m feeling ya. I posted this same thing yesterday, but not nearly as eloquently. Mine involved profanity. And violence.

    stpaulslim November 20, 2008 at 1:51 pm

    Could have been worse. My friend was once asked if she was pregnant. She shook it off though. She told the salesperson it was a tumor.

    Luann November 20, 2008 at 1:51 pm

    I have been referred to as my kids grandma at least 3 times. While the person was staring directly into my face.

    FishyGirl November 20, 2008 at 1:52 pm

    Catherine, you are beautiful. Color your hair if you want, because YOU WANT to do it, not because you think it will prevent idiots from being idiots. How many times are we asked how old “he” is when we are out with our teeny girls dressed head to toe in pink? I’ve been called “Ma’am” because someone thought I was old and carded because someone thought I was young, all in the same week. People don’t pay attention. Dyeing your hair won’t change that. You’re lovely no matter what.

    Busy Mom November 20, 2008 at 1:53 pm

    If it’s any consolation, it’s happened to me, too.

    Ariel November 20, 2008 at 1:53 pm

    I’d love you with Pink Hair.

    Steph November 20, 2008 at 1:58 pm

    I love your hair the way it is. But it can be fun to mix it up sometimes. I don’t do maintenance either.

    Burgh Baby November 20, 2008 at 2:01 pm

    That salesperson was feeling like an ass for talking before her eyes could drink in the entire package, and for good reason–YOU DO NOT LOOK LIKE SOMEONE’S GRANDMA. Unless you popped a kid out at 8, that is. Cause if you did? Then maybe I can see it. Not really, but I’ll say that just to make the salesperson feel like less of a douche.

    If you want to dye your hair, do it, but do it because you WANT to, not because you feel like you NEED to. Cause you don’t NEED to. Promise.

    Amy @ Milk Breath and Margaritas November 20, 2008 at 2:06 pm

    OMG. That is very nearly worse than the “When are you due?” and the “I’m not pregnant, actually.”

    Wow. I love the platinum personally. But my mother-in-law has that exact color and has for years, so I’m biased to thinking it’s a “older color.” I would do a warmer golder blonde.

    And don’t chicken out! It’s hair color! You (or a pro) can put it right back the way it was if you can’t adjust.

    Post pictures!

    Motherhood Uncensored November 20, 2008 at 2:15 pm

    Dude, screw the hair color. Pull out the fish nets and go go boots.


    Her Bad Mother November 20, 2008 at 2:20 pm

    MU – so that I can be hot, slutty grandma? ;)

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