When I was 13, my mother finally said yes and gave in to my then-lifelong wish for curly hair. As a child, my hair was so straight that my grandmother used to tell me I couldn't make it wavy even if I stuck my finger in an electric socket. I was smart enough to have never tried that. Instead, I got a perm. I thought those curls would be the answer to all my prayers. They weren't. The perm made my hair look frizzy and beyond horrible. I tried to wash it out the very same night that I got the coveted perm and then had most of the curls -- I mean frizz -- cut off soon thereafter.
I also hated being tall. I was almost always the tallest girl in my class, which made those awkward middle school dances even more awkward. I spent much of the sixth grade as hunched over as I could in between my mother yelling at me to stand up straight and show off my "beautiful figure." Some figure, I thought -- string bean-like and flat-chested.
Then there was my true nemesis -- my freckles. Remember when Jan Brady stood in the old Jack and Jill bathroom she shared with Marcia, Cindy, Greg, Peter and Bobby and vigorously scrubbed lemon juice on her cheeks, hoping they would get rid of her freckles? That was me. I wanted to be the new Jan Brady -- to reinvent myself with a new look -- anything but the one that was my own. I tried everything I could to get rid of those damn freckles, to no avail. At the beginning of every school year, the freckles seemed to be in full force thanks to a summer spent outside in the sun.
Flash-forward several decades to my adult self. My hair is still straight. I can detect a slight wave if I let it air dry on a really humid day. Yet now, I kind of like it straight. I even have a flat iron for those really humid days, a fact that my grandmother would never believe even if she were around to see it. I'm still tall -- almost always the tallest woman in any group of other women I find myself in. And I'm okay with that, too. After years of wearing ballet flats, I've come to embrace the wedge and even the platform high heel. I no longer slouch. I don't think my mother would believe that either if she were here to see it.
My face is still freckled. The patches on my cheeks are visible all year long and now really come out in full force after a sunny vacation and those now treasured summer months. I don't wear makeup to cover them up. In fact, I had to explain to the woman helping me at a cosmetics store that I don't wear any kind of foundation or tinted cream. I like the freckles and the rosy cheeks. They are a part of me. I think it's cute when my dad refers to me as his "freckled Rach."
I'm also still flat-chested -- relatively speaking, that is, and I'm good with that. I wonder now why I counted the days until I could fill out a bra as a young teenager. After decades of wearing bras, buying bras and readjusting bra straps, I can definitely tell my younger self that it's nothing to write home about. My small chest makes it easier for me to take long runs, stand on my head during yoga class and wear just about any tank top in the summer and turtleneck in the winter.
Don't get me wrong; I'm not saying that I have the perfect looks or anything like that. Not at all! I've just kind of learned to live with and even embrace my looks for what they are -- uniquely mine. They are part of who I am, for better or for worse. I am very cognizant of this, especially now around my soon-to-be 9-year-old daughter. Even at her young age I hear whispers at play dates and birthday parties about that girl's pretty blonde hair or the other girl's beautifully painted nails. How could my daughter and her friends not be aware of these looks? So many of them grace the pages of magazines and are splashed across our television screens.
Again, don't get me wrong; I'm not saying that that my daughter or any girl or woman, for that matter, should not want to look pretty. I always try to look my best, and I feel just as great as any girl after a good blowout or the successful purchase of a cute new outfit. I'm not a prude in the fashion department -- not in the least bit. I like to keep up on trends and follow them when they suit me. But I no longer follow a trend just to follow it or yearn for an unattainable look like the younger me once did.
I read the fashion magazines, yet take them with a grain of salt aware of the airbrushing and the plastic surgery on so many of the movie stars whose old looks I envied over the years. No judgment, just awareness.
I try to teach that awareness to my daughter when the opportunity arises. I happily braid her wet hair some nights before bed so that it will have even the tiniest wave in it the next morning as she wishes. But I remind her about the beauty in her own pin straight hair.
She likes her freckles, counting them and eagerly searching for more with me at the end of one of those long summer days. When she does this, I can't help but think of all of the time and agony I could have saved if only I counted the freckles instead of trying to scrub them away. Jan Brady could have too.
I hope more girls and women too will do that -- count the freckles, the laugh lines, the straight hairs, the curly hairs, whatever it is we have that makes us us.