Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Please Cancel My Subscription to Mean Vogue

If you ever took Psych 101, you probably studied the Nature vs. Nurture argument. Are our behaviors and habits innate or are they learned?

Two personality traits I've always possessed are an attention to small detail, and the perceived notion that the world notices small details about ME. Don't confuse this second trait with narcissism; I don't think the world revolves around me, I simply believe that flaws in my appearance, even the tiniest minutiae, are giant red flags that can't be missed...by anyone.

While I can credit my mom with teaching me to notice details, neither of my parents nor my older brother had a hand in my obssession with the outside world looking in on me. I can't recall ever being admonished to fix some small detail about myself so as not to embarass myself. None of them ever teased me that "everyone's going to look at you if you go out like THAT." But I can tell you that this feeling has always been with me. I present to you exhibit A:

One morning while getting dressed for kindergarten (age 4-1/2) my mom realized there was a hole in my opaque white tights. This was back when little girls still had to wear tights with dresses, as we didn't have the much more comfortable and realistic cotton leggings that little girls have today. So she had to improvise and dress me in a pair of lace-pattern tights. This might have been fine for church or with another dress, but with the flower print dress I was already wearing, lace tights were ALL WRONG. Too fancy, the patterns clashed, it just wasn't right. But time was of the essence, and despite my protests, off to school I went with my lacy legs.

In kindergarten we always opened the day with reciting the Pledge of Allegiance and singing a few patriotic songs (it was 1976, the year of the Bicentennial). Normally I loved to sing along, but this particular morning I couldn't participate because I was bawling my eyes out. This was unusual so a teacher tried asking me what was wrong, but between my gasps and the noise of the other students singing, she could not understand me. Escorting me into a quieter room, Miss Sherry knelt down and attempted to help me catch my breath so I could tell her what was wrong. Bewteen gasps I finally stuttered, "My...tights..(gasp)...don't match..(gasp)...my dress!!!"

Miss Sherry immediately dropped her head, and at the time I thought she was looking down at my tights to confirm that they indeed looked ridiculous with my dress. But in hindsight I realize she was probably hiding her face so that the hysterical child wouldn't see her stifling a smile.

I don't remember what she said to me then, but somehow I was convinced to go back to class and that everything was going to be okay.

So where did this appearance obssession originate? Why was a 4-1/2-year-old histrionic over legwear? Did my mom read a Vogue magazine while pregnant and the information transferred to me in utero? Did some random older kid laugh at me as a toddler when I had rice cereal drooling down my face and it flipped an appearance awareness switch in my brain?

Looking at me today (or even much of growing up) I'm not the innovative fashion maven, and I was never voted Best Dressed. Even now I don't wear a lot of makeup because I never learned how. But if you could see into the little factory that is my brain, there would always be a department devoted to analyzing incoming potential insults, and a tandem department devoted to damage control and neutralizing those perceived insults.

Sometimes purposely going out in public "looking ugly" (a phrase my husband hates) is therapeutic, sometimes it makes me feel worse.

The feeling of having eyes on me is always there and always has been. It's like an accessory I can't take off, a barrette stuck in my tangled hair. Most days I can hide it, but it still pulls at me.


  1. Do you think park of how you feel is because you grew up in the south? When I am down there all that "need to look perfect" even to run to the store comes flooding back. Out here in Portland, not so much. It was just two years ago my mother scolded me for not wearing pantyhose to a funeral in July.

  2. The South...VB....VBHS...take your pick. Funny I still argue with myself on pantyhose.
    We're considering visiting Portland later this year, you just gave me a new reason to want to!