Sunday, September 4, 2016

44, The Year of ZFG

I can’t decide if the hair was the cause or the effect, but this:

Is definitely the official hairstyle of Zero Fucks Given.  As I’ve described before, I began my transition to grey hair on the day my father died.  What I may not have described is the decades of hand-wringing that went into that eventual decision.

I found my first grey hair when I was away at summer swim camp.  I was 12.  By 23, I was sporting enough grey hair that, when I finally dyed it, a coworker gushed, “Oh, honey, that hair color takes 10-15 years off of you!”  “So I look like I’m 10?” I asked.  The confused look on his face made me realize that he honestly had no idea how old I was—or more to the point, wasn’t. 

After my first divorce, at the age of 25, I chopped my hair into a short pixie and let the grey grow out.  I noticed an immediate shift in the people who hit on me.  More women for starters, but also a different subset of men.  Some older, some younger, but all had a certain non-conformist streak.  And that’s when I realized the value of Appearance As Filter.
Appearance cuts both ways, as I explain to my children when we discuss the impact of clothing choices on how we are perceived.  I was going to make a cheap comment about the career-limiting impact of facial tattoos, but it’s more useful to note how it plays out in far subtler ways.
As someone who grew up in a rural and lower-middle-class environment but attended school in a quasi-urban and upper-middle-class one, I got a crash course early on in “what you look like affects how people treat you.”  Anyone who grew up in a rural area—or speaks with a certain accent, say southern or Appalachian, knows all too well the look of Bless your heart condescension frequently doled out by the more urbane.  I would tell you the story about the time I wore a personalized trout-fishing ball cap to school on jeans day, but I probably need a little more therapy before I can go there.

So when I go to a possibly contentious parent-teacher meeting, or a doctor’s appointment with a physician who doesn’t know me, or to buy a car or an appliance where I suspect I may encounter a sexist salesperson, I dress in a way that I think will encourage the other person to take me seriously.  I focus on my posture.  I modulate my diction and break out the ACT-words.  Not because any of this makes me a better or more worthwhile person, but because 30+ years of experience have taught me that it will increase the odds that I will be treated as such.

Which is why, when I was 29 and vaguely pregnant and someone mistook me for my husband’s mother rather than his wife, I collapsed right along with my self-esteem and started coloring my hair.  And then allowed the next 15 years to be partially consumed by a preoccupation with my ROOTS, not in the important where-do-I-come-from sense, but in the “People will think less of me if they see that the proximal ½” of my hair shafts lack pigment” sense.  I tried growing it out a half-dozen times or so during those years, and every time I’d get about 1.5” grown out before I would lose my nerve and break out the Clairol.  I just couldn’t imagine being able to hold my head high with grey hair.  Not feeling old.  Not being treated differently, like I was somehow less vibrant, capable, or sophisticated.  Less anything.  I worried that men wouldn’t find me attractive, strangers would think I was my kids’ grandmother, my employer would feel like I didn’t meet spec any longer.

Until my dad died.  I don’t know why that flipped the switch, but spending the last few weeks of his life actively and consciously helping him through the process of dying had a way of making everything else seem…trite in comparison.  As we watched his body and brain succumb to the almost unimaginable triple-diagnosis of frontotemporal dementia, motor neuron disease, and finally ductal pancreatic cancer, his hair remained thick, glorious, and unapologetically white until the very end.

So I took a deep breath and went grey.

And somehow this seemingly superficial transition became the Official Hairstyle of ZFG.  And with it, I was able to stop giving a lot of other fucks, as well.  For instance, I have a wrinkle in the middle of my forehead, between my eyebrows.  I hate this wrinkle.  I hate it because—unlike laugh lines or those lines around my mouth, I feel like it makes me look mean; in fact my ex-husband used to call it the “Goddammit, kids!” wrinkle. I hate it so much I actually considered Botox, despite my aversion to all things medical and my obsessive reading of potential but highly unlikely side effects (“migration!”).  I queried all of my friends who had Botox about how life-changing and totally not paralyzing it was.   Finally my younger daughter talked me out of it by saying that she would disown me if I got Botox, and I needed to just accept my wrinkle and get on with my life.  But I still hated it.  I obsessed about it every morning and wore Frownies to bed every night.   

But with the Official Hairstyle of ZFG, I honestly don’t even think about my wrinkle.  I also spend less time thinking about how my boobs sag, how upset someone will be if I say “no” to a request, and how guilty I feel about—well—almost everything.  And maybe better yet, it’s still a powerful filter.  I’m no longer worried about who will or won’t like me, I just let the filter do its work, letting people in or keeping them out according to how they self-select.

I should have done it years ago. 

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