Thursday, November 4, 2010

Passing for Pretty

So I’ve always had a very negative self-image. In fact, I never thought I’d get married because I was too ugly. I just didn’t think anyone would want to marry me, because I didn’t fit the mold of tall and thin that seemed to be the ideal. Also, growing up in Christian Fundamentalism, we weren’t supposed to focus on external beauty anyway, since we were supposed to be “beautiful on the inside.”

I took those messages pretty seriously (probably too seriously) and figured that if people told me it didn’t matter what I looked like, well, then, it didn’t matter (yes, I took things literally as a child, why do you ask?). Most of the time, I didn’t wear makeup, I didn’t bother doing much with my hair, and my clothes were pretty atrocious. But I knew that Jesus looked on the inside, so I tried to tell myself that I didn’t care.

But I did care.

I was surrounded by other young women who looked gorgeous doing the back-to-nature thing. No makeup, no hairstyling, and they looked wonderful. The men who visited our church paid them lots of attention and compliments. I didn’t get compliments. People told me they thought I’d be a great nun. I was the ugly duckling in a pond of swans.

And then I went off to the convents where clothes/beauty REALLY didn’t matter and where, sometimes, I wasn’t even able to take a shower for long periods of time. I tried not to care, I really did. The mirrors were all covered at those places, and I tried not to sneak peeks of myself in the windows of buildings. I had to wear super modest clothes and headcoverings, so I stopped paying attention to my body at all. I just had to pray, pray, pray and work like crazy too (and pray while I was working). I had to eat whatever was put in front of me, so hunger/fullness wasn’t an issue and my clothes were so baggy that any gain or loss of weight went completely  unnoticed by me.

Since living in a convent sucked giant monkey balls, I left. I felt relief and gratitude that I was free, but I had no idea how to dress myself. My previous shopping method of going to Goodwill and grabbing whatever was baggiest and most modest wasn’t really working any more. But real shopping,the kind where you go to the mall and try stuff on and spend money? That took time!! And then I still had to figure out the hair and the makeup and the shoes and and and. So I spent the time, and the money, and I still felt ugly. I still felt like I was doing it wrong.

And then I started taking a good hard look at the women around me, at school and at work. I started noticing that even the prettiest of women, if you looked really closely, looked kind of ordinary. Under the hairstyle, or the carefully-applied makeup, or the manicured nails, they didn’t look as perfect as I thought they did. They looked...kind of like me.

So I started seeing beauty as something I could *do* rather than something that one *had* (or didn’t have, in my case). I viewed it as a mask, in a way - that if I could put the mask on just right, I could pass for pretty and no one would notice that I’m not.

So that’s what I’ve done for a while now, but I’m not sure that’s working for me any more. I’d like my outsides to match my insides - so if I’m feeling pretty, or sexy, or saucy, I’d like to be able to show that through my clothes and my style. Somehow, viewing clothing and makeup as decoration has made it more fun and less stressful to dress and present myself. I’ve recently found a  way to do my hair that I like (after 29.8 years of fighting it), so that’s a step in the right direction, I think. Otherwise, I’m still a work in progress, and that’s okay for now.

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