Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Made Up, Grown Up

When I was nineteen and newly engaged, I went on a trip to visit family in England - not to celebrate, but because it was already in the plans. My uncle throws a fantastic garden party every summer, and it was the main event of our trip (sidenote: is that not the most delightfully British thing you've ever heard of?)

I hadn't guessed my young engagement would be a topic of lively discussion and debate amongst relatives and random party guests. Everyone and their mothers (especially their mothers) wanted to give me a piece of their mind on how I was too young. Some called me stupid. Some laughed. And I got a lot of the old, "you look like you're twelve."

So midway through the party, I went to the guestroom where my bags were and got out my make-up. I was already wearing make-up, but I needed more. Especially eyeliner. I needed way, way more eyeliner. Because I wanted to look and feel like a grown up. I wanted people to stop telling me I was a child.

The comments only escalated when I went back to the party looking like a Calamity Jane drag queen (did I forget to mention the garden party was a Wild West Cowboy theme?) and I ended up using some choice American language before eventually slugging a guy who stumbled away, too drunk to even register the fact that he had been hit in the face by some Yankee's teenage bride.

The irony of this failed quest for a mature look eluded me for some years to come.

I experienced many encounters during my two year engagement that vexed me to no end. You don't know me, I'd think when strangers would make some quip about my age. You don't know what I'm about. I was angry because they were projecting their experiences, their youth, onto me to judge me unfit for marriage. But furthermore, I was angry because I didn't have the maturity to feel secure in myself when people made assumptions about me.

I thought what I needed was to look older so people would accept me as an adult, when what I was really searching for was acceptance from myself.

I was never uncertain of my decision to marry my husband. And, as a strong willed teenager, I had no qualms about defending my choice to the death. But I was foolish in the way I went about it; the way I fumed and demanded to be right.

I didn't realize then the power of silence - not compliance or weakness, but calm disassociation with those who wished to bait me. I didn't realize then that I had the power to hold the cards when someone else was judging me.

I worried about the clothes I wore and the make-up I carefully applied to look older and wiser. I worried about whether or not I was projecting the sort of image I had of myself in my head. As if maturity and confidence were something that could be purchased and worn.

I don't wear make-up much anymore. I do, some days, but only as a whim of fancy. It's not a trait that defines me as a grown up, but I do feel it speaks to a journey I have made in acceptance of myself. I no longer feel the need for it. I don't feel that compulsion to make myself more beautiful or mature through a means that can't achieve those traits.

I am comfortable in my own skin. I hold the cards to my own perception of self.

And I am, at least in this one small way, grown up. 
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