I got a makeover. A pretty major one, this is a makeover of such a scale that it’s really messing with my head.
How is it that changing something about your external appearance can make such a huge difference in how other people see you, and in how you see yourself?
“You look thirty years younger!” cries the cosmetics artist. Thirty, really? I’m forty-three! That would imply that I’ve been going around looking older than my chronological age. Either that, or I now look like a middle-schooler, in which case I’m going to have to start listening to much peppier music.
I relish my privacy and, as a writer, I like to think of myself as invisible. I’ve felt that it pays to be modest, maybe even inconspicuous. I can walk around the city and get a free pass from panhandlers, who nod courteously as I go by.
Invisibility, though, isn’t our choice.
My friend and mentor tells me, in no uncertain terms, that just because I feel invisible does not mean I am. “People notice you and make judgments about you, whether you realize it or not.”
This is a harsh truth, but I am a proponent of radical honesty and I take it in.
Whatever was true for me at other stages of life, today I am forty-three. I have aspirations that will not be met at my current level. If my goal is to perform in front of an audience, then I need to look suited to the task. I need to be stage-ready, and, arguably, I am not.
The whole point of my existence up to this point has been about avoiding attention and staying out of the spotlight. Changing my look is letting go of that sense I have had, that feeling that I have the option to hang out in the shadows and be a passive observer.
It’s been hard enough dealing with the physical changes I made as I became a midlife athlete. I went from a size fourteen to a size two. I can get away with wearing a bikini in public. When I do, I feel like I’m adopting a temporary persona: Vacation Pool Babe. Wearing a bikini in public in Las Vegas is not the same as wearing business casual at home.
That’s my avenue to adjusting to my new post-makeover look. I can pretend that I’m someone else. I need a stage-ready persona that helps me feel like these are mere surface-level changes, that I have gained rather than lost options.
I can still find privacy when I need it. I don’t have to physically be on stage and in front of people every minute of the day. There are no requirements to this new look other than maintenance a few times a year.
Well, that, and the not inconsiderable technical skills involved in applying cosmetics.
I remind myself that men wear stage makeup, too. Some men wear cosmetics every day, because they like it. I remind myself that a lot of people think this is fun!
Honestly, having fun and looking pretty both feel like work to me. That might sound sad. What I mean is that when these come down as external requirements, it becomes self-conscious. It’s supposed to be “fun” to go to nightclubs, or watch team sports, but neither of those fun things are my style. I find myself asking, “Am I doing this right?”
I’m more comfortable doing things that probably sound un-fun, like mud runs, martial arts, or public speaking. It’s definitely better not to wear makeup in martial arts, since it gets in your eyes, although I have worked out in a cocktail dress and a rhinestone bib necklace, and a stiletto heel can make a respectable improvised weapon. Not in the mat room, though.
I remind myself that I wasn’t comfortable when I started any of those things, either. Surely eyeliner is no worse than a real black eye! Hair color is no worse than surfacing out of a water obstacle, dripping with mud. Public speaking as a hobby is what got me into this whole mess.
The point of the first impression is that it carries so many unspoken messages. Did you show up prepared and on time? Do you look glad to be there? Do you know how to shake hands properly? Is your hair three colors of gray on top, but reddish at the tips for some unknown reason? Now I have to accept the reality that I’m also being evaluated on not just my clothes and shoes, but my hair and makeup as well.
The terrible thing about all this is that I look fantastic. Objectively. My husband loves it. My best friend started squealing and hugged me. Even my barista noticed.
Once upon a time, I was a chronically ill, broke, overweight, underemployed, divorced, sad brunette who lived in a cold, rainy climate.
Now I’m a successful, fit, happily married... attractive redhead? Does “auburn” make you a redhead?
Nearly twenty years later, I look younger than I did at twenty-five. This hair color makes my eyes look enormous, which is disconcerting, a feature that should properly have gone to an extreme extrovert who loves attention. My big blue eyes have always felt like something of an unfair burden, traits that I can’t put away or hide on demand. I myself can’t hide on demand, not really.
I’m a writer transforming into a public performer. Many performers would like to go the other direction, developing their skills as lyricists, poets, playwrights, or memoirists. They can’t just put on glasses and some kind of special writer hat and make it happen. (If there were a special writer hat, I would definitely be wearing one, even in the shower). I remind myself that I’m lucky that all I really have left to do is to learn to live up to this made-over image.
With the image reset comes the attitude reset. Can I inhabit the body of an objectively attractive person? Can I learn to handle the constant 21st-century expectations of photography and video, the headshots and the spontaneous selfies?
We’re here to participate in the culture of our time. I want a meaningful existence in which I can contribute at the highest possible level. I want my legacy to be bigger than myself. If I have to be better-looking for that to happen, I suppose that’s a sacrifice I’ll have to make.
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.
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