I look in the mirror and still see the face of a gawking 10 year-old who could challenge the children’s book heroine, Pippi Longstocking, as the homeliest girl in grade school. I even dressed like her for our class Halloween party that year, complete with oversized socks and curling pigtails, while most girls donned pretty garments that shined.
At my age, I’m still trying to get in touch with my feminine side.
I was raised by a distracted mother who was truly gorgeous, voted the prettiest girl in Junior High. Her large doe eyes and full lips likened her to Judy Garland, emulating the graceful charm and porcelain skin of Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz.
Add to that, I spent most of my time in the company of boys, raised with two older brothers who teased me ‘til my lips quivered and eyes teared in response to their remarks about my childish frame.
That was when I heard my mom say, “You look beautiful,” with the caveat, “when you cry.”
If I had my way, I’d pick Dorothy over Pippi any day.
But my lips were thin, my eyes narrow—and my mother’s distraction did little to bolster my budding femininity. She had her own troubles. A young widow numbing her pain with alcohol left little room for a pre-teen anxious to find her inner beauty.
I was a tomboy when not being quite feminine enough was considered cute. I didn’t want to be cute, I wanted to be beautiful—and I didn’t want to have to cry to do it.
I entered Junior High School just as dress codes changed, removing the “dresses or skirts only” requirement for girls. This worked well for my limited wardrobe, in which only a few dresses hung.
I walked my High School halls as a freshman wearing boot-leg jeans, a green khaki shirt from the Army Surplus Store, and Dr. Scholl’s low-heeled sandals as my chosen attire.
Ah, the 70s!
I was funny, had many friends—and a few boyfriends—during these quick-to-pass school years. Then it was time for college.
My simple approach hadn’t changed much, and neither had my self-acceptance. I stumbled through a variety of trendy styles over the years. Roseanne Rosannadana perms; Hair tucked under paisley scarves to complement faded overalls; the straight bangs and long pageboy of Mork’s Mindy that blew in the wind of my Orange Super Beetle’s first generation sunroof.
When I started dating a few years later I had adopted the “Twiggy” look: A short Vidal Sassoon cut cropped above the ears to meet long eye-covering bangs. I wore cable sweaters, oft-times beige herringbone jackets, and little or no make-up under my large-framed tortoiseshell eyeglasses.
My mother advised, “At least put on some lipstick!” when I prepared for my first outing with Chuck—a friend of a friend who set us up on a blind date. I didn’t see the point. I’d become used to my self-written non-compete clause. It was clear mom wasn’t a fan of my “natural” look.
Truth be told, neither was I. Not because the application of make-up would’ve solved anything, but because my aloof approach was a resignation—that I believed I wasn’t worth the effort. Worse than that, I wouldn’t know what to do if I’d thought I was.
I found the whole thing awkward. Applying mascara that left tread marks, blasting streams of hair spray across a longer coiffed hairdo that dropped straight anyway. Don’t even get me started about hot rollers and Farrah Fawcett hair. I’d take hours applying a trade I knew little about, then jump back in the shower to wash it all off returning to the humble look of my youth.
Chuck was no fashion model, either. His hair was too long, his curly locks tousled and uncombed. On one of our first dates, he wore well-used and significantly outdated platform shoes, just so his longer than needed bell-bottom jeans wouldn’t drag on the ground. They did anyway.
But who was I to judge? We were equally yoked.
That same night we stopped at a party store where Chuck dashed in for some pop. I stayed in the car, contemplating the viability our new relationship, and stared across the street at a large lettered church sign with a scripture that cautioned Samuel about his choice as the next King of Israel:
“Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The LORD does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” I Samuel 16:7 (NIV)
The timing was perfect.
I was already enamored with Chuck’s handsome smile and sincere kindness, which made me swoon. So what if he didn’t notice that the back of his jeans were coated with mud from being a tad too long. Or that his hair was matted on the part of his head he couldn’t easily see.
I could accept that.
Chuck finally bounded back to the car with smile wide, looked past my less-than-vogue outfit and thin colorless lips that chattered too much, to pass a cola to me. Then he paused for a deeper look and said “You are so beautiful. I love your eyes.” And I didn’t even need to cry.
It was an acceptance I didn’t expect, but one I had always yearned for.
At my age, married to Chuck for over 30 years, it’s these constant interactions that have made what was once an uncommon occurrence, beautifully common. The way he takes the time to say, “You look noice” in his best Aussie accent. Or when he draws me close and without a word, looks deep into my eyes, knowing I understand the depth of his love.
Years have passed, and I finally know my favorite lip color; a dark rose with a slight shimmer. I know the sweet scent of perfume I like to wear, when I remember to wear it—and against the counsel of my fear let my hair go beautifully gray.
How to apply eyeliner with the perfect Nike swoosh or how to twist a scarf to make it drape just so—are both talents I’ve yet to acquire.
I’m still getting in touch with my feminine side, and it’s a worthy effort. Inside and out.