I know I’ve been writing a lot about appearance and body image lately. It’s been on my mind more than usual, as my book, Leaving the Beach launched this week. The book—a novel—is about a woman who, among other things, suffers from a serious eating disorder. And although almost all experts these days believe that EDs are rooted in more than just looks—in other words, people who end up with bad EDs tend to have other things going on aside from dissatisfaction with the way they look—obsession over personal appearance is still a huge part of the illnesses.
So here’s a story, and a dilemma. If you read through to the end of this post, I’d love to hear your thoughts.
First of all, I should tell you that for over a year, I’ve been running with my dog, Spencer, almost every morning. He’s an extremely active animal, and wakes up ready to go, regardless of the weather. So I crawl out of bed—sometimes before the sun comes up—brush my teeth, feed the dog and cats, then toss on whatever clothing is appropriate for the time of year. It’s fun, and it feels good to start the day with a little fresh air and movement. But glamorous? No.
Spencer and I see plenty of other early morning dog-walkers on our daily journey, but like me, I doubt most of them even bother to look in the mirror before heading out (except maybe to make sure we haven’t developed some sort of rash or pox overnight.) And although everyone’s friendly and we sometimes stop to chat if the dogs want to play, nobody seems to pay much attention to how anyone else looks. And I can honestly say that until a few weeks ago, no dog walker has ever commented on my appearance, nor have I commented on theirs. Sure, we talk about how cute and adorable the dogs are, but that’s different. Animals almost always look good. (That’s Spencer in the picture, getting ready for a run.)
But one day a couple of weeks ago—as Spencer urinated on a rock—a dog-walker-woman I know casually passed me and told me I looked great. That surprised me for couple of reasons. First, because—as I mentioned—dog walkers don’t talk about stuff like that. Then there was the fact that I wasn’t feeling too great. I was actually very nervous about my book launch, and feeling pretty stressed and anxious. Still, I said “thank you,” and continued on my way, perhaps stepping a bit more lightly.
Then, about five minutes later, I passed a man I often see out walking. He’s older than me, and friendly, but I don’t think we’ve ever exchanged more than a brief hello or perhaps discussed the weather. But on that day, the guy stopped and said, “Excuse me, but I must say you look truly beautiful today.”
I was stunned. I mean, what the hell? I thought back to the days when I was pregnant for the first time and people kept telling me I glowed. But what were these people seeing? After thanking the man—and feeling quite awkward about the whole thing—I ran along, almost afraid to see anyone else. Quietly, I assessed myself: baggy sweatpants, old gray sweatshirt, dirty black sneakers. No makeup or jewelry. Oh, and I was carrying a bag of dog poop.
I must be giving off some sort of good vibe, I decided. Or maybe this really is like being pregnant. Maybe these people can see that I’m about to give birth to a book. (Sure, that sounds crazy, but it was early in the morning, and I tend to overthink everything.)
In any case, I have to admit that the compliments made me feel better. And of course, when I got home, I looked in the mirror. And that’s when I saw it: my hair color. The day before, I’d dyed my hair a new, lighter shade of blond. You see, I dye my hair quite frequently, but I don’t use a standard color. Instead, I tend to buy whatever brand of dye is on sale at the drugstore, and I’ve gotten so used to doing it that I don’t give it much thought. (If you’d like to read about some of my misadventures with hair color, here’s a blog post I wrote a while back.)
Anyway, when I realized that those dog-walkers hadn’t been seeing anything special about me—when I realized that they’d only been noticing my damn hair color—I felt a little disappointed. I guess I’d been hoping for something deeper. Something more significant.
So since that day, I’ve been asking myself if perhaps it’s time to stop coloring. Because the truth is, there’s no real blond left in my hair. I started using hair color seriously back when I was recovering from my eating disorder. In those days, I felt like my life was beginning all over again—it was, in fact!—so when the hairdresser told me she could see a bunch of gray coming in, I immediately asked her to fix that. Somehow, being reborn with gray hair didn’t suit my vision.
But why keep coloring now? Why keep doing something so completely fake? Do I want to look younger? Do I still believe—as I did back in the 70s—that blondes have more fun? Certainly the act of coloring isn’t fun. It’s smelly, and may very well be dangerous to my health. More importantly, I’m always telling people that I’m extremely comfortable with who I am now, and that I no longer obsess about weight. Which is true. But if I’m so comfortable, then why do I continue to alter my hair color? Am I a lot more insecure than I think?
Again, I’d love to hear opinions of others who’ve been down this road.
And thank you for reading!