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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    { 147 comments }

    clueless but hopeful mama November 20, 2008 at 2:21 pm

    Oh my God. I didn’t know where the post was going till it went to “grandmother” and I spent the whole first half staring at your picture and thinking how TOTALLY AWESOME your platinum hair is. Seriously.

    I’m all for coloring it if you feel like it. But wow, your platinum is really, really cool.

    jenB November 20, 2008 at 2:22 pm

    I could die for you. I don’t even know what to say, other than I am sorry, that would suck not matter how secure you are with the package of HBM. Honestly though? If I had your hair length and colour, I would so go blonde because I have always wanted to and it isn’t an option for me. I would LOVE to see blonde with a kick ass pink streak like Rogue from X-men. I cannot believe I just made an X-men reference.

    Linda November 20, 2008 at 2:22 pm

    See, I always thought your hair was blonde, not platinum-y grey! Further, you look great.

    I’ve been going grey since I was 19, so I colour it — not so much because I’m averse to aging or sensitive about my age, but because my hair is naturally golden brown and the grey was just a bad fit. I sometimes go reddish, sometimes more gold, or sometimes a deeper, darker brown than my natural colour.

    I think of hair colour as an accessory anyway and don’t ever refer to it as “hair dye” — it’s hair colour! A warmer blonde would suit you, I think, if you’re keen to give yourself and your look a little boost. Or see about highlights and/or lowlights if you’re leery about an all-over change. Have fun!

    Redneck Mommy November 20, 2008 at 2:28 pm

    Oh honey. Thank the heavens you were shopping with Amy and not me, because I would have so put that saleswoman into her place and you would have had to drag my snarling body out of there to avoid further embarrassment.

    As your friend and someone who loves you dearly, I have never really noticed your hair other than to wish desperately that it looked as awesome and as grown up as your hair always looks.

    Personally, I lean towards not colouring it, but that is because I’m so damned partial to it…to you, my lovely dear friend.

    However, take that with a grain of salt and realize that I’m speaking as a woman who regularly gets purple streaks put in her hair, for the simple reason as it annoys my husband.

    Whatever you do with your hair colour don’t let one stupid and obviously blind woman’s opinion damage your self esteem. You are a vibrant young woman and so very beautiful.

    But if you are going to dye your hair, go bold. Go black. With a purple streak so we can be twinsies.

    Wink.

    I love you.

    Redneck Mommy November 20, 2008 at 2:30 pm

    Dammit. I meant to say I wished my hair looked as awesome as yours.

    Fark it. I need caffeine. And a phone to call you. Damn crazy drivers knocking out my phone lines.

    Christina November 20, 2008 at 2:36 pm

    Go color your hair if it makes you feel happy, but do it for yourself, not for some stupid saleswoman who needs to think before she speaks.

    For the record, I think you’re absolutely lovely and don’t need the color boost. But I can understand the need to indulge in a little beauty therapy to soothe the self-image.

    Whenever I color my hair, it’s because I’m feeling down and need a little pick-me-up to prove to myself that I’m at least OK to look at. Nothing wrong with that.

    Syko November 20, 2008 at 2:36 pm

    You blondes go gray so much more beautifully than we brunettes do. You know, I realized from some of your younger pictures that you once were a darker blonde, but I assumed you lightened it on purpose. I had no clue that it was nature’s lightener. It looks wonderful.

    Do what you want, but I wouldn’t touch it. One poor tired confused salesperson should not set you off on coloring your hair. It’s really hard to stop once started.

    I’ve always been a brunette, but started coloring my hair in my cougar days. When I did become a grandmother, I decided to look like one and went through months of bi-colored hair, only to discover on the day the hairdresser finally cut the last of the colored hair off, that I didn’t like it, and I stopped off for some Clairol on the way home.

    I color and highlight it, it’s easy enough with the new products, but still a hassle. First you put on the gloppy color, then sit for half an hour and take a shower. Then you put on the streaks of bleach and wait another 20 minutes or so and take another shower. It literally takes half a day. And you end up with fried, dried out, frizzy hair. Only to go through it all again in a month.

    I’d dearly love to let my hair go gray. I suspect from the roots I see when I neglect the upkeep for a month or so that I am very close to a silvery white now. But everyone I mention it to says “NO NO” and I think they just can’t deal with the idea of me suddenly being old and gray. Well, I’m old anyway, and I’m tired of coloring my hair.

    I wouldn’t do it if I were you. Or else I’d go for fire-engine red.

    motherbumper November 20, 2008 at 2:37 pm

    If you do a wacky colour I’ll hold hands and finally use that tube of blue colour I have in the bathroom cupboard that I bought in retaliation for losing my girly boobs post-partum (don’t ask).

    But personally, I don’t want you to change a thing because you are so easy to find in crowds and I covet your hair colour.

    Backpacking Dad November 20, 2008 at 2:37 pm

    I say just mousse it. Straight. Up.

    Grandma that, yo.

    Miguelina. November 20, 2008 at 2:42 pm

    Color it if that’s what you want to do (changing your hair is fun) but when I saw you in Boston I was jealous of your platinum blond bob. So much edgier than my brown hippie hair ;)

    Maybe add some lowlights for depth? Or just ignore the saleslady? I’m sure she wasn’t even really looking at you.

    manic mariah November 20, 2008 at 2:43 pm

    Wow, that’s almost as bad as someone asking when you’re due and you’re not pregnant

    Anonymous November 20, 2008 at 2:50 pm

    Dude, that sucks…

    If you really wanted to colour your hair, you would have already done it. So please don’t change yourself because of the opinions of others.

    Remember – there’s a reason that she works in a department store.

    Ariel November 20, 2008 at 2:51 pm

    I LOVE your platinum hair! But PINK! How awesomely fun would that be?
    If I didn’t work in an accountants office- with my mother in law as my boss- I WOULD HAVE PINK HAIR!

    Jen November 20, 2008 at 2:57 pm

    Dude, it happened to me, too a couple of months ago. I was bringing my baby into work and one of the security guards asked if she was my grandchild. Geez, dude, way to ruin my year! I’m only 37 for God’s sake.

    Theresa November 20, 2008 at 3:02 pm

    When I was in my 20′s, I got a flat tyre and asked a random dude to help me change it. He then asked me why my 3-years-younger-brother couldn’t help me. Only he said ”Why doesn’t your SON change it for you”.

    Some people just need glasses.

    Domestic Extraordinaire November 20, 2008 at 3:16 pm

    my really good friend Cheryl has early platinum hair as well. I think it is beautiful-as I think your hair is as well. She tried to color it a couple of years ago and was very disappointed in the results. It took to her hair a little “too” well and then it took forever for it to go away because her hair is just so light. (and this was a temp. color)

    Just ignore her, I think it makes you who you are. Wonderful!

    Heather November 20, 2008 at 3:20 pm

    I think people just don’t even see one another most of the time. It’s similar to someone saying about your baby girl “oh! How cute! How old is HE?” when she’s clearly wearing pink and flowers and who dresses a baby BOY like that?

    She wasn’t even really looking at you. You’re beautiful.

    My husband has been grey for for most of our 8-year marriage. He is going to be 37 in January. He’s toyed with the idea of coloring, but hasn’t yet. It doesn’t matter to me what color his hair is. It does matter to me how HE feels about his hair.

    Anonymous November 20, 2008 at 3:27 pm

    That’s crazy. You do not like old at all. Color your hair if it will make you feel better, but don’t think for a moment you need to improve your looks. You are beautiful.

    Anonymous November 20, 2008 at 3:34 pm

    I say colour it. If you don’t like it, it’ll grow out/fade/wash out. You have nothing to lose. And I’m betting it’ll be a nice pick me up.

    Leandra November 20, 2008 at 3:49 pm

    Ooh, I’ve always wanted to be striking. Pretty often doesn’t age well, but striking does. I think you have beautifully lovely features and I like your hair as is. But like someone else said, you can color it and if you don’t like it just let it grow out.

    I think a nice honey blonde color would look nice with your skin. Ooh, maybe you could get the Hair Thursday girl to tell you what color to go with!

    Avonlea November 20, 2008 at 4:09 pm

    I’m another reader who thinks your platinum hair is very awesome. A purple streak would be cool, though. ;)

    My husband has been prematurely grey/silver for 10-15 years; with his beard and his very long hair, it’s quite striking. Think Gandalf the White from LOTR, but cute. He regularly gets given the senior discount or people think he’s our son’s grandpa. He keeps thinking about cutting his hair short and maybe dyeing so that won’t happen, but I love it the way it is.

    Just as an additional thought, my cousin became a grandmother (a few years ago!!) at 32 years old! *ahem* Yep, they live way out in the boonies, and she and her daughter were teenage mommies.

    javajojo November 20, 2008 at 4:16 pm

    You are not only pretty, you are beautiful. Your hair color is great! It is unfortunate that some people do not think before they open their mouths, but I must admit, I have been guilty of it as well. I am in my late 40′s and have an eight year old, so I have had the grandma reference as well. I know, Ouch! My opinion, if you want it, is to leave your color alone – it’s great. Maybe consider a closer cropped haircut? Not that you need to, but I used to be a professional hairstylist, so I’m always looking at haircuts. I think something wispy around your eyes would draw them out because they are so beautiful.

    Mama V November 20, 2008 at 4:22 pm

    Imagine how excited Emilia would be if you had pink hair!!!
    I, personally, LOVE your hair the way it is – it’s you! Don’t go changing it just because someone made an insensitive comment. You don’t see me running out for liposuction every time someone asks me when my 3rd is due….

    No Mother Earth November 20, 2008 at 4:39 pm

    Well, since I’m a diehard hair-dyer, I will always vote for colour. It’s fun to change your hair colour, and you can always change it back, or let it grow out. It’s just hair. Go for it.

    You’re only young once, right?? :-)

    Shadow Dancer November 20, 2008 at 4:48 pm

    Amy: I liked your post because I could relate to the bumpy road you’ve traveled in coming to terms with your self-image. I, too, would be upset if I were taken for a grandmother while out shopping with my kids. As you say, it wouldn’t be because I’m not comfortable with aging (though at 43 I’m still working on it) or that I want to “look young”; rather, it would be because I FEEL young, and moving about the world as a grandmother is utterly alien to the way I believe myself to be perceived by others. What a rude shock that must have been.

    Age is a very subjective, fluid concept. I know of old women, spinsters — who’ve never had the ultimate aging experience — and yet they seem to epitomize the idea of ancientness. And I know of grandmothers who are as agile, fleet, and beautiful as athletes. What is awful about being mistaken for a grandmother by someone you’ve never even met is that you know you’ve been noticed precisely on the basis of some stereotype — posture hardened into form, gait slow, clothes unfashionable, hair like a helmet — all that kind of stuff. But a stereotype is, by definition, SUPERFICIAL. You can change it, if you want to, of you can just say to yourself that that is the way you were seen at a certain moment in time, and move on.

    So interesting that you grew up wanting to be the “natural beauty” — the kind of girl who can easily become the princess, but doesn’t need to advertise that power in a flaunting or distracting way. She is the ultimate transformer: she can fit in, or stand out. You wrote that first paragraph in your blog and I wondered how many girls have some variation of that same dream: it seems to describe the story/ability of every Hollywood heroine.

    I grew up frequently being doted upon for my petite, princess-like looks (perfect little ski-jump nose). But I was a ballet dancer by training and profession (in the 80s), and fairy tale girls were not in vogue. So I, too, spent my youth dreaming of being a different kind of girl (or woman). I coveted the bodies of tall, skinny women and constantly tried to diet my curves out of existences. I couldn’t stand my fresh, apple-cheeked complexion and instead went around sucking my cheeks in, wishing for an exotic, bony face, with an aquiline nose and large melancholic eyes.

    As you said, we never know what we have until it’s gone. But I wouldn’t go back there. And you shouldn’t want to either. You have a beautiful face with large, searching, and slightly haunted features (much like the baby on your blog header). It’s also a face that looks like it will age very well (unlike mine). So, look on the bright side!

    ewe are here November 20, 2008 at 5:19 pm

    Vanity really IS a bith… I’ve started using semi-permanent conditioning color on my hair when I get a cut because all I see is the gray hairs on my part line when I look in the mirror. There aren’t even that many… but it’s all I see.

    sigh

    Badness Jones November 20, 2008 at 5:32 pm

    Don’t, DON’T colour your hair. You look amazing. And if you coloured your hair you wouldn’t look like you!

    Tara November 20, 2008 at 5:44 pm

    Another possibility may stem from the saleslady’s personal perspective on the age of motherhood. That springs to mind because earlier today the hubby read me something about a 35-year-old woman who’s becoming a grandmother. Meanwhile, I’m two years older than that and expecting our first baby!

    I thought at the time how Grandmother Woman and I live in absolutely separate worlds — not sure either of us could *fully* comprehend the other’s experience, no matter how hard we tried. So, anyway, maybe saleslady was from Grandmother Woman’s camp? In which, you’re not in your early twenties (or heaven forbid teens) so ergo must be the grandma??

    Trillian November 20, 2008 at 5:57 pm

    That EXACT thing happened to me when Scooter was a baby and I was all of 32….32, for crying out loud. I decided right then and there to get my hair colored and I’ve been doing it ever since. No one mistakes me for his grandmother anymore. God that was a mortifying moment, I feel your pain.

    Anonymous November 20, 2008 at 6:11 pm

    I would go with a light brown with blonde highlights, it would look great!
    You should treat yourself :-)

    Melanie November 20, 2008 at 6:16 pm

    I haven’t read all the comments here (80!! I’ve got papers to grade, people!), but I’ll suggest maybe having your colorist just even out the tone of your hair, make it more uniform.

    The problem with white-blond and platinum and gray hair is that it tends to yellow and age it a bit. So I’d do a bluing or maybe a strawberry/henna tinting just to even things out a bit.

    Her Bad Mother November 20, 2008 at 6:24 pm

    Melanie – blue rinse? AAAAGGGGHHH!

    ;)

    BaltimoreGal November 20, 2008 at 6:42 pm

    SWEET JESUS CHRIST ON A CRACKER!
    I’m 35 with no babies and that is a horrifying story.
    My solution? Do what Amalah did with the whole breast cancer thing, if you can stand it. Buy some Manic Panic (in a pale shade) and rinse that sucka in. I tell you, as one natural blonde to another, if I worked at home I would be playing with all kinds of colors. We’ve got a great canvas. Once you’ve sufficiently and outwardly proven that your are not old and are in fact rockin’, then you can figure out what to do next as a grownup. Why not?

    DO NOT DO A BLUING on your head. You will look grandma-ish then!

    mommymae November 20, 2008 at 6:56 pm

    although i only have a few silver hairs, my guess is that i will be fully white in the next 10 years. my dad has a gorgeous head of silver hair and the 100 or so that i have peeking out look just like his. i think it’s stunning, just like yours. i, honestly, can’t wait to have a full head of silver. it will be so striking, me thinks. and you are striking, me thinks.

    worldmomma November 20, 2008 at 7:04 pm

    I’m all for self-confidence and aging naturally. But of all the signs of aging, I do think early gray tends to make people look older than they are. It can be beautiful (and you are beautiful) but when I see someone with beautiful grey or white hair, but skin that doesn’t look to be as old as I expect I find myself confused about their age. I hope to not buy into a lot of beauty treatments. But I do spend $10 every few months to cover my grey (which appeared in my 20s) at home.

    Snarky Amber November 20, 2008 at 7:54 pm

    As another natural blond that is probably about 5 years away from going platinum, I agree with Ann. MANIC PANIC that shit. Pink, purple, electric blue, whatever. Or, you know, don’t. I mostly want you to do it because I am too scared to dye my hair anymore (I had a trauma).

    That saleswoman? Can eat a bag of dicks.

    Mrs. G. November 20, 2008 at 8:42 pm

    OK, I’m only sharing this to make you feel better. I would take “grandmother” over the day one of my students who asked me if I had a baby growing in my stomach? I didn’t.

    You’re welcome.

    I suggest highlights (less maintenance), cool earrings and jaunty scarves.

    Mommer November 20, 2008 at 9:10 pm

    I love your hair — I wish my hair would just make up its mind if was going to go silver or not, so you’re a step ahead of me in that category.

    I view your hair as a delightful blank slate — keep it platinum, play with it, whatever makes you happy! Try some temporary dyes, have fun with it.

    And I have to say, the other end of it isn’t always that delightful. I have been asked three times in the last two months when MY senior recital was, after playing piano for college juniors’ musical recitals. (I am 35.) So that was nice. But it was not so nice when people were glaring at the “teen mom” who was actually 25.

    Oh he**, what am I saying … I’m delighted to be mistaken for a college senior. But if I wasn’t doing VERY regular touch-ups to the silver, nobody’d make that mistake. ;)

    b.

    daniloth November 20, 2008 at 9:14 pm

    I also love your plat hair, HBM. Unfortunately, light hair is just one of those age signifiers, and for people who are not bright enough to look past the signifier. I say, colour your hair. You can always change it back, and new hair can be a great pick me up.

    jodifur November 20, 2008 at 10:26 pm

    I’m going gray at 33, 33. And then I got really sick. Lupus and arthritis and felt like an old lady died my hair red. I feel better now.

    GIRL'S GONE CHILD November 20, 2008 at 10:29 pm

    If you look like a grandma then I think we should all just kill ourselves, now. Catherine? You are beautiful beyond belief and your hair? We would all KILL for it. I say rock your hair with pride. Because it’s YOU and YOU fucking rule.

    Overflowing Brain November 20, 2008 at 10:41 pm

    I love love love your hair.

    I’m 25 and have now been mistaken on 3 occasions for a parent, rather than a teacher at the school I work at. A school for 14-18 year old girls. Meaning I had a child when I was, at best, 11.

    It stings. It really does.

    the weirdgirl November 20, 2008 at 10:49 pm

    Personally, I love your platinum hair. And I’m on the Manic Panic train so the fact that I’m NOT telling you to dye it crazy colors should tell you that your hair SO WORKS!

    I’m going to get all bossy here so bear with me… go into your closet, pull out all the clothes that make you feel vibrant and excited, and put them in your regular rotation! (Barring super dress up clothes.) Don’t save them for “special occasions.” Wear them! You’ll feel better. Kid stains wash out. And if you don’t have any clothes that make you feel vibrant and excited GO GET SOME! You’re worth it. A colored tee with cute detailing is just as easy to put on than a white one. And you don’t have to break the bank either… I know the rule, none of us are supposed to shop in juniors anymore. But here’s the deal, don’t grab the top covered in cherries and bows or the jeans with the rhinestone unicorn on the ass; the colored jersey tops with nice draping, however, are just fine. And they’re comfortable, wearable, cheap, and damn cute!

    Because if you’re wearing clothes that make you feel vibrant and excited you’ll never look (or feel) “your age.”

    I’ll stop ranting now.

    Mimi November 20, 2008 at 11:01 pm

    So, if you do color your hair you’re going to show us, right? I have to tell you that some people are just that dumb and say dumb things like that without it being a reflection on you! I’m 47 and have a 3 yr old that I’ve been asked MANY times if she’s my grandbaby. It especially happens when my almost 21 yr old daughter is with us! I’ve been told for years that I don’t look ___ age (that I am at the time). I never asked for that! I’m good with my age, and yes I do color my hair! I have done that since I was 20, so why stop now?! Having my youngest at 43 did feel like I aged quickly, but I’m still good with that. Those people that want to open their mouths and insert their foot or feet, well that’s their problem!

    Anonymous November 20, 2008 at 11:28 pm

    Bad Mother-
    That stinks. I’d kill to have your platinum hair. Mine’s gone mousy and silver, ick. Maintenance is a bitch, as I’m sitting here with almost inch long roots and the appointment is in three weeks. Gack!! If it happens again, just tell the fool that it’s your little brother. That should shut them up.

    Michelle November 21, 2008 at 12:14 am

    You do NOT look like a grandmother. I love your hair colour, I think it’s fabulous. But if you feel you need a change, I’d go for a funky cut instead. Maintenance on coloured hair is a bitch.

    Immoral Matriarch November 21, 2008 at 12:15 am

    NO! I love your hair color! NO!! Leave it alone!

    Lin November 21, 2008 at 12:19 am

    I think your hair color is exquisite, but if YOU want to change it and you’re not changing it because some stranger made some thoughtless, idiotic comment, then how about putting in some dark blond highlights.

    Cheryl November 21, 2008 at 1:00 am

    I saw you speak about mommyblogging in the Spring. When I got home, I told my husband how stimulating the talk was, and how spectacular your hair was. I like the hair.

    slouching mom November 21, 2008 at 1:29 am

    do not change it! it’s striking, it’s you.

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