The Season of Letting (Myself) Go

I have not shaved my legs in countless weeks. Normally, removing any body hair below my eyebrows is something about which I am obsessive. In the age of COVID, not so much. Same goes for my weight, the state of my feet, my roots, and my traditionally unmarred brow. In short, I’ve really let myself go during this pandemic.

At first, foregoing Botox and pedicures was a necessity. I sighed heavily about missing regular appointments and did my best to relay frustration with a neutral and relaxed face. Annoyance gave way to a strange pride in showing off dark roots or streaks of gray in zoom meetings. See? This is evidence of my commitment to staying home and staying healthy — I’m keeping my community safe! I don’t know if my hair was ever so altruistic. As the world opened up I remained cautious; truncated hair colorings my only visage-focused venture from home.

Now, here I am, in all my Shrek-like glory. And I am . . . ok. Maybe better than that. I am content.

Even further, I have learned a few things. You know the old line women often tell themselves and each other: “we don’t do it for men, we do it for ourselves”? “It” being an appearance-related regime of choice. I don’t believe that anymore. I think we may do “it” for other women, but we certainly don’t do it for ourselves. I mean, I am not enduring pain and investing time and money and a whole lot of energy for me. If that were the case, I’d be waxed, shellac’ed, buffed, and smoothed right now.

I do believe women often invest in their appearance for other women. The male gaze runs strong through all of us and we are trained to see and evaluate other women the way men see and evaluate us. How can we not be? It’s the predominant lens of our culture. The pandemic has not stripped me of this tendency yet. The few times I have seen my girlfriends over the past months have included frantic attempts at lipstick and closed-toe shoes in 97-degree heat. But I can feel even this fading, especially with my women friends experiencing similar processes of beauty detox. We look at each other with more awareness and kindness. The near-unconscious evaluation we’d conduct of one another (even when we worked against such ingrained behaviors) has given way to grace and acceptance. I am not sure what happened first, accepting them, or accepting myself. I do know it has gone hand in hand.

Sometimes, I daydream about my spectacular return to the world of giving a fuck about my appearance. I imagine myself walking down the street of a trendy neighborhood svelte, with long bare legs, plumped lips, and perfectly color-toned hair. My outfit changes to suit my throes-of-daydream mood and the most recent seasonal timeline for true “reopening” but my state of utter polish is a constant. It’s a nice distraction from running through a new lesson on division with my 8-year-old at the dinner table on a Tuesday afternoon. Not long after the image surfaces it's gone again. I don’t yearn for it. I like to watch it parade — nay, strut — before my mind’s eye and then fade away to the realm of the theoretical.

Is this the new me? Saddle-baggier and decidedly less coiffed? I am not sure. The pandemic has burnt off a few misty illusions about why I invest in my appearance and for whom. For now, I am ok with how I look. (I mean, Shrek is an exaggeration.) And I am grateful for my own extended season of “letting go.”

Social scientist; devoted to designing spaces, policies, & programs for women all women.