Saturday, May 06, 2006

How do I look?

For so much of my life, I've asked myself and others this question, "How do I look?" Growing up on a farm in Mississippi with a mother who desperately wanted others to think well of us in spite of the fact that my father was the town drunk. So, while I might be allowed to wear less than pristine jeans to play in our yard or in the woods behind our house, I had to be dressed appropriately when I went anywhere else. Of course, I had to wear clean underwear when I went out; what if something happened to me and someone might see a hole in my undies?

I endured scratchy dresses and uncomfortable shoes whenever I left the farm to go into town - four and a half miles away. I hated the dresses, but I knew that I must mind my manners and be nice to everyone so they would think well of my mother. Once in high school, I was out roaming the countryside with several of my friends, when we spotted a grass fire that a farmer was trying to put out all by himself. Of course, we pitched in with sacks and buckets and shovels and soon the grass fire was gone. However, we were covered in soot and dirt. I was so excited at how we had done something wonderful that I ran into the Ben Franklin store where my mother worked and was telling her all about it. She was horrified and sent me to the back to wash the dirt off as best I could. What would people think? And, my compatriot, well, she sent him away in such a way that we never rode around together again. How I looked mattered more than what I had done.

As a young adult, I dressed according to the whatever group was on the agenda. I wore the perfect work dresses to work at the television station, but I wore halter tops and short shorts when my husband and I went out with his friends. So I suited my wardrobe to the occasion. I didn't go near my mother in short shorts, and I didn't wear dresses to the bar.

My clothing and demeanor reflected whomever I thought would be seeing me - creating an impression that would be favorable to them. I said what I thought they wanted to hear, drank what would make me a stand-out, and had many faces. Throughout 50 plus years of living, I was always asking, "How do I look?" I didn't want to be told that I was pretty, although that was nice; I wanted to be told that I looked appropriate so that people would not say bad things about me.

Then I found a partner who encouraged me to be me, whatever I wore was appropriate. My mother died. My financial future was secure.

Although I still ask, "How do I look?", I mostly wear what's comfortable. I work in clothes and go to the fast food places still dirty. I wear casual pants and t-shirts in places where I would have worn dresses some time ago. I smile at people and don't worry about what they think of me. I try to dress appropriately for me and the places I go, but I don't worry about being that precise woman who needs everyone to think well of her.

What I'm not saying is: all those years, I was trying to please my mother. Now that she's dead, I don't have to worry about pleasing her any longer. My partner loves me just as I am; and I'm sorry if I offend others. They would do well to dress for themselves, because I don't care what they wear.

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