‘Tis the season. When we get lots of holiday cards with gorgeous, beautiful, fun family photos (and updates) from friends. So, we had family photos taken. Professionally. I rather like the goofy, impromptu, set-the-camera-on-timer-and-jump-into-the-scene-at-the-last-possible-second kind of family pictures. Even more than those, I like most the photos I take but am not in. Now I know why. I hope I’m not going to completely fuck up my children with my fucked up body image asininity. I can only pray and or thank God that the absurdity is in my head and not so visible for them to witness.
What to wear was the first nausea-inducing need to breathe into a paper bag (hardly a new dilemma as you well know). And it went downhill from there. I worked up a lather entering and exiting what felt like a revolving door of apparel and wardrobe changes and, several versions of the 80s later, ended up in a vest, white shirt and jeans. Even though I’ve basically given up on my hair, I felt compelled to tweak it (to death), which culminated in an unreasonable amount of gel and an end result of greasy-looking flat hair. I’m telling you, I was a hot mess before we even left the house. For the photos we went to a lovely little park in downtown Boston surrounded by crisp fall ambient local-color scenery. But I couldn’t enjoy any of it. And it shows in the finished product.
Was it the pernicious weeds of my mother’s message rooting deeper, strangling my soul, reminding me that I am not quite right, never good enough, a huge embarrassment? Was it societal pressure to be something specific, something other, something I never was or ever will be? Or is it the gender-mess inside my own head that creates this whirling vortex of self-reproach and castigation? Please won’t somebody stop the insanity?!
Instead of looking like I was simply enjoying an outing with my beloved family (which is what the pictures were supposed to portray), I was completely focused on how I look not right. And really, if looking not right was my goal, I accomplished it with amazing flair, personifying superior awkwardness and taking self-conscious discomfiture to a whole new level. Instead of focusing on appreciating and delighting in my family I spent my mental energy sucking in my stomach, smiling so not too much of my upper gums would show, squaring my shoulders to decrease my dowager’s hump, standing straight but not so straight as to emphasize my chest, tilting my head in such a way as to minimize that turkey dangle (and when the hell did I grow that?!) under my chin… oh, and don’t forget, trying to look natural?! I’m like a crazy caricature of a dime-store mannequin. Just looking at the picture you can plainly see that I’m squeezing my ass cheeks together! Because quite frankly, I was! And you would have been too if you were me. With all the self-flagellation going on in my head, I should have just donned a hair shirt and been done with it.
I don’t freak out like this on a regular basis (though one may not know that from just reading this blog). But really, I don’t want to freak out like this at all! It’s horribly uncomfortable and exhausting. The negativity and vexation insidious and invasive, polluting, contaminating, befouling the entirety of my being. It’s like when I start to pick at my cuticles. Once I start I can’t stop. I may be able to go for days without picking or biting my fingers. But once I pick one tiny hangnail, I’m in it for the long haul. I don’t stop until nearly every fingertip is a bloody stinging mess. So how do I stop it before it starts? Of course that is the 64,000 dollar question. How do I learn to care less about the disparity between what I feel like and what I (apparently) look like?
In the meantime, I took Cleo for her first grooming appointment. I’m sorry if this sounds judgmental, but honestly, is there a less fatuous profession? I have yet to meet a dog groomer who wasn’t totally daft with a serious case of bats in the belfry. But that aside, I took Cleo because (1) she is of a breed that requires regular grooming and (2) I’ve been told repeatedly to get her to a groomer sooner rather than later so she can get used to the groomer’s handling and process. But I loved the way she already looked, all long curls bouncing. When I brought her in I told the groomer quite clearly that I simply wanted her handled and maybe bathed. No frilly ridiculous poodle-cuts. Just wash her I said. What about anal glands? Oh, yeah, well, do whatever you do with those. I returned at the end of the day to find a velutinous mockery of a dog. I gasped at the same time Nina shouted, “What did they do?! That’s not our dog!” I stood there aghast. There was nothing even remotely recognizable about her. Twinkling brown eyes shone through an Albert Einstein inspired hairdo while the incongruity of a tail wagged in recognition of her family.
Some time later, I sat cross-legged on our living-room floor playing with and petting her. I still couldn’t quite get over her appearance. Funny that she shouldn’t notice or care. She snuggled into my lap exuding love as she happily licked me under the chin (that dangly thing again) loudly proclaiming her love for me just the way I am.