Oh, yes. That’s right. We are talking about this.
Everyone has little white lies they tell themselves. Every. Day.
I’m not even talking about the dye that keeps my once-so-dark-it-was-called-black hair from looking like I recently had (and lost) a fight with a box of tinsel. Those lies are not even 50 shades of grey. Those bitches lack all pigment. They are WHITE.
Once, about seven years ago, I stopped my dates with the dye. And then I went back to college with a bunch of 18 year olds. I watched these babies in my classes – with their perky parts and belly shirts – and I promptly picked up a bottle of developer and a tube of “Darkest Brown 3N.”
A few weeks ago, the Serial Killer asked me how white it would be if I didn’t dye it. I told him it would basically look like I had been styled by Cruella de Vil. That’s maybe a little exaggeration, but it’s close enough. I followed with an idea I’d been tossing about, to eventually just go platinum – by choice – at the hands of a professional. I figure if I make them all super-light, the whites will fade in. I guess that’s the argument of most brunettes who go blonde in an effort to stave off the aging process.
Here’s the problem: it’s still a lie. Growing old gracefully is fricking tough. What is even tougher is knowing that, even with a valiant fight, time and gravity ALWAYS win. And, it’s super unfair that the outcome is so different for men.
Men have the ability to look “distinguished” and “sexy” with salt and pepper hair. Men don’t wear padded undershirts to “fill out” their pecs. They don’t squeeze into Spanx to pull in pooches, or paint their faces to contour filled-out cheekbones.
Is it that men just don’t care as much as women do? Do the societal norms require women to adhere to a different set of standards when it comes to aging? Or are we just too hard on ourselves?
The truth is, we are always our worst critics, no matter who we would like to blame.
In my head, I am still 20. My body is lithe and taut, muscles sinewy and defined. My skin is clear and my eyes are rimmed with thick lashes. My eyes are wide and my lips full. I don’t wonder if the angle a camera is pointed at me will deepen my wrinkles, because there are no wrinkles. I am not concerned with the dark circles under my eyes, or the glare a flash makes on my glasses – there are no circles (even after a sleepless night) and there are no glasses. I don’t try to tighten my belly or angle my hips when I wear a swimsuit.
That body has been gone for years. It is a ghost, and I am haunted by it daily. I have a picture in my head of someone I barely even knew, to whom I somehow still find myself making comparisons.
It’s like when you hear your voice on a message and think, “That is NOT how I sound…”
Then, I remember the insecurity that lived in that young body. That 20 year old body was not comfortable in one inch of its barely lived-in skin. It believed that its breasts were too small, its legs were too muscled, its chin was too long, and its hair was too dark to hold coveted highlights. That body was so unaware of its best qualities because that brain was already telling it lies.
What if we give up those ghosts? What if we see ourselves the way the most important people see us?
When I look in the mirror and see the white climbing up each hair on my temples, my younger daughter sees that we have the same funny whirl where the hairs always seem to have a mind of their own. I see age spots on my hands, and my older daughter sees that we have the same fingers. When the baby points to my eyes and then back to his, he is not bringing attention to my crow’s feet; he is noticing that our eyes have the same shape. I see scars on my legs from three surgeries, and my oldest son sees that his legs are finally longer than mine.
That 20 year old body didn’t know how strong it could be, how to feel the intense pleasures of another’s touch, or how to walk away from people or places that covered it with bad juju.
This body – this older, achier, more lived-in body – deserves more respect than I give it when I compare it to the ghost.
When the ghost is gone, I see things a little differently.
I see white lines on my hips and breasts: marks from when my body grew and stretched to accommodate growing babies and the milk to feed them. I see a softer belly and a rounder bum that allow me to be a more comfortable pillow for sick kids. I see lines on my face from smiling for the better part of almost four decades.
I see shoulders that have earned muscles from lifting boxes during countless moves, kegs from overstocked coolers, and sleeping kids from couches to beds. I see freckles and sunspots from working in the gardens that brought fresh vegetables to my table.
I see lines and pictures that are the tattoos I have chosen to adorn my older skin: symbols and dates of things that I never want to forget for a minute. I see that my right eye droops just a little more than my left, just like my mother’s did. I see the toenail that is slowly growing back after it committed suicide when I started playing soccer after a decade hiatus.
I see the scar on my pantyline from when my doctor reached inside of me and pulled out my fourth child. I see fingers that are slowly twisting with arthritis, but still allow me to safely guide kids through busy parking lots – and type the words that spill out of me. I see knees that allowed me to ski the most breathtaking mountains, and carry endless baskets of laundry up and down stairs. I see feet that wore four-inch heels, but whose toes also picked up dropped binkies so as not to wake the baby being rocked in my arms.
I see the neck that longs to be kissed slowly and softly. I see the ears that have heard ugly words from beautiful people, and loving words from broken ones. I see a back that was taught to stand straight, but many times has curled – shaking with bad juju, sadness, and fear.
When I acknowledge that I am dancing with the ghost in my head, she cannot haunt me. I see how beautiful I may have been, but also how lost I was. I want to revel in my lines and my soft spots. I have daughters who watch me look disapprovingly at my own parts, and criticize the marks that have come with years of life. I want them to believe me when I tell them they are perfect just the way they are, because they see me looking at myself with the same gratitude.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not going to stop covering my little white reminders just yet. They know I will honor them one day.
But, I do hope you take some time today to see yourself clearly, and recognize the power of these imperfections. They are important to your story. They are your characters and your chapters that got you exactly where you are right now. You have been painted and tattooed with juju, and you should wear those marks like a warrior.
These are scary times for girls. Dishonesty plagues our schools, the news – our political system – and we need to teach them to be brave.
See yourself the way your children see you, so you can teach them to see themselves through your eyes: a perfectly imperfect creature of love.
Speak to yourself the way you speak to your children. Tell yourself how strong you are.
They are watching.
We have a generation of young women to guide, and I would rather they be led by honest heroes marked by their battles, than the lies of oblivious ghosts in the past. We cannot expect our children to behave with strength and honesty if we do not act with the same intentions. Remember how uncomfortable you were in your new skin, and recognize how much you have learned as you have worn it.
Teach them to love their marks and the stretches, because it is proof that growth is happening – that LIFE is happening. Teach them all of the things you wish you could have taught your 20 year old ghost.
And then teach them how to apply the dye, because it’s getting hard to get all of those little white monsters at the back of my head.