I grew up with a keen sense of not being any kind of normal female. I didn’t do pink and sparkly, or dress up as a princess, and from there I didn’t really get into makeup, heels, fashion and looking the part. It didn’t help that I was never thin enough for that kind of thing, nor attentive enough to what was ‘in’ and I wanted clothes that let me do stuff, rather than clothes to display my body, and I have weak ankles, so heels are a nightmare. Every now and then I’d try to conform to what I was seeing around me, and would mostly fail. I’m equally useless at looking smart, or elegant, for all the same reasons.
The time that many women put into their appearance, from keeping up with trends, and picking stuff out to applying it all… I have always wanted to use on other things. So I’m well read, I know a lot of songs, and so forth, but most of the time I am (as dear Professor Elemental would put it) a scruffy urchin. For people who want shiny, polished, framed and thoughtfully displayed feminine charms, I am never going to pass muster, and I’ve got to the stage in my life (and am exceedingly married) so that most of the time it doesn’t bother me at all.
On Friday I went to a sacred singing group – mostly Pagan chanting. It was a fairly even gender split. Very few women were wearing makeup – and those who were tended more towards the theatrical and playful than the overtly alluring. There were plenty of grey hairs, plenty of natural hair tones, and ways of wearing hair that made total sense to me. There were lots of colourful, expressive, practical items of clothing that made sitting on the floor perfectly sensible. Women dressed to be doing stuff, not to be looked at. Women who were very clearly comfortable about how they looked and made no apology for doing pretty much what the guys always do – wearing stuff they like, that fits the circumstances.
I was struck by how different this was as an emotional experience. I felt like I belonged. I was in no way a stand-out oddity. I didn’t seem so much a scruffy urchin in that context, more an earth woman with better ways to spend her time, like all the other earth women around me. Having a context makes so much difference. Having a tribe, and a feeling of belonging and of not being judged. I was also struck by how lovely they all were, how they all seemed innately interesting, approachable, in a way that heeled and painted women often do not, for me. I realise I am slightly intimidated by mainstream manifestations of glamour – I don’t know how to relate to the women who throw a lot of energy into painting, preening and constructing that very specific kind of beauty.
I like the other sort of beauty better, the sort that does not hide its lines or life marks, and that is not wholly about sexual identity. I take courage, encouragement and inspiration from knowing that I have a tribe, and a place where I fit.