I still had buck teeth, knobby knees, and a 20 inch waist when Jenny Joseph included her 1961 poem, “Warning“ in her collection Rose in the Afternoon (1974). Years passed before I read Ms. Joseph’s post-war warning to live one’s life fully. However, that notion of being free to choose to ignore societal expectation – real or simply perceived – is as much a part of who I am as my height and eye color. At times recessive and others dominant, ignoring convention in order to express my true self is a gift I have been given right along with the right to vote, choose my partner, get an education, and all the other aspects of my life as a Caucasian woman born in the US in 1968.
Joseph’s warning that she plans on living, really living, regardless of expectations is a warning much like other warnings from bits of poems and novels and stories that swirl around my head when my house is dark and my mind gets thinking.
I like to think. I figure we all should, what with our opposable thumbs and ability to make love, war, and fire. Thinking is good. And thinking for one’s self is even better.
Last week, I was sitting on the bench at Papa Murphy’s waiting for my take-‘n-bake pizza to be hand-crafted just for me. I was thinking about dinner and my family and many other fleeting topics.
I had just finished pondering the number of floor tiles when a woman and her granddaughter sat next to me. Actually, the woman sat down as one does as a stranger: with one ass cheek precariously supporting one’s weight while the other droops off the bench in that universally known attempt to preserve one’s personal space bubble. That left the poor grandchild standing there, wondering just what the hell she was supposed to do with herself seeing as she was way too old to sit on her grandmother’s lap but to sit on the bench seemed taboo.
I skootched over a bit. Not enough to lose a ass-cheek over the edge, but I was definitely hugging it. “It’s okay, sit down,” I said and gestured to the bench between us. Her grandmother looked over and smiled, apparently deciding I was no threat.
I went back to thinking, this time about my pizza crafter appearing to scatter precisely 23 shreds of cheese over my equally precision-applied toppings.
And then the grandmother did something that happens to me more often than you’d expect.
“I love your hair,” she said. Her voice was wistful and breathy, like she was talking about something truly desirous instead of my hair. “I always wanted to wear my hair in a pixie, but my face is too wide for it.”
And she looked down at the fingers she was twisting in her lap like she had done something she needed to apologize for. Like having her face was a bad thing.
I stopped thinking about floor tile and shredded cheese and started thinking about her.
She is tall. Taller than me by a good six inches, putting her at about 5’8″ or 5’9″. Her hair was pulled back in a half-bun sort of thing, but the strands that weren’t included hung down her back. She was a red head where the box color still held onto her graying hair. That hair. It was thick and had wave to it. The baby hairs around her face were curly, not frizzy and seeing as how it was raining outside, this seemed like a significant fact.
Her face was a bit on the tired side until she smiled. Big eyes, big dimples, a wide smile. The kind of face you’d pass by in the grocery and possibly not notice but one that probably made a few hearts beat faster over the years.
“What do you mean, your face is too wide?” I asked her. But before she could answer, I told her what I believe is the truth.
“It’s your hair. Don’t you think by now you can wear it how you want? Besides, just about everything women ever hear about their bodies or selves is a lie anyway.”
My pizza hand-crafter called my name just then and I stood up to collect my half cheese, half pepperoni masterpiece. When I turned back, both the woman and her granddaughter were staring at me. I guess my voice sounded a little firm on the subject.
It wasn’t the grandmother’s hair or dimples that made me say the next thing though.
It was that pre-pubescent girl, sitting there next to her grandmother who gave her some of her genes, right down to her dimples and jawline.
“Besides, who cares what anybody thinks? Do what makes you happy. You only get one life; you might as well enjoy it.”
I’d like to think that the little girl, and all the little girls and boys as well, can feel the feminist poems and stories and ideas swirling in her bloodstream. That she thinks about all the things she can do in this life. But I’d really like to think that she doesn’t worry if her face is too wide for a hairstyle. Because, really, have you ever heard a more ridiculous thing in your life?
“Face too wide for short hair.” Ahem, faces are faces. And the last time I checked, it’s normal for male-identifying folks to wear their hair in a “pixie” regardless of jaw width. But even more important is this: why on earth do we limit ourselves because of some other person’s opinion, especially in terms of hair styles?
I, for one, am done with that noise. I pretty much always have been, but since hitting 45 six months ago, I really don’t care much anymore. It’s as if I blew out my candles and instead lit up my IDGAF gene. Not only am I finding I don’t care, I like this new, even more rebellious version of me.
Ladies, how many of you know what I’m talking about? You wake up one morning and you actually find yourself saying those five words: I Don’t Give a F@#$. I can’t say I’m 100% there on every subject, but on stuff like hairstyles, I’m so far past there, I’m lapping other folks.
I put on my work pants the other day, straight from the dryer and they were a tad snug. I thought for about 2 seconds about feeling badly about that and then I remembered, IDGAF. My body is fine. I wake up and everything works. My organs are strong. It grew and birthed three wonderful babies whom I adore. And when I want to go someplace, my body gets me there. My body is fine. In fact, it’s better than fine, it’s great. Because it tells the story of my 45 years here. And IDGAF if anybody has a problem with that.
I’ll have you know, I was standing there in my bedroom, one sock on and one dangling from my hand, and I realized that instead of the typical self-bashing, I totally just affirmed my body and used profanity, all before 8 am. It was a happy moment, let me tell you.
I feel like I’m finally waking my warrior woman inside. The one who’s always been in there whispering to me to do what I want with my hair, to wear what makes me comfortable, to speak up in class, to do all the things I’ve always been doing that has raised a few eyebrows. But now, she’s no longer whispering. Nope, she’s now telling the women sitting on benches to stop worrying about what other people think and to enjoy this one life we get to live.
I am worthy of a warning. Not that I’ll wear colors that don’t match or that I’ll don hats at any occasion. No, my warning should be this: Here is a woman who thinks for herself. You’ve been warned.