There’s a tribe of women in their 30s and 40s who have screamed at the top of their lungs “I am not a pretty girl!” Whether you were joining in song at an Ani Difranco concert or snarling it at your dorm room mirror, it was such a relief to tell the world not to takes its eyes your eyes, tits, and waistline. “Don’t bother judging me, folks,” we were declaring. “I won’t be part of your campus beauty contests and I refuse to be some maiden fair.”
I think I was lying. Yes, I wanted to be valued for a hell of a lot more than my looks, but I was just singing along to drone out a deep, ugly sadness.
Though I wore my feminist heart on my sleeve, it always deserved to have an asterisk beside it. I never quite gave up the hope that when I grew up I would be pretty. That Ani song didn’t become my anthem because I’d evolved beyond “pretty” or because I insisted on being valued for something more important and enduring.
Mostly, I hummed that song to myself because I hated my face and my body so much.
But what about being a “sexy girl”?
Fast forward a decade or so. It’s Hurricane Sandy and I’m riding out the storm with friends lucky enough to have electricity and a phone. We decide to book Vedic astrology readings with this guy in West Virginia.
There was a slight delay because he had to borrow a friend’s cassette recorder to tape the phone calls. This was rather endearing in 2012. It also proved that he probably wasn’t looking at my Facebook profile when he told me that, according to my stars and planets, I was “what they call a sexy girl.”
I laughed, but I didn’t say “no I’m not!” As the mother of a three-year-old who spent way too much time working from home in yoga pants and a sweatshirt, this was nice to hear.
There’s an asterisk here too, though. (Ok, so depending on your opinion of astrology you may think this whole story is inadmissible, but bear with me). Apparently, the elements of my chart just didn’t add up. The astrologer declared that my birth time had to be off by about 40 minutes.
Here’s the thing, the timing of my birth is actually part of family lore. Until this fellow told me otherwise, I proudly accepted the truth that I was born under the sign of Gemini on June 17 at 6:17 PM. This also happened to be my mother’s 29th birthday and Father’s Day to boot. My mom isn’t around to ask, but my dad swears the timing was exact. Of course, my father also swears that my sister and I were perfect children, so I just don’t know.
Apparently, I could either be sexy (in the cosmic sense) or I could be the 6-17 kid.
Will beautiful do?
Right now, my jeans feel uncomfortable because the “I can eat anything; I’m nursing!” magic has worn off. The bags under my eyes are looking like suitcases. Everything aches and feels likes it’s the wrong size.
For once, I don’t really mind.
Maybe it's the new lipstick. Perhaps it's because I stole a few extra moments to wear something that I really liked. Ultimately, I guess it is just because I knew I walked through my day knowing that I wanted to tell as story about accepting the skin I'm in.
Today, in that ShopRite full of so many gray, defeated people who filled their carts with frozen meals and paper plates, I felt like I was glowing.
I think I was feeling pretty. I’m sure I was feeling as sexy as a woman could while wiping a little girl’s nose. I know I felt beautiful.
I made eye contact with people and gave them a smile that seemed to well up from deep within my belly, from a place that would never feel the pinch of too-tight jeans. I didn’t want the other shoppers to notice whether I was good looking enough. I just wanted to share what felt a lot like simple, unencumbered peace and joy.
Please share this story with someone beautiful and tell me if you used to sing "Not a Pretty Girl" too.