Tag Archives: appearance

How to be Manly

10YO: Reuben, in order to be manly, you need to have hair like a man.

5YO: I have hair.

10YO: Not on your arms and legs. That’s manly.

5YO: I am a man.

10YO: No, you have to be at least 17 or maybe even 18 to be a man.

5YO: You’re not a man.

10YO: Not yet, but I’m manly. My arms and legs are pretty hairy.

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The Two Types Of People You Meet When You Are Turning 40

There are two types of people who will tell you that “Life begins at 40,” or “40 is the new 20,” or any of that other nonsense that people feel obligated to console you with as you approach a milestone that (optimistically) marks the middle of your life.

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Self-Promotion: New Essay on The Mid!

“As I felt increasing pressure about what I needed to look or act like, I longed to wake up one morning as a boy, throw on whatever T-shirt smelled the freshest, run a comb through my hair (or not) and feel ready to walk out of the house as Ferris Bueller or Marty McFly, convinced I’d be judged on how cool I was, not how pretty I looked. If I could not get to live that fantasy, I’d live it vicariously through my sons.”

http://www.themid.com/family/hair-apparent?u=tuJoIzgm84

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Hair Apparent

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As the mother of two young boys, I have resigned myself to certain standard operating procedures regarding their appearance, which, per their preferences, typically include a lot of Minecraft t-shirts, Skylander tighty-whiteys and socks with skulls on them. Although, once upon a time, I had dressed my first-born in collared shirts and plaid short pants, relishing the look of a daintily-dressed prepster, I have accepted the fact that as he has grown, his taste in clothing has became more contingent on a myriad of marginally humorous cartoon characters and video games rated ‘E’ for everyone, eventually passing along those predilections to his worshipful younger brother.  Subsequently, I relinquished my position as fashion director. Or, maybe I just got lazy, as my days of roaming through the Babies R’ Us newborn section, marveling at the level of adorableness that one can find in a pair of teeny, tiny overalls have given way to rushed Target runs that allow me to pick up milk with a side of pajamas.

The one facet of my sons’ facades that I have remained steadfast in my partiality is their style of haircuts. From the day my oldest son was willing to sit still long enough to be draped with a nylon cape snapped tightly around his neck, I have enjoyed the ritual of taking them both to the barbershop. I love the barber chairs. I love the buzz of the clippers.  I love the old, weathered picture on the wall of each standard haircut, as easy to select as a fast-food menu item: “I’ll have a #4 across the top with a #2 on the side”.   I love watching the line of boys and young men sitting patiently as their hair is clipped, creating a scene that could easily be a snapshot from a long-ago decade.

Perhaps one reason I enjoy the ceremony of such an establishment is it represents a recent exposure to a world that has historically existed outside of my own. As the eldest of four girls who endured home-snipped bowl cuts sitting on a wooden stool in my kitchen, I never had cause to frequent barbershops and each time I passed by the door of one, would peer through the glass and ponder.  Barbershops were for boys. Boys who didn’t have to worry about what they looked like. Boys who could get their hair cut short without being judged. Boys, who wore what was comfortable, said what was straightforward and did what was easy.

For me, there was always a perceived freedom in being a boy, which grew more profound as I got slightly older and suffered through typical estrogen-related tribulations: my first period, a training bra, home-perms and blue eye shadow. As I felt increasing pressure about what I needed to look like or act like, I longed to wake up one morning as a boy, throw on whatever t-shirt smelled the freshest, run a comb through my hair (or not) and feel ready to walk out of the house as Ferris Bueller or Marty McFly, convinced I’d be judged on how cool I was, not how pretty I looked. If I could not get to inhabit that fantasy, I’d live it vicariously through my sons.

While it occurred to me they may eventually demand more of a say in the length of their coifs, for the moment, I felt certain the young ages of my boys and associated disinterest in what was probably required to style their own hair on a regular basis gave me a few more years of having my way. This confidence was foremost in my mind as I brought my five-year-old son to the barbershop last week. His hair seemed to have grown in much more quickly than usual, which I attributed to the time of year (summer) and a gradual evolution in the standard haircut that I requested. In recent months, his tolerance for haircuts (along with everything else) had dropped dramatically and required an increasing level of bribery. Since the summer was only half over, I thought it wise to insist on a slightly shorter cut – less upkeep, cooler for the weather, etc, which I did fairly casually.

“Sure,” said the woman barber, draping a cape around my pouty son, “I’ll use a #1 on the sides instead of a #2. That will keep him until school starts.”

Ten minutes later, she brushed the fallen hairs from his shoulders and spun the chair around to face the mirror…which gave me a clear view of my son’s grief-stricken face.

“Too short!” he shrieked, crossing his arms over the top of his head.  The barber frowned even as I smiled apologetically and assured her it was exactly what I asked for.  Granted, it WAS short, but not quite boot camp short, and certainly not the shortest haircut he’d ever had. Still, the transition from a grown-out longer cut to this may have been a bit visually shocking.

“You look great!” I assured him, “Very handsome!”

He glowered and kept his hands over his head as we walked out toward the car. “Too short, too short, too short….” he started to chant as he climbed into the back. “I look bald.”

I rolled my eyes as I looked back at him through the rearview mirror.  “Dude, get over it,” I grumbled, “It’s a haircut.”

Over the next several hours, I attempted to soothe my son’s anguish over the new length of his hair in various ways, each less successful than the last.

“You look older,” I said, “You look like, almost seven.”

“I look old and bald,” he countered.

“Lots of little boys get their hair cut this short for the summer,” I said.

“No one I know,” he said firmly.

“You know Daddy has really short hair,” I tried, “You look just like Daddy.”

“No, I don’t.”

“Look, I’m sorry I had the lady cut it this short,” I finally offered, “I didn’t realize you wouldn’t like it. I won’t have it cut this short again, ok?  But, let’s move on, because it will grow back and in two weeks it will look like it did before.”

“I want to wear a hat to camp,” he demanded.

As much as I wanted to point out to my five-year-old son that he was not being reasonable and rational about this situation…..well, I don’t think I have to finish that sentence.

His major concern seemed to be that everyone at camp (both adults and children alike) would make fun of him for being ‘bald’ and I could not talk him down from this imaginative ledge perched precariously above an out-dated and clichéd nightmare. And although I knew his age would not allow him to intellectualize the absurdity of this vague fear, I had difficulty contemplating how a common boy’s haircut had created such a sense of anxiety and dread.

48 hours later, he continued to refuse to leave the house without a baseball cap pulled down tightly over the tops of his ears and I marveled at his tenacity.

“Did he wear his hat in the pool?” I sighed to the camp counselor as I signed him out the next day.

“No,” she smiled, “But he kept his arms over his head most of the time.”

As dramatic as my son’s reaction to his haircut seemed to be, I realized I could relate. How many first days of school loomed heavily in my mind as I worried about whether my new polos and corduroys would be shunned? How many times did I try to express my individuality (in seventh grade for several months, I wore a Sherlock Holmes deerstalker cap after reading ‘The Catcher in the Rye’) only to feel a burn in my cheeks relative to the number of snickers I heard behind my back. As much as I wanted to stand out, I couldn’t stand the attention that came with it. My son, who routinely expresses his passionate and creative personality within the confines of our home, but worries about fitting in once beyond the front porch, is obviously cut from the same cloth.

Eventually, it dawned on me that my pre-conceived notions about the carefree nature of little boys were naïve and sexist and my attempts to dismiss my son’s feelings about his appearance were unfair. As five-year-olds go, he’s proven he has more than a casual interest in how he chooses to present himself and within certain parameters, I am willing to support that…..Which is a polite way of saying no pony-tails or mullets.

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Same As Now

Reuben: (while going through my wallet) What is this?

Me: That’s my driver’s license.

Reuben: You look the same!

Me: Thanks! That was taken 7 years ago. So I was only 33.

Reuben: Well, you look 40! Same as now!

Me: Um, thanks.

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Mind The Gap

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As a child, I felt extremely fortunate to be spared the pain and indignity of braces. The indignity was perceived; growing up decades before the introduction of more discreet orthodontia inventions like Invisalign or lingual braces, my only associations were the railroad tracks cemented across the teeth of the poor souls I watched in the lunch room, forced to cut their apples and carrots into miniature pieces and denied such life-affirming foods as popcorn and pizza crust, for the love of God. I heard horror stories of night braces and orthodontia headgear, specifically designed to drastically lower one’s chances of being recognized as a human person, rather than as a cyborg with hormonal acne. I watched friends slowly drag out their retainers before meals, creating strings of thickly webbed saliva that grew and thinned until they snapped and remained hanging from the device, swaying in the breeze precariously until wiped away.

There was no uncertainty about the pain of braces however, which was made exceedingly evident to me through the tribulations of my younger sister.  Deemed orthodontia-ready by the age of 15, she was forced to endure years of what resembled tiny barbed wire fencing around the expanse of each tooth, and I wondered if it was painful to close her tiny lips over them, for fear of ripping right through the flesh. On several occasions, I had the misfortune of accompanying her to the orthodontist’s office to have her braces tightened, a fairly barbaric process which seemed to me not unlike the medieval method of thumbscrews, but on one’s gums. While I gratefully stayed behind in the waiting room, she disappeared behind the door of what was surely a dungeon torture chamber, which I ascertained from the sounds of metal scraping, gear grinding and anguished human screams that emanated from within.  My sister, who typically practiced respect and deference to adults, could be heard issuing forth a steady stream of obscenities, threats and general terror toward her doctor which included promises of making future appointments with him in hell.  At the end of the visit, I couldn’t tell who was more upset, my sister or the orthodontist.

Although it was gratifying to evade this brief phase of oral shackling, which surely would have compounded all the other anguish and agony of my adolescence; I was disappointed to discover a by-product of growing in my teeth naturally. A fairly sizable gap between my two top incisors. As a child, the only bother it bore me was an interesting sucking noise that occurred while I drank from a cup, but as I grew older and began placing more importance on my physical appearance, I couldn’t help comparing my mirrored image to a beaver or the Easter Bunny. I would stare at my visage while chewing on a piece of Chiclet’s gum, eventually forcing it with my tongue in between the empty space in my teeth to create the illusion of the missing enamel and think about what might have been.

Ever conscious of my gap, I tried to remember to always keep my lips closed while having my picture taken. Still, there are several pieces of photographic evidence from various school yearbooks that document an unintentional toothy smile; my front teeth dipping below my lips like the tiniest of sawed-off vampire fangs. Not the Twilight kind, but the Nosferatu kind.

As a bespectacled teenager working alongside several (slightly) older men at a bookstore in the local mall, I was introduced to the fairly absurd concept of my gap being a badge of sexual prowess. “Gaps are sexy,” I was told. But, the revelation was delivered more in the way of “I’m telling you that because you are somewhat nerdy and I hope it brings you genuine comfort”, rather than “And, now I will ask for your phone number.”

Still the idea of my diastema – the technical word for a space between two teeth – being a help rather than a hindrance to my overall appearance grew on me.  After all, Chaucer wrote of ‘the gap-toothed wife of Bath’ because of the connection of the physical characteristic with lustful tendencies, a popular premise at the time. Several African cultures associate gapped-tooth women with increased fertility and cosmetic procedures to create a gap are common. And, in France, they are called ‘dents du bonheur’ or ‘lucky teeth’. Perhaps it was finally time to ‘embrace my space.’

As an adult, I have more or less come to terms with my gap, though my thoughts on its allure vary depending on which gap-toothed celebrity I am told my mouth resembles. Madonna and Lauren Hutton, I’m fine with, but I was a bit more distraught at a recent comparison to Lawrence Fishburne.

Ironically, gapped teeth are currently having a moment and I can’t turn several pages of any fashion magazine without coming face-to-face with an advertisement featuring a close-up of a gap-toothed model; eyelids heavy and lips slightly parted so as not to miss the dark section of nothingness between her two front teeth. Regardless of the product being promoted – from eyeliner to dog food to lawn mowers – such a facial expression is necessary to bring prominent exposure to the gap – a clause no doubt written into her contract.

I am still routinely wooed by dentists who promise to ‘fix’ me.

“You know it’s going to keep growing, don’t you?” one dentist intoned ominously at a recent appointment, “The space, I mean.”

“Really?” I wondered how big it could actually get before becoming a small window into the inner workings of my mastication process for the entire world to see.

“Don’t you change a thing, sweetie!” his dental hygienist clucked, “That space gives you character.”

Being told my gap gives me ‘character’, which is often used as a synonym for ‘unattractive’, routinely makes me question my life-long commitment to accepting it as my fate.  Still, as I grow older and watch various parts of my face and body change and evolve, what remains the same (albeit imperceptibly larger, apparently) is that space between my teeth.  No doubt it will provide me with an amusing level of eccentric charm for years to come….Not to mention a superior level of spitting abilities.

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