“You look different!” an acquaintance said, emphatically. “You are not the RJD that I remember!”
He said this exuberantly, as a compliment, so i thanked him.
It was something I kept hearing from the men i know from…well, from before grad school. They all say I look different. and I do. I guess, as a 28 year old woman, I now know the importance of lipstick, a high heel, and how to emphasize my silhouette.
At 18, fashion wise, I was tragic. But even beyond that, I was shy. I was worried about everything: losing my scholarship, which I couldn’t afford to do, prematurely falling in love, getting pregnant outside of wedlock, bringing shame upon my family. Under all those baggy clothes lay the instinctive knowledge that I had to protect myself from those possibilities.
I stayed away from parties. I hung out with Jesus and my friends. I avoided (as I still do) both sex and drugs. In avoiding sex, I unintentionally buried any idea that I could be super attractive. Like a girl in a 80s or 90s movie, I thought the options were stark: be smart, or pretty. I chose to be smart–it was the easiest and most reliable trajectory of the two.
7 years after college, living in the fashion wasteland that is Western Mass, and I’ve realized that I can be both smart and pretty. I don’t waste much time thinking about my looks or my intelligence, because ruminating on either could lead to insecurities. So I’m always surprised when someone forces me to think about the way I was ten years ago–sartorially cautious, protective of myself. I want to protect the girl I once was, while embracing the woman I have become. I want to honor my new knowledge and hard won confidence while thinking fondly about the past.
But is there really room for both past and present? I just finished sorting through my shoes. I hadn’t thrown or given any shoes away since 2006, instead opting to shove the old ones under my bed and buy a new pair every time I had an event to attend. Taking them out tonight was a trip. So many of them were hopelessly dated, even if they weren’t well worn. I realized that I held on to old shoes to honor who I was and the experiences I had when I wore them. By doing this, I couldn’t make room for the new, ridiculously high heels I currently love to wear.
As I sorted through the shoes, I wondered if I was holding on too tightly to the old RJD, who routinely went to family parties with several books in her purse. Is there a way to let go of the old me, while carrying the lessons I’ve learned into the future?
I don’t know. But until I figure how to be in the present, think about the future, while not forgetting about the past, I’ll be in a great pair of heels and (most likely) wearing red lipstick.