An Over-Analysis of My Obsession with What You Think of Me (Part 2)
Flawed Thinking, But Now You Know It’s Flawed
Once I got back from the PCT, I was faced with a lot of new decisions. Here was a storage unit full of all this stuff I’d left behind to go hike. It was all as I’d left it, but I was different. But… how different was I, really? I’d gone six months without shaving my legs or my armpits, without plucking my eyebrows or coating my eyelashes in black goop, without cramming my toes into a pointed silhouette and lifting my heels up a precarious four to six inches, because that was not what one did on the trail. I adapted to my surroundings, to my new crowd. I felt free in this act of doing so much less, but it was based more on an external awareness of what was acceptable where I was, not on any deep awareness that this was the change I wanted for myself.
That awareness came later, after I’d moved back to Dallas and found the mascara and the concealer and the uncomfortable but ~super cute~ high heels. Again, I adapted to my surroundings. Back in a world where women remove their body hair and darken their eyelashes and lighten their under-eyes and walk around literally and figuratively on their tiptoes, I reshaped myself to fit the mold I thought I needed - thought I wanted - to fit. It turned out six months of leaning into my natural state hadn’t transformed me into this Age of Aquarius demi-goddess who doesn’t give a shit what anyone thinks, not permanently anyway.
I already knew at this point to do what felt right for me, and my experience on the trail had further cemented that knowledge, so why wasn’t I doing it? As I swung back to the opposite end of the spectrum of self-editing, regularly wearing makeup and a bra because I thought I’d like to fit in, I realized I didn’t actually like what I was doing. And, beyond that, I had absolutely no reason to do it other than trying to comply with what I thought other people required of me.
The thing is, no one’s ever said to my face, “I want you to wear makeup. I want you to have smooth, hairless legs and make your fingernails a color.” Society and the media smooshed those standards into my head a long time before I was making decisions for myself, but now that I am, I’m beginning to realize how colossal a waste of my time it is to do anything for the sake of trying to fit in with a societal expectation. I’ll never please everyone, and, in fact, I’ll continue to let myself and the people who matter down if I mask my true self in an attempt to.
So, I’ve identified that I haven’t been doing what I want. But what do I want? So far, it’s been easier for me to identify what I don’t want than what I do. I thought I liked the way I looked with makeup, but several weeks back to wearing the stuff taught me I like the way I look better once I take it off. And I hate taking it off. I thought I liked the way I looked wearing a bra under all my clothes, but several weeks back to wearing a bra every day taught me I hate wearing a bra, and I only have a few tops that actually look any better with one underneath.
Those superficial examples are the ones that tend to stand out since they’re so physically apparent, but I’ve started to look past the realm of outward appearances and behaviors, interrogating my actions and decisions in order to differentiate between what I’m doing for me because I like it and what I’ve been doing for no logic- or joy-based reason beyond lifelong conditioning and a desire to fit in. Paying close, obsessive attention to politics and current events so I can participate in “intellectual” conversations? More stress than it’s worth. Keeping up with the shows everyone’s watching? Boring, addictive waste of time. Buying whatever new version of white canvas shoe has become popular? Waste of money. I’m tired of consuming for consuming’s sake. I want to consume intentionally and honor how I really feel about shit.
The next step is having the confidence to be true to myself and actually not care if it makes me different or abnormal or a piece that doesn’t fit the puzzle or whatever. There’s a big difference between self-knowledge and the confidence to wear with pride what you’ve discovered about yourself, and I’ve struggled to embrace myself as the person I know I want to be. Much as I want to not care, I still yearn for the approval of others.
Even after hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, an experience that I thought “should” make me flamboyantly proud of the ways in which I’m different, I’ve felt this obtuse need for confirmation that every choice was an “okay” one to make. I only became confident not wearing a bra in public after noticing a few of my coworkers obviously not wearing one at work. “Oh, so that’s acceptable,” I said to myself. “Cool!” After weeks of knowing full well I wanted to stop wearing makeup, I only actually stopped wearing it after a few conversations in which my tendency to not wear much makeup was mentioned with a noticeable tone of approval. “Oh, this person doesn’t think I need to wear much makeup,” I’d think. “I guess I can stop now!”
I never shaved my armpit hair after getting off the trail. It’s one of the only physical things that’s remained the same from trail to conventional society. But I’ve also not let anyone see it. Even though it’s there, it might as well not be, and I feel weirdly guilty knowing it’s not a choice I’ve made to be true to what I want for myself (which is to not feel the need to remove my body hair based on some arbitrary societal standard), but a non-choice based on the fact that it’s winter and I’m wearing sleeves and no one is going to see my pit hair to be able to judge me for it. I haven’t gone all in yet, but I want to do so, confidently. I want to make the choice. I want to wear a tank top in public and reach for something on a high shelf without fear of what someone will think when they see the choice I’ve made. I want to do it because I’m doing it goddamnit, whether or not I’ve seen someone else I admire doing it. Whether or not it’s “acceptable.”
I don’t have this figured out yet. I still care what you think, all of you, honestly. But I do know I’ve made it to a point in my life where I genuinely care about more than that, and thank god I have. It’s exhausting trying to meet a million different standards. It’s pointless bouncing back and forth between identities that have nothing to do with who you really are. It’s frustrating and depressing and stagnating. I’ll likely go through many more cycles of forgetting and rediscovering this truth as I learn more about myself and who I want to be in this life, but whatever that ends up being, I know it’ll be a hell of a lot more than just acceptable.