Who am I trying to impress? I ask myself this question a lot lately. And the answer varies wildly. Sometimes it’s a group of people, other times it’s an elusive “they”. Sometimes it’s a work colleague or audience, other times it’s my mother, or what I think my mother would want. I don’t know what it feels like to be a guy. I do know what it’s like to be a woman. The pressures, both spoken and implied, to look good and always be at my best are fairly intense. Part of this is the culture in which I was raised. To this day, if I’m socializing with certain people I grew up with, I put myself through the ringer from head to toe. I worry what they think of me, heaps of deep, under the surface anxiety. And no matter what I’ve done to feel pretty, polished, put together, it’s not enough. Yes, a great deal of this is leftover from the ninth grade. Still, I never feel like I’ve hit the mark. But I wouldn’t dare just come as I am and risk being judged, seen, fully known.
I’ve been reading some Brene Brown lately. Love her. I’d like to be her bestie, actually. (Pretty sure I’ve never typed the word “bestie” before and I’m a little disturbed by myself right now.) I digress… Brene Brown’s work on shame shakes me to the core. Her thoughts have greatly challenged me. Shame is pervasive, insidious, maddening. I know it well.
We’re going to a small birthday party for one of our best friends tonight. No, not Brene Brown. Even better. Nathan Gunter. You don’t know him? Oh, you should. He’s a national treasure. So, Nate’s party is tonight. I have really thick hair. Really. Thick. Hair. (I promise this is going somewhere.) For me to wash, dry and flat iron my hair takes about an hour and a half. Just for the hair part. Plus make-up, plus contacts, plus plucking and shaving and whatever other dumb female rituals I am inclined to endure for the sake of societal expectations…. In the end, I need a solid two hours to feel “pretty, polished and put together.” Honestly? Most days, I don’t have an extra two hours. When you tally all the hours up, I choose to value other things with my time. Today the two hours that might have gone to all that went instead to reading books with Bea, hearing her sing the ABC’s melody for the first time, and sitting for a long spell with a grieving friend.
This afternoon as I felt the “oh crap I can’t go to the party with no make-up and a ponytail” and “crap what on earth will I wear that looks remotely fashionable” voices start to creep up, my insides resonated the question, “WHO AM I TRYING TO IMPRESS?”
And, after a long silence, my other insides answered, “I HAVE NO IDEA. And why the hell can I not just come as I am?” No make up. Wearing my glasses. Ponytail. Something comfortable and likely nowhere near fashionable (gasp, flip flops and toes that need a pedi!) What if I didn’t try to hide the very evident not even kind of hide-able fact that I am plus-sized and struggle with my weight? Could I go to the party as, I don’t know… Me? Nate loves me as I am. All that matters to him is that I show up. With booze.
True confession: This whole no make-up, ponytail, glasses, cheap old navy flip-flops and plus-sized comfy unfashionable clothes thing is what I look like almost every day when I’m not trying to impress anyone. This is the truest me.
What is it that makes us feel like being who we are, showing up “as is”, means we’ve somehow “let ourselves go.” I guess if that’s what it means, then may it be said that I “let myself go” for the sake of love and stories and crayons and naptimes and tickles and giggles and hard honest work and being a friend who shows up when there’s a need instead of styling my hair.
Hey world: I’VE DECIDED TO LET MYSELF GO! Anyone care to join me?
P.S. I’m not talking about denying self-care here. I believe in radical self-care. I just don’t happen to believe that self-care has anything to do with my hair. To me, radical self-care is choosing to come as I am and believing I have a right to take up space and live as if I'm loved and lovable instead of shamed.