When I first came to Colorado—back when I still wore chalk-stripe or black suits, with ivory or cream silk blouses; when I thought a French braid or a French twist was as necessary to my job as my law degree—I would see these women about town who I thought, frankly, were a bit peculiar. They often wore double-knit pants, tucked into odd boots, a cap on their heads with stray hairs poking this way and that, and their skin showed the test of time. They reminded me of the homeless women I used to see in Civic Center Plaza in San Francisco.
Fast forward 30 + years, and, one wintry day I find myself having to rush to town for some item or another for the animal sanctuary. As I approach the door I catch site of myself in what I have since come to call my “Li’l Abner” outfit. I was wearing yoga pants (it is 2017, after all) with my old alpine mountaineering boots, gray almost knee-high socks, a giant School of Mines sweatshirt that almost hit my knees, and a black knit cap pulled down to the top of my glasses and over my ears. I started giggling, then laughing so hard that people glanced sideways at me as they walked by.
In addition to my “Li’l Abner” outfit, I also frequently indulge in my “You Can’t Make Me” outfit. One or two (depending on the weather) pair of fleece pajama pants, long underwear, and a grungy down jacket (also from my climbing days) that bears a heart-shaped ripstop nylon patch on one arm. On at least one occasion I have found myself in the same pajama pants at bedtime that evening, but out of some weird sense of something-or-other, I’ve made myself change into new jammies.
One thing I can’t figure out is that 99% of the time, my right pants leg is tucked into my chore boots (a bright teal green to complement Tweety-Bird or Tinkerbell, depending on the temperature) and the other falls neatly to the instep. Do I forget and fall asleep in the middle of getting dressed? I can’t really say, but the pattern is clear.
It’s funny how often this remarking upon another’s appearance and then ending up looking the same has happened to me. When I was a baby lawyer, one of my mentors was quite hirsute and had to pluck her chin. After feeling a rush of pity (not to be confused with empathy) for her, I was surprised the next morning to notice several hairs on my upper lip. (My daughter, three or four at the time noted “you are starting to look like a teen-age boy, Mom). I know, and you know, that these hairs did not appear overnight, but that I was simply hypersensitive on the subject as a result of my judgmental attitude toward my colleague.
Life is like that, isn’t it? My Mom used to call it ‘getting on your high horse’, as in “Don’t you get on your high horse with me young lady, life is going to knock you right off of there” when I would comment on another’s appearance with fake sympathy. Lots of things were tolerated in my house growing up, but commenting on another’s appearance was not.
I thought of that today as I listened to a radio program about a woman who, because she was in the entertainment industry, felt she had to take “speed” to lose weight. The drug, prescribed by her doctor, kept her awake, which she passed off as creative insomnia to her friends.
The story is heart breaking to listen to, especially as she tries to explain to her husband that the heavier woman she was wasn’t “me wearing a fat suit” but was the same person at a different place in her life.
It is not the best part of us, as humans, this constant reliance on appearance. I don’t know how to change it, or the suffering that it causes. I have tried to change myself. Catching sight of myself in my Li’l Abner outfit certainly helped in that endeavor.