Category Archives: On Being a Woman
There is a truth about growing up poor that other people don’t understand. I’m not talking about “we only had basic cable” poor. I’m talking the kind of poor where no power or no running water was par for the course, where you sometimes had to take your bags of garbage to grandma’s house because they stopped picking it up from your place, where your mom skipped medicines because she didn’t want you to miss a field trip, where you wanted new crayons so bad but were afraid to use them, if you got them, because the next box of crayons was a long, long way off, where generic pop was luxury you can’t afford, where you didn’t have a phone at home for most of high school because it was too much money:
Everything takes more work than it should.
Everything requires more energy, whether it is mental or physical. The mental energy is the hardest. It’s survival, not only to have enough to eat and a safe environment, but the kind of survival that lets you feel as normal as possible. What shoes can I afford that don’t have a Kmart brand stamped on the side? If I go to the mall with my friends, how well can I pass off the I just don’t want to buy anything today act, when really, I see so many things I would like to have? Oh God, the teacher is asking about whether I’ve bought the book for AP English and I don’t want to tell the whole class that we can’t afford it because all the money is paying medical bills, so now what? Trying to feel normal despite being poor takes a shit ton of energy.
What energy wasn’t spent on managing poor was spent on being fat. Extracurricular sports and vegetables cost money, but genetics, depression, and starchy carbs from the food pantry were free. There are a million reasons I was (and am) fat, but not a damn one of them was because it was fun. I know that everyone else took a second piece of pizza, but if I take a second piece, will they judge me for eating it? If I was skinny, he wouldn’t keep me as his secret girlfriend and would finally hold my hand in public…. Oh god, how much will that chair creak when I sit on it? That space looks tiny and everyone else has walked through it, but I think I’m going to get stuck, but walking the long way around is so obvious, too…. Shit, I can’t get this damn shirt off in this stupid fitting room and I don’t think I can take it off without ripping it, and I can’t afford to pay for a ripped shirt.
This exhausting, endless questioning became how my brain works. As of two measly months ago, I make enough money to not feel poor for the first time in my life, but that is only until I remember my school loans, the payments I’m making on my eleven year old car, and the $1000 car repair that I financed three months ago. I have a ways to go, still.
Mike and I are being awfully frugal with wedding planning, which is great, because I certainly don’t want to take on any debt getting married. But I need a dress. And as frugal as I am, there is still are part of me that wants to feel like every other bride. I know that the day isn’t about the dress. I know my marriage isn’t about the day. But I want that chance to be the prettiest one in the room. To wear the lacey dress and rhinestones in my hair and be a goddamn princess. Just once.
Finding locations for dress shopping has been hell. I can’t afford almost any of it. I hate the thought of a used dress, but when I contacted the most reputable resale place around, I was told my size is pretty much a disqualifier. The whole while, this sick feeling just rots in my stomach: You’re too poor and too fat to be like everyone else. You better dial back what you want, because your best hope is to settle for what you can scrounge and tell people that this is actually what you want.
Well meaning people have suggested that I find a “nice dress,” and “not to worry about it because it won’t matter in the long run.” Most of these people have not been in my position. They either have the money or the figure that makes a lot more available to them. I don’t begrudge them their ignorance. I wish they would kindly shut the hell up, though.
If it came down to where the only thing I could wear to my wedding was two yards of burlap and an empty whiskey barrel, I would still get to marry the man I love. I have absolutely not lost sight of the fact that my goal for the day is to marry him.
But being poor, or fat, doesn’t exclude me, or millions other brides, from wanting a day of sparkles and magic and a ridiculous dress that will only be worn once. And it shouldn’t be this hard.
I haven’t posted in weeks, not because I have been intentionally neglectful, but because the post that has been floating around in my brain feels impossible. I’ve started and trashed a ton of times. While venting this frustration to some friends, I summarized what I wanted to write about, and after thinking it over for a few days, I’ve decided to just go ahead and post what I told them, so that it is at least out there. I need for this post to be outside of the confines of my anxious brain. When I have something rattling around in my brain and know that I need to spit it out to Mike, as messy as it might be, I warn him that I need to word -vomit. So here goes:
When Mike and I met, he was polyamorous, but not seeing anyone, really. He had a friend who used to be someone he dated, but they had pretty much ended before we met. He hadn’t had a date in 4 months, and I wasn’t looking for serious, so it seemed like it was going to be fine: someone to hang out with once and a while, but casual. I had naively thought that knowing he was on a different wavelength would keep me from getting too invested, and thus, keep me from getting hurt. And then, we ended up liking each other way more than expected, and got so close. And it was so easy. Except for the poly thing. I understood it and had no problem with it from a theoretical standpoint, but to think about it in practice was another story. I was falling in love. And so was he. He wasn’t seeing anyone else, so that wasn’t an issue, but there were questions to work out and insecurities to face that are different from relationships between two people who are only interested in monogamy.
Over the course of our relationship, Mike has fielded a LOT of questions. It comes down to this: when single, we both had assumed that we wouldn’t find someone who would check all the right boxes, but our solutions were different. It worked for him to have several relationships that each fulfilled different needs. I had just assumed that I would find someone to date, maybe, but no one would really ever “get” me. When we met, we didn’t have a roadmap for working it all out.
He seemed nervous because he was increasingly comfortable with monogamy with me. I have a big fear of comparison and am terrified of not being “enough.” There have been times where the general feeling is “holy shit, I’m so happy I can’t breathe, but I still don’t know what to do with this feeling or that feeling.” We’ve worked through a lot of it, and continue to do so.
For me, the hardest part is that in some ways, I’m figuring it out on my own. There aren’t many cases where someone polyamorous chooses to be in a monogamous relationship, so there really aren’t a lot of people saying “yeah, I’ve struggled with that, too, and here is what helped me.”
There are advantages to Mike having the experiences he’s had. It has helped our relationship in ways. Having to explore my own reactions and feelings has been really helpful. He has since adjusted his label to ambiamorous (which, admittedly, I made up), because he is not strictly poly, where he is only happy in multiple relationships, but is capable of being happy and fulfilled in a wider range of situations, from some polyamory to monogamy. And he knows that I have no desire to ever open our relationship, and he doesn’t consider that a problem.
So that’s what I want to write about: about figuring out a relationship that really doesn’t fit into most boxes. But I don’t know how to do that without ending up with people either 1. Thinking less of him because polyamory is still largely taboo, or 2. Giving me a long list of reasons why we will fail.
What I have learned in trying to figure out how to write this damn post is that while our situation is pretty unique, the experience of working through something as a couple is really common and vital to the health of any relationship. Couples everywhere work through challenges like blending families, religious differences, or a million other things. In each of those cases, there tons of reasons that a relationship might fail.
At the end of all of that, my conclusions are this:
- I am ridiculously happy in my relationship, and that does not depend on anyone else approving of it.
- Anyone who thinks less of it, or especially of Mike, can go to hell.
- Anyone who tries to give me crap about it better be prepared for me to respond.
- Our relationship is very healthy. We have pretty effortlessly worked out a lot of things without it ever feeling like work, and when we do need to slog through a tough conversation, the overriding desire for both of us is to come to a conclusion where we are both happy and know we are loved by the other person.
I guess that is it, for now. I’m happy. Mike is happy. And my brain feels less stressed out by having all of this on the outside of my head. If you have questions, I’ll answer them, as best I can.
And maybe, someday, I’ll tell you about the dinner party with my grandmother’s crystal.
A year and five days ago, I went on one of the worst dates I could have ever imagined. The guy was unattractive as he pounded beers, talked about how much he hates his job and hates the place he lives and hates that he has no friends, but nothing was as unattractive as when, at the end of the date, he made a homophobic joke about merchandise in a store window. It is the only date I was ever on when I texted my sister and had her make a rescue call. In retrospect, I should have just ended the date with a “no thanks, I don’t need your negativity!”
I was so tired of bad dates that it made me twitch, so I decided to take a break. No more reading profiles, no more awkward coffee dates, no more waiting for a text that might not come. Clichéd… so clichéd.
Three days later, I was up well past my bedtime, had already put my glasses on the bookcase, and I get a message:
Ok, Mike, I guess I will take a look at your profile, but I don’t know… an hour later, having read what has to be the longest profile in the history of dating sites, as well as answers to questions, I figured that if I was interested enough to read that much, there is enough to respond. Except, I was tired. Like, really tired. I had no idea how to muster up the charming sweetness I tried to have in messages. So that is nearly exactly what I said:
I wasn’t sure that the little smiley face at the end was going to make up for my complete inability to flirt, but I went with it. I had said I was done dating, but he said he wasn’t looking for serious. What harm was there in having someone who lived in the same little town, who could meet for dinner once in a while?
Our first date was July 29, 2015. At a tavern downtown, I walked in and was greeted by a huge smile and a white and orange Hawaiian shirt. I sat, terrified that I was going to be too nervous to be interesting. And then suddenly, it was three hours later, and I was fascinated by this guy. We left the restaurant and walked up and down the main street, flirting and laughing and oh my god, why won’t he just hold my hand already!? We got to his car, and he asked if he could kiss me. Swoon. Finally. He walked me to my car, and we stood there, talking, and he kissed me. I was not ready for this date to be over. So it wasn’t. We ended up sitting in his car for a few more hours, never running out of things to say, always smiling, wishing that the clock would stop. Our first date was seven hours long.
But we didn’t have “serious” on the horizon. He had other commitments, like his show, which was just getting started. I had just started a new job, and was looking for a place to live, trying to get settled. A short while later, date three or four, maybe, there was a moment after he reacted unexpectedly to something I said, when I thought, oh no, I’m in trouble. If this keeps up, I’m going to fall really hard.
I swear to you on my mother’s life, I did not expect the next year to go like it did. I couldn’t have imagined it. I had dreamed about it, but never thought it would happen. Not to me. Falling in love like this was something that happens to other girls. Prettier, thinner, funnier, braver girls.
All those clichés, the annoying ones that keep young actresses on a steady diet of rom-com roles, happened. Have you seen Trainwreck? That part when she and her new boyfriend become that obnoxiously new, starry-eyed couple who make eyes at each other in restaurants, kiss in the freezer section, and all that stuff? Yeah, that’s us. AND I LOVE IT. I’ve become one of those women.
There have been hard moments, when I’ve had to deal with insecurities or have a conversation I would like to avoid. But in each and every one of them, his response has been nearly perfect.
When we got to the point that we were serious, I made a very conscious choice to not keep a running catalogue of all the things he has ever done “wrong,” or when he has done something to really upset me. Instead, started another list: romantic things he has done, and moments of sweetness. I didn’t want to overlook those things, and I wanted those things to be what I think of when I am upset. I wanted to remember, even when it was tough, that I have someone who loves me, and whom I love very much. Ugh, that is a cliché right out of a relationship expert handbook, except I started it without it being suggested. Can’t I just be normal?
In truth, there have been two times that I have been upset, and one of them was so minor that now, I can’t even remember what the cause is. But I would make Hallmark roll its eyes over the list of sweetnesses.
The last year has been one surprise after another. Meeting people, going places, doing things: all great. What has surprises me more, though, is how easy it is to be with him. He is my home, no matter where I live. He is the first person I want to see in the morning and the last person I want to see at night. He makes me laugh, encourages me, and believes in me, even when I struggle to. He is every damn cliché in the Guidebook for Lovely Boyfriends and sometimes I think my heart and head will literally explode.
I do have a list of things he does that annoy me to the point of giving him the stink eye. In its entirety:
- He leaves cabinet and microwave doors open (though he has mostly stopped leaving he dishwasher and kitchen drawers open, so there is hope).
- He squeezes the toothpaste in the middle and sometimes gets spit splatters on the faucet when he brushes his teeth.
- He likes everything too loud.
I mean, ugh, men can be so annoying… meh, who am I kidding. He does the dishes without asking, so I totally don’t care about the toothpaste.
I cannot believe how lucky I am. I know that people say that all the loveliness of a relationship changes and often lessens as it gets older, but that is the cliché I hope desperately to avoid. So far, I still think he is the best thing since peanut butter.
Today is our anniversary, and we are going back to that same tavern. Despite having woken up next to him this morning, and having gone to work, holding his hand nearly the whole way, and having kissed him about two dozen times before I went to my office, I can’t wait to see him. I never expected him, or us. But holy hell, I couldn’t be happier about it.
Disclaimer: I know that Pride is not about me. This is not a way to appropriate something in a kind of white, straight, cisgender arrogance. It is, instead, written with humility and appreciation.
Yesterday, June 26, I was standing in the bathroom, swiping mascara on my lashes, when my boyfriend walked in, said “Happy Pride, baby!” kissed me, and left. I wished him a happy pride as well, and tied the rainbow ribbon in my hair. It’s too big, but I was wearing my marriage equality shirt from the Human Rights Campaign anyways, because it was Pride, and because it was the anniversary of the SCOTUS ruling legalizing marriage equality.
I love Pride. I understand that as a straight, cisgender woman, it is not about me, but I love Pride. I love that, in its pure form, it stands for courage and love, and celebrating true selves and diverse beauty. Whenever I have gone to a Pride celebration, the energy that radiates is breathtaking.
I love what Pride means for the people I love. I seem to have more non-straight friends than average, and I love that despite the trials they face, there is a time specifically set aside to celebrate.
I have no respect for the degradation that happens when narrow-minded and assholish straight people use Pride and gay bars to get sloppy and gawk at others. This isn’t about that sort of straight-person-at-Pride kind of experience.
Selfishly, I love Pride partly because even as a straight chick, it is one of the most welcoming and free spaces I encounter all year. When I’m there, a surrounded by color and positivity, I am at peace. I’ve been touched by the kindness I’ve experienced there, whether it is a stranger complimenting my hair ribbons or a hug after a good joke, or seeing someone take care of someone else who needs it.
For most of my life, I haven’t felt like I fit in, for one reason or another. I don’t think that is an uncommon feeling, but I never feel that way at Pride. When I was a pastor, the rest of the pastors in my denomination thought I was a lesbian, and because of that, many treated me differently. As a woman who has a diverse range of interests and skills, sometimes, I get crap about not being feminine enough or too feminine. Not that those are the same kind of experiences that LGBTQ people have, but it certainly has given me more than enough empathy to make a difference.
I love going to Pride to celebrate my friends. To be grateful to the community that has welcomed, accepted, and loved me, even though I am an outsider. I love being able to be an ally for great and beautiful people.
Pride is not about me. I’ve seen some articles floating around the internet lately that are pretty blunt about saying that Pride is not for straight people. I don’t disagree. But I do think that Pride can be, and is, a time for everyone to celebrate the far reaches of love and the advances made in equality and justice, and recognize that the work is not yet done. In reading that, it kind of sounds like a bad version of “all lives matter,” but that’s not what I mean. I mean that as a woman lucky enough to be included by a community, I am happy to celebrate as an ally and a friend.
I couldn’t make it to the Pride parade this year because we were leaving for vacation, but my heart was there. Every time I looked down at my shirt or saw the hair ribbon in my reflection, I was reminded of what should be celebrated. I can’t wait until next year, when I hope to be there again.
It’s been almost two months since I posted, and in such a short time, my life has, again, turned itself inside out:
Shakespeare warned us to beware the ides of March, and this year, that warning was painfully appropriate. The night before, my dog, Mrs Weasley, was breathing kind of funny. Then, Tuesday morning, I woke to find that she had thrown up three times, and her breathing was worse. I cleaned up the mess, gave her a pet, and had to go to work. A few hours later, when my mother went to take her out, she was not herself: very labored breathing, not moving off the floor, a worrying look on her face. My mom called me, I called the vet, and she took her right over. In half an hour, my biggest fear came true. She had developed tumors too big to treat. The vet said that even if they tried, the treatment would kill her before the tumors were cured. I sobbed the rest of the afternoon, left work early, and stayed with her as the vet put her down. It was a monstrous grief that followed. My mother was with me, and Mike came straight to me after he got off work. My sweet girl was gone, and being in the apartment without her was almost unbearable at times.
Shortly before this happened, Mike and I had started talking about living together. Since he moved to Chicago in January, it had been a constant effort to make arrangements to be together. A few nights at my place, a few nights at his. So much time and money spent driving back and forth, and it was becoming silly. That night, Mike asked me to move in with him.
The only way to make sense out of change is to plunge into it, move with it, and join the dance. ~Alan Watts
It was a no-brainer. Not only did the logistics make sense, but I have fallen so shamelessly in love with him. Like, the kind of love where I think he’s the best thing since peanut butter, and where I don’t care what people think when he kisses me in the produce section at Jewel, and where I fall in love with him over and over and over again, at the weirdest moments (this week, it happened when he was singing Rainbow Connection in his Kermit the Frog voice).
Just when I think I’ve learned the way to live, life changes. ~Hugh Prather
And so, I let my apartment manager know and started packing. Once again, my picture frames were wrapped in paper, my I Love Lucy snow globe put into its Styrofoam, and, after the moving weekend from hell, it was done. Since Mrs Weasley died, I had been slowly taking things to Chicago, but now, it is home once again.
I have wanted to live in Chicago ever since I left it. No place else feels like Chicago does. I live on the north side, where most of my neighbors are Hispanic, Indian, or Asian. When I walk to Walgreen’s, I pass a Mexican bakery, a few Indian/Pakistani grocery stores, some Halal restaurants, and a lot of other places I haven’t explored yet. I hate the lack of parking, and I could do without people honking in the alley so much, but it’s wonderful.
If you do not change direction, you may end up where you are heading. ~Lao Tzu
There is a part of me that is anxious about all this change. Part of me that wants to be more cautious about life, but that part is swiftly drowned out by the awareness that life is too short to wait for everything to be risk free. The greatest decisions in my life have always been the risky ones, and this is following suit. I am ridiculously happy, even when I am tired or anxious, to wake up with Mike every morning. I love living in the city again. There is a sort of settled feeling in me that says ah, yes, this is how life is supposed to feel.
Someone asked me a while ago where I see myself in five years, and I honestly can say I have no clue. Five years ago, I did not think that this would be my life at all. But the truth is, this is so much better than what I would have guessed. I know where I would like to be, but if I don’t get there? That’s OK. Life is meant to be lived, not just survived.
There are times when it should be entirely justified to throw a temper tantrum despite being 34 1/2 years old. This week is one of them. So far:
~ Stomach bug that made me throw up, ending my 22-year streak of not puking. It happened shortly into the Super Bowl party/nephew’s birthday party, so I had to leave early, missing cake, football, and getting to play the game I bought him. It also meant that my boyfriend saw me covered in puke, and later, at home, in my oh-so-unsexy Cuddlduds pants and the Adidas t-shirt I have owned since my junior year in high school. I made him promise he would forget what I looked like that night. And this is just on the heels of a case of sinusitis and bronchitis.
~ I had to work last weekend, so that means no break in a really long time. I did stay home on Monday with my bad stomach, but sipping ginger ale and hoping to stay vertical doesn’t really count as a time to recoup.
~ Meddlesome witch tried to mess with my relationship. She didn’t succeed, but it was the same day as my puke fest. I went from stunned to anxious to angry in the course of a couple of hours. There are still moments when I want to respond, but I am going to be the bigger, better person.
~ Work has been frustrating. Really frustrating, but I can’t go into details. It’s sufficient to say that I am twitching by lunch, most days.
~ I was in an accident while driving the company bus on Tuesday. The roads were icy, and I came around a bend and down a hill and neither I or the other driver expected stopped cars at a green light. No tickets, the cop was nice and said that it was weather and whatever, but… still. Everyone was OK, but holy hell. I didn’t need that this week. Now, I’m nervous when I drive.
~ I’m adjusting to my boyfriend having moved to the city, an hour and a half from me. Thankfully, I still see him a lot, but it’s an adjustment.
~ My anxiety has been a roller coaster with everything going on. I had a panic attack after the accident on Tuesday. Most of the week has felt like I am swirling around another one, and it is a lot of work to keep it from happening.
~ My apartment needs to be tidied and I have zero motivation. I’ve left the laundry soap and hamper right where she can get to it, but my dog has yet to wash a single load. My pink Converse have been on the floor in front of the bookcase for too long, and I should have run the vacuum a couple days ago. No one really warns you that a byproduct of anxiety is leaving the clean dishes in the drain rack for days.
~ Insurance kicked me over to mail order medications, which is cheaper, but apparently they take for freaking ever, and I’m out of one and the new bottle isn’t here yet. I called to get a new prescription from the local pharmacy, but I can’t get it until tomorrow. More stress.
There are a few other things I can’t mention, but really, it has just been a long week. I haven’t had a vacation in 14 months. I’m tired and crabby, my whole body was thrown off by the start of my week. I want to haphazardly throw things, to stomp my feet and flail my arms and scream nonsensical things at the universe.
Part of my frustration is that I have come to a place where I want more – and I no longer feel like I am undeserving of more. For so many years, I was told that to want more was wrong. That it was selfish and sinful. I believed the leaders who told me that it was arrogant and presumptuous to feel like I had anything to offer. Modern American Christianity is full of this weird brand of self deprecation that teaches people to believe that they are “worthless without Christ,” and that has the dangerous byproduct (for myself and a lot of people I know) of believing that we don’t actually have a lot to offer the world. In a lot of cases I’ve seen, one’s self worth is then determined based on the feedback from others in the church who tell you whether or not you are checking all the right boxes. I don’t have time to unpack how demented that is right this minute.
It’s something I have had to unlearn. As I’ve walked away from Christianity (not from faith, or God, but the American bullshit machine that is a lot of the formal church), I’ve had to learn that I am worth more than what they think I am. It has been anything but easy, but I am finally to a place where I feel like I have things to offer. So I want more. I want to make a decent income, to not have to work two jobs, to have a job I enjoy, to live where I want to live, love who I want to love, surround myself with laughter and beauty and joy. I want to be the leading lady in my own life, to borrow a line from The Holiday.
This week has felt like a shitstorm of things designed to rock that new-ish, somewhat fragile self image. So this week can officially suck it.
Thankfully, tomorrow is the last day of my work week. I am going to pick up my dog after work and drive to the city for the weekend, where I get to spend almost three whole days with my boyfriend. I’m going to have a good time, kiss his face off, and eat more than I should. And then, on Monday, I am going to start a new week that is free of the colossal mess that is this week. And I’m going to work on more. Because I deserve it.
A few weeks ago, I lay in bed with my head resting on my boyfriend’s chest, arm thrown across his torso, and we spoke in circles and tangents about a bunch of things, and at one point, I asked him what he wanted for Christmas. He said he wasn’t able to think of anything because he is in a place in life where he doesn’t really pine for objects. His desires are largely related to his comedy career. He paused, laughed, and said that the Mike of a few years ago would not recognize his present self.
I laughed and said that the old me wouldn’t recognize me, either. My own reflection would seem foreign.
Two years ago, I did not see myself in this town, job, apartment, or with him. I could not have fathomed it at all. I would not have anticipated the way my faith and religion would change. Maybe change isn’t the right word, but there isn’t another that seems to for either.
At no point in the first thirty-three years of my life did I see myself as happy, either. I was so certain that happiness – lasting happiness – was something that other people got to have. And then my life exploded and fell to pieces and floated back together in a completely different arrangement.
This kind of happiness is new, and sometimes scary. I am often terrified that it will vanish. That fear becomes anxiety, and a couple of times, I have found myself trying to explain it to him.
How do you explain anxieties to someone without sounding like you are crazy or messed up? I don’t really know, but I know this: his response has been breathtaking. It’s like someone gave him a cheat sheet that lets him in on how to listen, reassure, make me laugh, and redirect, all in the right amount and order, so that I come down off the panic ledge. It doesn’t take long, and I find myself back to normal – my new, happier normal.
Last week, my brain was pickled in hormones and it responded by making me feel like every minute was a swing between wanting to cry and rage. This is really unusual for me, even with hormones involved. For a week, my brain latched on to everything it could find as evidence that I wasn’t happy, that all the good things happening are ending, that I didn’t deserve to be happy. I knew it wasn’t true, but knowing that doesn’t mean anything when anxiety is involved. It made me feel like I was going crazy.
And for a week, whether he knew he was doing it or not, he helped me hang on, believed in me when I didn’t, loved me even when I didn’t feel like myself. It’s no wonder I love him to pieces.
There are a few things going on in my life that make me feel like I am at the start of a new chapter. It’s exciting, terrifying, overwhelming and exhausting. That has meant some bumpy days, but good days, too. It’s a new chapter in this weird ass adventure that has become my life. He is farther into his adventure than I am, but we get to figure it out together. I can’t wait to see what happens.
Every so often, Postsecret publishes a secret that could be mine, and this week is one of those times. I didn’t have the above mentioned dream, but when I read it, I found myself thinking I get it. I’m never told I’m beautiful, so… I get it.
I’ve written before that I rarely feel pretty. Feeling beautiful is almost a foreign thought.
I am occasionally told I “look nice” if I have dressed up and put on some makeup. My mother tells me I’m beautiful, but she’s my mother, so that doesn’t reach all that far.
I remember the first time I’d felt pretty in years. It was the day my baby cousin got married in 2013. I had a new dress that I loved, my makeup looked pretty good, and I was happy. It was still while I was at my heaviest, but I remember looking in the mirror and feeling pretty. I saw pictures and was amazed that I managed to look happy amidst the darkest months of my life. Even as I started losing weight and working on being happy, the pictures from that day reminded me of a turning point: I had the potential to be pretty.
Then, a few months ago, my father tried giving me a compliment, but in the process, I was devastated. I know that he was trying to encourage me by noticing the changes I’ve made, and the work I put into it. In doing so, he pulled up a picture to show me just how bad I used to be. It was a picture from that day, in that dress, smiling in that makeup. I know my dad loves me, and I know what he meant, but what it felt like was someone saying What you thought was beautiful is something to be ashamed of. I could barely respond to him. I know he didn’t mean it that way, but damn if that didn’t cut pretty deeply.
I don’t get told I’m pretty very often. Definitely don’t get told I’m beautiful.
But sometimes I like to feel like I might be.
Fat girl clothes are expensive. Pretty fat girl clothes cost a black market kidney.
For most of my adult life, I have been poor, required to wear a uniform of some kind, or both. Especially when I was in seminary and ministry, the opportunities to be frilly and feminine were scarce. When I tried to take advantage of them, I got grief about it from people who didn’t seem to realize that their little jokes and comments about “who I was trying to impress” made me feel foolish for bothering to wear a skirt. So I did what I could: I bought pretty underwear and bras.
Standing in front of my dresser, deciding what I wanted to wear under my uniform was the only time I got to wear something that fit my mood. Lace? Satin? Polka dots? Snowflakes? No one saw them but me, but I felt just a little bit better knowing that there was something pretty there.
That habit hasn’t changed now that I can wear pretty much whatever I want. Wearing boring, plain, cotton underwear makes my day feel less spectacular. I could be wearing the prettiest dress I own, and if my undies are lame, I feel it. I’m willing to spend more on what I like, on what is better quality fabric, cut, etc., because when I wear it, I have a little more confidence. A little more oomph.
When I wear it, I feel like even if I’m not pretty, at least something I’m wearing is. So give me Calvin Kleins, bikinis with lace so delicate you hesitate to touch it, cottons so fine that they feel like magic.
Today, I read that the average person has just twenty-one pairs of underwear. I found this astounding because I own sixty if I own one. I commented to a group of people that I was shocked by this, and the conversation got ugly. I was mocked and laughed at for having so many pairs, and for spending money on something they see as unnecessary. I explained that pretty underwear changes my attitude a little and makes me feel pretty, but what they heard was that I thought they can’t be pretty in regular old Hanes (I didn’t mention them at all). I was told that the things that make them happy are more meaningful: a husband who helps out, kids who do what you want them to do, etc (I don’t have a husband or kids, so those aren’t even options). I tried explaining again, but that didn’t help. I was told it was petty and pointless, and that I needed to get over it. I don’t care what anyone else wears, but it stung to be mocked and told that what makes my day a little brighter is ridiculous. I was defensive and hurt as I cried most of the way home.
It’s so damned hard to feel pretty when you don’t fit the common description of pretty, and as much as I try to be above it, I want to be pretty. And not just wear pretty underwear, or a pretty dress, or manage to braid my hair in a way that impresses people… I want to be beautiful. I want to hear from someone other than my bff tell me that I’m gorgeous, but that has never happened, in 34 years. I want to turn a head for once – in a good way. I’m slowly starting to have more moments when I feel almost pretty. I’m getting there.
And Christ Almighty, if it takes a bit of overpriced lace from Macy’s to help get me there, I’ll go with it. Because chances are, my own voice looking at that scrap of lace is the only voice I’ll hear all day that associates me and beautiful in even the most indirect way.
I’m just a few days shy of the anniversary of my resignation from The Salvation Army, a day that changed every itty bitty piece of my life. Last night, after pizza and a movie at my mom’s, she hurried out the door to give me something that I had forgotten in the move: my scale.
I didn’t really forget it. I was trying to, though. By the time I’d resigned, I’d lost about 82 pounds. Then, I had a year of nonstop change and uncertainty, and I plateaued in clothing sizes and gained a few pounds. For the last six weeks, since moving into my own place, I hadn’t weighed myself at all. And I ate a lot of food that wasn’t the best for me. Like hell was I going to step on a scale!
This morning, I couldn’t help it. I had to face the music. I stepped on the scale and in the last six weeks…. I gained a pound and a half. I was so happy!! Partly because I was certain it was going to be 10 pounds, but mostly because for the first time in maybe forever, I really didn’t care so much.
Since resigning, I’ve gained 14 pounds back. Not the best, but given the colossal changes I made in the last year, that is a huge victory. As a lifelong megafatty, it would have been so easy to wallow and eat everything and be back up to where I was.
I thought about all I’ve gained and lost in the last year, and I can’t help but think that this morning feels like a really big victory:
– Some people I thought were friends
– My need for daily sleep aides / anxiety meds
– Guilt for “not measuring up” to TSA standards
– Fear of my bosses and pastors
– 14 pounds
– A handful of strangers who are my support, cheerleaders, and source for really inappropriate jokes (that’s you, LSKs!)
– My own car and apartment
– So much time with my family
– New friends
– A job I love
– A kickass boyfriend who makes most men look like chumps
– Better credit
– The ability to sleep at night
– So much faith in myself
I honestly don’t care at all about 14 pounds. Well, I do a little, but I know I can lose them and I don’t feel like my worth is at all tied to that number.
Each of the last three years has felt like the universe is trying to kick my butt. This year, I finally feel like I’m making progress in my fight back. A year is a super long time sometimes. But oh, the things you can gain in a year.
All of these lines across my face
Tell you the story of who I am
So many stories of where I’ve been
And how I got to where I am
But these stories don’t mean anything
When you’ve got no one to tell them to
It’s true… I was made for you.
From “The Story” by Brandi Carlile
Did I need a new lipstick today? I argued myself into it. I have a handful of stains and colors in my purse but I didn’t have any that were the right color AND didn’t come off on the first kiss. Clearly, new lipstick was in order, and I had go to the store anyways. The color I bought, Maybelline’s 24-Hour Super Stay in #25, didn’t look as vampy at the drug store as it did when I got back to my office. I put it on anyways, and, like most scary lipsticks, I started to love it. I took a picture and sent it to my bff for approval. She signed off, and I killed a few more minutes by taking a few more.
Do you like your face?
It sounds strange, but lately, I’ve started to like my own face. I didn’t used to. It was too fat, my chin too pointy, my eyebrows too big, my nose rather unfortunate. I have always felt quite plain. In high school, my friends were compared to Keri Russell and Jennifer Love Hewitt, and I was told I looked like Robin Williams and Philip Seymour Hoffman. In addition to the fact that I can’t function in the slightest without them, glasses have always been a kind of shield. Something that stood between me and everything else.
While driving home tonight, I realized that the German word for face is Gesicht and the word for story is Geschichte. Very nearly the same words. Brandi Carlile’s breakthrough song came to mind, and it felt differently. I’ve heard it how many zillions of times, and now, today, it makes sense in a new way. I can’t really articulate it yet, but somehow, it just resonates.
I look like my parents, and like my paternal grandmother. My nose is solidly from my dad’s side. My mouth from my mom’s. The freckles earned over the course of 35 summers. I have pretty much always liked my eyelashes and eyes. My face isn’t just a collection of shapes, it’s me. I’m only now, in my 30s, getting comfortable with it.
About a year ago, I wrote about how tired my eyes looked. So very worn down by stress, anxiety, and exhaustion that I looked old and weary, even on days when I tried to look pretty. Last week, I realized that my vision insurance now makes contacts an affordable option, and after a lifetime of Coke-bottle glasses, it’s strange to think that I won’t have glasses on my face.
At the risk of narcissism, a few of the pictures of me without the glasses I hide behind, wearing the lipstick that scares me, my vulnerable history: