On Trying Harder and Being Your Own Mirror: Womanity

I used to get away with it.

The most delicious crime– never wearing make-up. Largely neglecting my hair save for a ponytail. I washed it of course, but I never cared much about styling it. Rather, I let it be. It was full and shiny, always growing.

Save a bit of acne, my skin was always mostly clear. I used spot concealer for those areas. As I’m not naturally girly, spending too much time on my appearance is exasperating. I have patience for many things– but a beauty routine is not one of them. My arm tires holding a curling/flat iron. I can’t deal with those pesky round brushes that give you the perfect blow-out mane.

I stay away from women’s magazines– I’m at least that smart!

And I did the most natural thing– I chopped my hair into a pixie. What a relief!

I’m pretty secure about my looks most of the time.

But I do miss the comments I used to get about being pretty. I heard it often as a child, teen, young woman. All my life, really. People complimented my hair, soft like a cumulous cloud with a wave that rose vertical. I had natural highlights and a deep brunette base. My aunt, a nun everyone called “Sister,” always praised my wiry, curly eyebrows and told me they were like Brooke Shield’s (they weren’t!) and discouraged me from waxing/plucking them.

I still carry that– I’m proud to say my brows are still full. Though I do maintain them, like hedges.

She told me I was beautiful just the way I was, that I didn’t need to conform to beauty standards. And I believed her. It was the best lesson she could have given me– she never made me feel that my looks defined me. She taught me that God created us as we are– beautiful by design. She never made me feel as if I need to do anything to attract boys– she wanted me to just have fun with my friends, do my homework, and be an active girl. I was. Because her existence didn’t revolve around men’s approval or attraction, neither did mine.

I never felt that I needed a boyfriend to be complete. I spent all my time with my girlfriends back then. And we all celebrated each other and told each other that we love each other’s outfits, hair, our varying features. Sure, we were competitive as well. But it was mostly solidarity.

Maybe Sister’s influence is part of the reason I’m not married. She set a great example for me in that way.

But one of the hardest things about being single is that over time, you lose your friends. They’re still in your life– but if you don’t get married and have kids too, you don’t have that in common. They get progressively busy with their families and start hanging out with other couples and families. Your single friends get engaged and get into wedding planning mode. And once they’re married, it’s never quite the same.

You still keep in touch. But I miss the daily communication I enjoyed growing up– the notes, e-mails, cards, constant phone calls for hours, musing about every little detail. All the time we spent together in person, at each other’s homes and the way we became a part of each other’s families. The way we knew each other’s schedules and banal details. As women, that time evaporates when people get married and have kids, with increasing demands at work. Now we subsist on quick texts, Facebook is the middle-ground, scheduled phone calls for short allotments. We make actual plans when possible– though it may take weeks or longer to coordinate.

In college and most of my Twenties, I had a plethora of friends of both sexes. Socially I was in-demand.

Now I wrestle with the void left as those cherished long-time friends settle down, move away, or we grow apart. I am in a constant state of having to meet new people. It’s exhausting!

As a single woman, I no longer have constant positive reflections to rely on to feed my self-worth. I think unless you’re a model or a woman extremely skilled with beauty products with a lot of patience, the compliments decline rapidly as you grow older.

And “older” has already begun in my Thirties. I’m not ready! I thought they would last longer.

I have to supply my own validation.

I need to be my own mirror. Part of me wants to throw a fit and stamp my feet and just pout. Why?!

I have to consciously try harder now to feel beautiful.

And when I put effort in with my make-up and hair, I get compliments more often. They seem to take me more seriously when I put my “face” on. I seem to have more power.

And that makes me angry! Why should my appearance determine so much??

I crave that liberation many women say they acquire in their 50’s, where they just stop coloring their hair, embrace the gray, and stop caring about fashion.

But I’m too immature for that just yet. And yes, still vain. I’m trying to care less.

But I suppose I was spoiled growing up, because I never had to try. I was showered with praise for my beauty. That’s the quintessential tragedy for every woman as she ages.

That loss is a something visceral. I am on my guard so that I don’t become one of those women obsessed with beauty products and make-up and plastic surgery to feel young.

I see and accept the smiles lines, the brow wrinkles, the crows’ feet. I will not erase them.

But it does make me a little bit sad, I admit.

I work hard to remind myself that my worth is rooted in my integrity, my character, my intelligence. I work harder to be stylish, to compensate.

I delight in random compliments, especially from men.

Hey, I’m human.

I used to LOVE having my picture taken and posing in goofy ways with friends! Now it’s tapering off.

Now I’m always looking for the best angle. How can I avoid shadows? Which filter will smooth out those lines? Am I having a good skin day? I’m never wearing THAT shirt again! Maybe the person taking the picture should back up a bit, to provide a friendlier distance.

Now I find myself going, “No way!” and deleting more pictures than I’d like to admit. Posting strategically.

I must remain vigilant– if I become trapped now, I’ll be scrambling for the rest of my life in that game. I refuse to let Patriarchal standards win. I’m aware of that threat. But I do feel its glare.

I will not be the Bonsai tree, pruned with care to remain small and dainty.

But trying desperately to deny I care makes me feel more ridiculous. So, I’m admitting it.

I’m just a regular woman who, while still attractive, is noticing the maintenance needed, and resents it. I accept reality, but I don’t have to like it.

It’s all part of just growing up as a woman, grappling with the role of make-up and a beauty routine.

And the money it costs. That’s the worst! Not just the time, but the money.

I’m figuring it out, a bit at a time. I really wish I could laugh at this!

One thing, FORGET powder! Now it just makes me feel like Miss Havisham.

How are YOU dealing?? I’d love to know. Got any advice for me?


New Color, A Trim, and More Confidence

Yesterday, I colored my hair.

I know I praised my grays previously– and I did enjoy the The Gandalf Upgrade to white.

But we all go through phases where we just don’t care much about our looks. We stop trying. And there’s a certain comfort in that, because we attract less attention that way. Sometimes we don’t want attention. We just want a break from it. And it can be a welcome period of rest.

But I think when you start to care again, it’s a sign of growth. It’s a sign of self-respect, of wanting to look good for YOURSELF. Because it’s true– when you look better, you feel better.

I dyed my hair once, a few months ago. It turned out way too bright red– I wasn’t a fan. It faded to an orangey color. The cut was grown out– it was just a block of thick hair that I usually only put in ponytails, if I did anything at all with it.

I’m not one to fuss with styling long hair. I’m a tomboy in that way. I like to keep it simple.

But yesterday I tried a new stylist, and she was just what I needed!

I liked her because her own style was fantastic. And you want a stylist who IS stylish. Duh.

She ended up just thinning out my heavy locks a bit, giving me some layers around the face. I was going to try bangs, but ruled it out last-minute. I always end up pushing them back with my hands or slapping on a headband. I have a small forehead so I can’t pull off big fringe bangs, or most kind of bangs at all! They just get in my eyes and usually annoy me. And while the Bettie Page look is hot– it’s not for me.

I got a dark brown mixed with a bit of cherry. I love it. It warms up my pale complexion, and matches the winter mood. And I feel more confident! It’s a bob– practical.

I’m ready to go out and get things done in this hair!!

Taking care of yourself as a woman, splurging a bit on yourself– it just makes you feel better.

And while I know those gray and white hairs are still there– I’m 33, not 53. I’m gonna fight ’em!

The upkeep is annoying, yes. But I’m worth the effort.