I’m not sure how often or even clearly I was fed this line, but somewhere in childhood, I came to believe that I could not be attractive without bangs. I believed this through my early 20s, suffering the torments of rain, wind, fog, and humidity for the sake of looking my best.
Somewhere after college, however, that line began to wobble, and I felt constantly hidden and frustrated by the bangs I had worn for so long. I wanted the freedom to walk in the rain without worry. I wanted to get up in the morning without my eyelashes catching the strands that would reach them after sleep. I wanted the way I looked on the outside to more closely resemble the freedom I was coming to feel internally (my fine hair required bangs to be coaxed and sprayed into place).
So I grew them out.
Can I just tell you I still feel giddy, to this day, about that decision? It was a move toward something I wanted, rather than away from something I feared.
Fast-forward to last summer. It’s hot out, and the kids and I are going to the beach. In addition to spider veins, my legs have developed full-fledged varicosities, bulging masses on both of them. My height and accompanying history of feeling watched has made me self-conscious about wearing short shorts anyway, but add these veins to the mix and I’m sentenced to a lifetime of skirts and capris every summer, no matter the heat.
But on this particular day I’m so hot. And my swim suit bottom is actually made as short shorts. And I know that in addition to wrangling two intractable preschoolers, I’ll be carrying so much gear from our car to the sea that the thought of wearing capris over top of my swimsuit, as per my usual practice, makes me want to faint.
And a slow, sheepish smile creeps across my face as I realize that no one really cares what my legs look like. (Why have I not thought of this before?) I’m not trying to win beauty contests here, anyway. I’m not trying to trick some unsuspecting man into loving me for my looks. And considering the company I’m keeping on this day, and the bags of sand toys and sun block and tupperwares of snacks, I’m probably not eye-catching material for anyone, regardless of my physique.
So by god, I wore my swimsuit shorts without covering them up. I walked down the street with my gaggle of kids and gear, white, veiny legs blinking and glowing in sunlight, exhilarated by the freedom I’d just discovered.
I made a move toward something I wanted, rather than away from something I feared.
And I’m wondering: do you have lines like I’ve had in my life…like I continue to have…about what you surely can and cannot do with your body? Ways you simply must wear or color your hair, colors of fabrics you have to avoid, cuts of clothing or shoes that can’t ever be worn by you?
Or maybe your lines are about activities that are off limits for you and your size/shape/race/athletic (in)ability: dancing; yoga; sports; zumba. Or how about swimming in public places? Revealing that tattoo you had done in your youth? Oral sex with your beloved?
How does it feel when you bump up against the fences that these lines create around your living? Do you ever look longingly past them to the other side? Do you ever daydream about actually wandering out past them, shudder at how it would feel or come across, and dutifully obey the lines another day?
Here’s what I want to tell myself and all of us about such things:
Those lines you’ve always believed about your body and what you can and cannot do with it? They aren’t set in stone. They may not even be true! And the more you’re able to live into the life you want, rather than live to avoid the shame you fear, the better all of us are for it.
The more we can peer out from our hiding places (long pants, padded bras, full-coverage make-up, slimming undergarments, hair dye, eyelash extensions, too-busy-to-take-that-dance-class-excuses, et al) and see people comfortably embodying their actual size, shape, color, texture, and (dis)ability, rather than working to stifle or cover it all over, the more freedom we’ll all feel to step, as we are, into the light of day. Or, as it were, the beautiful darkness of night.
Want to try a baby step beyond your lines already? I’d love to hear about (almost :) any steps you take! Large or amusingly small, I will celebrate whole-heartedly with you!
P.S. I love the way this song flips lines about wrinkles on their head (click here to listen if audio player doesn’t appear below). Surely songs like this could be written about all of the “lines” that we carry!