I woke this morning feeling my femininity and quietly said to myself, “I think I’ll wear a skirt today.” Then out of nowhere I remembered the cursing cry of a young man calling out as I walked past him and his group of friends at the football. In a booming voice came the cry, “Those would have to be the skinniest pair of legs I’ve ever seen!” I was 18 or 19 and the shouted message was directed at me and in that moment my self-worth plummeted.
At home my mother was reinforcing this message by saying on occasions, “You poor thing, you’ve got my legs.” So, in my mid-twenties I welcomed the arrival of jeans for women and found a place to hide for the next forty years. It is only in the last few years that I’ve come out of hiding and started to wear skirts . . . and I was surprised to find that my legs were actually okay! Definitely on the slimmer side, but quite okay – not bad in fact!
Another ‘curse’ from my mother was that after washing my hair we would sit outside together with my sisters drying our hair in the sun (pre-hairdryer days). My mother would rub cut lemon through my hair, hoping it would go blonde. My hair was dark brown, and I was quite content being a brunette . . . I had absolutely no desire to be blonde!
She would then sigh and say she wished she had been a blue-eyed blonde and that her dream for me was to one day go to modelling school. I hated her for all of it. So much frivolous trivia and falseness and no appreciation or confirmation for who I was. I knew deep down that life was not about the colour of my hair or anything else to do with physical looks. And yet it had gone in, even if I was reacting fiercely to it, I could feel how it diminished me.
I was already a fairly quiet and shy child, and I was shrinking further and further into myself.
In my teenage years I developed a hairstyle that draped gently across one side of my forehead. I thought I looked pretty sexy until one day one of my father’s friends said, “Who do you think you are, Veronica Lake?” I blushed and shrank into myself, that I might have emulated a movie star (did I?). How much further into myself could I shrink?
Well the final cap on all of this came at the end of school when the nuns announced to us that “Looks aren’t everything, it’s personality that counts.” Yes, there was further for me to withdraw. Looks were all I had. (I can laugh about it now, but it was devastating at the time!) I was way too withdrawn, timid and shy to have anything like ‘personality’. Besides, personality always seemed to me very overrated. There was something about it, that although it could be entertaining, was somehow self-centred and ‘put on’, even raucous. It was not something I aspired to, but the curse also told me I had little to offer.
In spite of these curses, I used my looks. I had very little to say. I was a poor conversationalist relying instead on listening. I like to imagine that if the conversations had been about more interesting subjects like philosophy, psychology and the meaning of life, then I would have joined in. But mostly conversations were superficial social chat and I didn’t have much to offer.
So, I used my looks. I would dress to look good. I would wear dark eye-liner to make my eyes look amazing (and they did!). I would walk into a party with confidence in my looks to make an impression . . . and then I would disappear into a corner and become shy again, because the party demanded conversation!
So where is this reflection going? Now in my seventies, I’m starting to come out of myself more.
Interestingly of course, with age my looks are rapidly disappearing with my ageing body. But I put on a skirt the other day to go to work and looked at my reflection in the mirror admiringly, noting that “those legs look pretty good!” I was surprised at myself . . . and surprised at how good those legs looked as well!
I like to remember an older woman coming up to me one day and saying, “I just want to tell you that you’re easy on the eye”. I haven’t forgotten that comment. It was at a stage of life where I was feeling the trail of broken relationships behind me and was focussing on re-building myself and trying my hand at a career. I had never heard the expression ‘easy on the eye’ before and I loved the understated quality of it. I appreciated the courage it must have taken the woman to say this to a complete stranger. And it reassured me that maybe in spite of all that had been put upon me in the past, that perhaps after all, I was okay.
Image has become more and more important not only for women but for men as well. We are judged by how we look, and we judge ourselves by comparing ourselves with others.
As a woman, you will know that look from other women when you walk past them, and they look you up and down. It’s not the men, it’s the women who do it. We are constantly checking each other out as a measure of whether or not we’re doing okay ourselves.
But what about the inner essence of who we are? Is this ever acknowledged or confirmed? Is this where true beauty and self-worth reside? I know on those days when I am completely at ease and connected with myself, that in spite of my outer appearance, the signs of age, the greying hair and wrinkles, I emanate a beauty and vitality that is more than ‘easy on the eye’. It is a beauty that holds others in love and confirmation of who they are in their essence. The looks I now get are not looking me up and down but felt as the quality of presence I bring.
I felt this connection to my femaleness this morning and to my surprise I decided to wear a skirt – time to get those legs out again! I will be at home today sitting at the computer marking students’ assignments. But I felt like connecting more to my womanliness today and one way I can do that is by taking care with how I dress, wearing a skirt, and possibly also high heels. I move differently when I wear a skirt and heels and I feel more of a woman.
Today I’m honouring myself by playing ‘dress-ups’ at home and reflecting on a life journey where I am finally becoming more of who I truly am from the inside out, and not the curses and impositions from the outside in that have been put upon me throughout my life. What a blessing – nothing can shake my self-worth now!
Judy F., Australia
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