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.)