"if you stay ready/you ain't got to get ready..."--Suga Free
There are few less humiliating positions than naked from the waist down and spread eagle in front of someone's face with a mini desk fan blowing in between your legs, but earlier this week, Nadia, my 60-something Italian brazilian waxer (yeah, unpack that), managed to make it slightly more uncomfortable. Maybe she thought she was enlightening me; maybe she was just bored. Whatever her reasons for re-introducing one of her favorite topics as she ripped wax strips from my butt, she did it with gusto.
"When you have a man," she explained in her just barely comprehensible Northern Italian accent as though I was a new-school Corky, "you want to look nice." This from the woman who had declared on my last visit that it was clear, judging from how far I'd let things go, that I was currently unattached.
"Well," I explained less feebly than the last time I'd seen her (and much sooner than the last time I'd seen her as well), "I do this for myself. I like to look and feel nice for me."
"Right. I understand." She always sounds as though she doesn't believe me, as though I get myself waxed praying that someone will pick my name from their little black book that very night and change my life with some wild monkey sex. Which is clearly a joke. Not that I'm down on wild monkey sex. And not saying I'm above temptation...but I'm above temptation. At this point, it's kind of frivolous to, uh, throw away my confidence, so to speak. "But you will have a man again, and you will need to make sure you look good. Still look good," she added hastily, surely noting that my intention was never to not look good. Even in my workout clothes on my way to my exercise class, I was sporting mascara and concealer, a fact that the former beauty queen (not really, but maybe) wouldn't have missed.
But the fact is that nothing can convince Nadia--a woman who, even leathered by years of European sun, is still absolutely gorgeous, with huge, thick, ethnic waves of mildly graying blonde hair and a twinkle in her pencil-rimmed brown eyes that says she has always known how to have a good time--that a broad, specifically me, isn't just waiting on a man. Why else, her tone surmises, would we keep it all together?
I agree...and then I don't.
When I was younger, I never stepped out ungroomed under and over my clothes because I honestly didn't know whether or not I was going to be having sex with anyone when I left the house. But at this point in my life, there's one thing I know for sure about each day when I wake up in the morning: That under no circumstances am I going to be having consensual sex at any point before the Brookstone alarm clock next to my bed reads 12:01AM. One might expect with all the time and money and effort I've spent over the years keeping myself up that I have a surplus of those resources while I'm on somewhat of a pause, waiting for my life partner. But one would be frightfully wrong.
It's funny to me now to think that I spent a better part of my 20++/30- years defending myself from the "high maintenance chick" label. Even though I house a bit more than the average amount of female vanity (a gift from my lovely and amazing, self-conscious, critical mother), still I shunned that classification. It stung a bit to me, and when I was new to young adulthood, I desperately wanted to be known as a low-maintenance girl. I felt like I was easy; I wore sweats and t-shirts a great deal of the time (mostly a 6'6" ex's oversized XXL velour sweatpants that took three tight drawstring knots to keep up and tight souvenir/message tees),went makeup-free all of the time, and wore my natural hair out and curly most of time. I drank beer in lieu of cocktails. I fried chicken in my pajamas with my hair wrapped up for my boys from the basketball team when we kicked it. And despite these things, even those same guy friends would inevitably admit that they found me "high maintenance". No matter how little primping I appeared to do, for some reason I could never escape the characterization.
Fast forward some years. I've gotten increasingly comfortable in my own skin--and yet that's not to say that I do less to keep myself up. Getting comfortable in my own skin has been more of a coming to terms with who I really am and embracing it. Recently, my BFF/sister Kimberly began a revolution in her life that she calls "naked and unashamed". Like Eve in Genesis--before the fall--Kim aspires to feel totally comfortable in her own skin, oblivious to the things proverbial fig leaves and trees can cover up. I admire her resolve. She's a beautiful girl who doesn't need the trappings the female beautification industry stuffs down our throats and convinces us we need. And honestly, I feel the same way about myself. My ex used to tell me that I looked the same with and without makeup. He didn't understand why I bothered, and he always insisted I was sexiest just chilling at home in my sweats and glasses. I appreciated the sentiment, but there were certain things I just couldn't go out into public without and without doing back then.
The same is true for me now.
I can embrace "naked and unashamed"--to a point. My "naked" is a bit different than the "naked" one might expect. My "naked" is immaculately groomed. You're not going to catch me without my legs, armpits, and arms shaved (yes, arms) or my eyebrows shaped, because I shave every other day and I have my eyebrow lady on speedial. You're not going to catch me on bush-mode, because Nadia is written into my bi-monthly budget just under groceries. If I can at all help it, you're not going to catch me with major breakouts, because my skincare regimen is tight. Yes, I'll go without makeup on any given Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday--but the glowing, clear skin it takes to do that requires consistency and dedication from which I never waver. You're not going to catch me without my hair done too often; and you're not going to catch me without a fresh mani-pedi on too many occasions, either.
I know that everything I do, put together, is a bit too much for some people. The truly "low maintenance", especially. The women who can fall into bed unshowered at night and then hop up in the morning, brush their teeth and then go out into the streets for the entire day without so much as looking into a mirror--I'm not that girl. I have to shower before getting into my bed, even if I already showered and then went just stepped outside to run to the store or take garbage out. When I get up, there's a whole routine that has to be followed--and I have to allow myself enough time to do the entire thing, or I just can't make it through my day. I used to be embarrassed to admit it. But after years of getting familiar with my true self and accepting who I am, I no longer care about people's judgment regarding my choices. It's especially rich to know that I don't do it for anyone else; I do it for me, because ultimately, I have to live with and look at myself. And I need to like what I see. Because what's most significant to me is not that I'm "naked" in the sense of exactly how I came into this world, but that my insides are naked and my intentions naked, and that anything manufactured about my character and personality have fallen away. When others encounter me, what they see is what they get. I don't have to put on airs to please or comfort others, and I don't have to pretend to have interests and desires beyond what I'm doing with what I've been given. At this point in my life, it's refreshing to look at the big picture and truly be pleased with the stripped version of myself.
I think every woman goes through a period in her life in which she compares herself to others, looks at what other women do to themselves as a guidepost for the things she should be doing. But there also comes a time in most women's lives where concerns about others fall by the wayside and suddenly, like a lightbulb being turned on, the only opinion that really matters is your own. Sometimes when I look at my life and feel a twinge of regret that things didn't go differently in one area or another, I remind myself that this time and place in my psychological development is the perfect time for promotion. Because I'm no longer interested in being anyone I'm not, and only interested in celebrating what I'm working with, as opposed to hiding.
I identify with pre-judgment Eve, a woman who was clearly looking for meaning and identity without feeling like the keys to either were to be found in her physical circumstances. Though cautioned by the fallout of her choices, a large part of me identifies with Eve's quest for self-fulfillment and her willingness to strike out and try something different in her journey, unencumbered by pesky self-consciousness. Though it's far from completely insignificant, my physical self-image is an increasingly smaller part of my life as I embrace all life has to offer me and all I have to offer it. The way I look is important to me, but there are so many other things about myself that I put before it, things I would choose to hold onto over anything physical, were I given a choice. I wouldn't trade my talents for my looks; I wouldn't trade my natural kindness or my generosity for anything. My grandmother always said that it didn't matter how pretty you were on the outside if you were flat out ugly on the inside, and I agree. The natural fruits of the spirit I've been blessed with that grow with every passing year are far above anything I see in the mirror.
So yes, I keep it all 'fried, dyed, and laid to the side', and I probably always will. But I'm also not burdened by secrets or extensive self-criticism, and the comfort I feel in my own skin physically translates to confidence professionally and spiritually and emotionally.
I keep myself up, and no one can disgrace me by pointing that out. Because what's paramount to me is that literally and figuratively, when I stand naked, I truly feel no shame.