Being a vendor at the recent L.A. Zine Fest was uncomfortable in some ways and has made me hyper-sensitive about the inevitability of aging, even more so than usual. I ran into a few people I used to know, the majority of whom I hadn’t seen in roughly 15 years, and I felt sad that I don’t look the way I used to.
In High School I believe most people thought I was gawky, and it’s true that I was, and I highlighted the gawkiness, keeping my teeth messed up as they were and a pretty jacked up haircut and boy’s clothes or else stained vintage dresses with my legs and armpits unabashedly hairy and sweat-socks pulled up above Converse high-tops. I didn’t even feel bad about having regular break-outs of bad skin on my face. I’m not going to try to sound humble-braggy here, as I write in detail about my looks, because it would be dishonest to pretend that looks don’t matter, and as a feminist, I try to keep keenly aware of expectations of women and girls, and to buck those expectations that are sexist by being as honest with myself and others as possible without leaving myself open to any vulnerabilities that would cut me too deep to expose. Being honest about my looks isn’t one of those off-limits vulnerabilities. I was teased mercilessly for my looks in Junior High and then I became a feminist and proudly non-conformist and I remain so to this day. I don’t look like a hipster because I don’t like to signal my “individuality” to the world through my clothing anymore, and I don’t look normal, because I still have hairy armpits and bad teeth. These have all been deliberate decisions, just like looking sort of ugly (to deflect the expectation of stereotypically feminine behavior) was, when I was in high school. I often think of the line from T.S. Eliot’s “Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,”: There will be time, there will be time/To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet.
When I moved away for college, all of a sudden, people would allude to my good looks, even calling it beauty sometimes, as if it were an objective fact. This sort of killed my actual real self-confidence throughout my late teens and most of my twenties, replacing my actual belief in myself with a cocky fake belief in the face I prepared to meet the faces that I met. I usually feel confident taking what’s owed me: when someone tries to bully me at work, or when someone who clearly thinks they’re more important because they’re rich tries to cut in line, I very directly keep them in check; but when I was a teen, I did so with the knowledge that I don’t deserve to be stepped on like I was in Junior High. In contrast, when I took what I was owed during the golden decade when people thought I was pretty, it was with the hope that each person I confronted would think I was pretty enough to let me get away with it. I used my effortlessly cute bedhead and disgustingly bony skinniness (so prized by cute boys who like women to still look like little girls) to pile up more and more compliments; oh my god, this is what it feels like to be longed for, I was always thinking to myself, meanwhile casting my pearls before swine, as a friend recently said of this period of my life.
The people I ran into at the zine fest had known me when I was boldly gawky or generally considered pretty, and neither of these are true of me anymore, at least not right now. I am a frazzled office worker and devoted mother, and I don’t have time to prepare a face to meet the faces that I meet, and I also know that there are more important things than that. I presented myself at the zine fest with a fat tummy not pushed in with Spanx and clothes I bought from Target because they were cheap and were next to the bread on sale that I was buying at the time. I need to be this practical, I feel, to help keep my beautiful family in organic cotton clothes for my son’s sensitive skin and organic food for his lovely insides, and tons of nice Christmas gifts for my husband, to let him know he’s appreciated. I do deserve better than to be cooped up in an office all day, or to buy cheap clothes that are probably made overseas in sweatshops, which, in theory at least, I deeply oppose. But right now I’m trying to catch up with all the practical necessities I put off for so long. So I have a fat tummy and my bedhead doesn't look cute anymore and I never have time to fix it up, and nobody I ran into on Sunday showed any signs of thinking “Wow, Robin’s still punk,” or, “Geez, she’s still pretty, and rail thin – how does she do it?”
I have aged.