Feeling pretty has never been a priority in my life. Feeling smart, talented, adventurous, capable, interesting, witty, etc., have all taken precedence in my line-up of most cherished personal assets. I’ve put great effort into the pursuit of all these characteristics. But until lately I never realized the importance of feeling pretty. I’m a girl. First and foremost, I’m a human being. But I think secondly, I am most definitely a girl. It’s part of my basic makeup (no pun intended). So shouldn’t that be addressed at some point?
Here I am, almost 48 years old, never having fully embraced being a girl. I’ve yet to ever feel truly feminine. I reflect on the earliest years of my life and the style of it and wonder if it has anything to do with this misfiring of my most basic nature.
Did I spend too much too much time digging in dirt for rocks and bugs or going fishing with Dad? I played with baby dolls and Barbie’s, but that was about the dolls looking pretty, not me. I once wore a tutu and danced in the living room and sometimes watched romantic musicals on TV with Mom, but I preferred to jump ramps on my bicycle and join spitting contests with boys. I caught lightning bugs and played with earthworms. I camped outside in a tent with my little brother and sat idolizing my big brother as he built another model rocket. I have two sisters, but they were a decade older and worlds a part from me. They were too busy dating and embracing their own girl sides to bother with their little weirdo sister who engaged in burping or wrestling matches with our two brothers. Once, my mother asked them to take me under wing and dress me up. I looked cool adorned in the latest hippy 70’s fashion. I marveled in my non-ugliness for the first time. But it only lasted a day, and “cool” was far from “pretty.”
Finally Mom convinced me, at the awkward age of 14, to join The Order of the Rainbow for girls. The tomboy side of me was winning out, and perhaps it was her way of nudging me in the right direction. Rainbow ceremonies required the wearing of evening gowns. Though she purchased two flowing white gowns for me, they felt cumbersome and strange on my tall, spindly frame. My short Dorothy Hamill haircut, blue glasses, steel-encased teeth and embarrassingly inept use of cosmetics didn’t make me feel pretty in the least. I’d arrive home, remove the offending garment, kick off the dainty sandals that hurt my feet and stomp off to the backyard to feed our garden spider or search for salamanders in the mud.
I went from a toddler, unaware that Mom dressed me in pretty pink frocks, to t-shirt wearing tomboy-hood to geeky teen who wore berets and army jackets, too busy searching for the answers to life’s questions to feel like a girl.
And later, did my rebellion against tradition and boycott of high school prom cause me to miss the pretty train forever? Was it my one last chance to embrace femininity? It’s true, as one grows into an actual woman, the opportunities to be wear ultra-feminine fashions are rare or non-existent.
Thus, I have never felt pretty. I’ve felt sexy, but it’s not the same thing. In the 80’s, I embraced the wild side of myself, sliding on skin pants, donning glittery silk shirts, feather earrings, tall boots or three-inch pumps. I sported a golden tan, wore my hair big and long in spiral-permed glory and danced the night away at every disco in and out of town. I dated a lot. And I felt attractive in a flamboyant way. Mom told me I was “striking,” but never said I was “beautiful.” I celebrated the only me I thought I could be. I was someone sassy and outgoing, a witty wild child with killer long legs and straight teeth.
And this is where my memories lead me, to this day, when I am hoping for a romantic proposal on bended knee. I’m praying that it’s not too late to embrace the girl inside me. Yes, my hair is silver, my face is wrinkled, and I am childless. But something in me aches for this traditional testament to womanhood. I shove the rebel down deep inside of me and invite the silly, frilly girl to come out, to be vulnerable, to be brave enough to acknowledge my God-given gender. I hope I’m worthy of the title.
I imagine the man I’ve loved and lived with for 13 years, waiting for me at the altar. I’ll walk down the aisle in a flowing gown. And when I get there, David will lift my veil and smile at me. His eyes will have a different gleam, one mixed with admiration, awe and joy.
And I’ll feel pretty.
Photo: “Ballerina Legs in a Row” © Corbis.