I have nothing on my face except sunscreen. I haven’t shaved my legs in enough days to make the neighbors uncomfortable. I have yet to take a shower today, even after a long run in the hills. I think small animals have begun to nest in my wild, frizzy hair (it’s the humidity people, the humidity). I have dirt under my fingernails, horse hair stuck to my sweaty arms and yet another wood-tick crawling on my pants.
And I am loving every minute of this stinky day.
It’s not the first day I’ve spent like this since officially moving out here a couple weeks ago. In fact, I’ve spent more days than not, shall we say, au-natural. And this is how it used to be for me. Back before I discovered that maybe a little mascara wouldn’t hurt anyone, carrying a purse is convenient as well as fashionable, and yes, I should probably wear a bra in public (that is the decent, Christian thing to do). See, I was a bit of a tom boy growing up, but most wouldn’t peg me as one now. Because, I was also blessed with a mother who has an eye for fashion and worked pretty hard to make sure her girls looked the cute part in public.
Thank God for her really.
When I first began singing with my dad, on stages, in front of people, my mom was charged with the gift of dressing me. And I had a strict idea of what I should be dressed like (wranglers, shirt buttoned up to the top, cowboy hat, belt, boots…I think we have gone here before with the whole 4-H thing? Yeah, that wasn’t just my uniform for the County Fair, that was my uniform for life…after I got over the whole leotard and tights thing…).
Anyway, my mother, God bless her again, would gently coax me to maybe undo the top button of my Garth Brooks inspired brush-popper, or try to tip my hat up a bit so people could see my eyes. She would bring some new outfits home from her travels and convince me to try them on, and depending on the day and the garment, I may or may not have agreed to add it to my wardrobe. During my first few real stage performances standing alongside dad, all of my nerves and anxiety would not be thrust into the fact that I was about to go up and play guitar in front of people for the first time, that would be too logical. I could have used that energy to practice a bit more, Lord knows I needed to. No, all my nervous energy was thrown at my outfit. And my poor mother would have to sit with me as I sprawled out on the bathroom floor of the venue, crying while I blamed her for the fact that I looked like a total dork, dweeb, loser face and asking her, while we were at it, why, why, why did you let me wear leotards and tights? I mean, that stuff is documented in family photo albums across the country!
But my mom never fought back. She was always about self expression in the form of fashion, whatever your fashion choice might be. She was a pageant queen and a dancer for crying out loud (how far apart in worlds could I possibly be from this graceful, dignified woman?) And with her quiet guidance, I eventually found my own style that was acceptable outside of Jazzercise classes and the rodeo arena. As I continued performing and went on to the big school in town where the styles looked a little more like “Saved by the Bell” than a country music video, I began to get the point. In High School I started to develop a love affair with shoes and that spiraled into purses and cheap sundresses and belts and heels and I went on to college and on the road with my music. I learned to manage my less than tame-able mane and cleaned up my style with the idea that I should always sport something that I won’t regret in photos years later. The neon western shirts never returned.
In my younger adult life I was fortunate enough to have some fun with my style, but as a professional woman who, until recently, worked in fundraising at a small college, I dressed the part. I wore heels and liked it. I wore a suit jacket and appropriate buttoned up shirts. I wore tights and dresses and ironed my clothes.
And I confused people.
When the email went out to my co-workers a few weeks before my scheduled departure about my plans to move back to the ranch where I grew up and begin “eco-tourism opportunities” I got a few curious inquiries and guests at my going away party. One person, in particular, made a special phone call to me to wish me well, but to mostly get the scoop. When I explained my situation, and convinced him that I was indeed excited to be moving back, and that yes, I ride horses and yes, I will be helping my dad and starting a business out here, his reaction was disbelief. He said he wouldn’t have guessed it. By the way I dressed, he always saw me as some sort of prim and proper prissy girl. Another person indicated that I looked a little too “uptight” to receive his typical going away gift (a framed portrait of himself), another told me I will have to start dressing the part out there if I wanted to convince people.
They thought I was full of shit.
Which got me thinking about appearances. It is like our clothing, our makeup, our hair is our invitation for people to read our book, to hear our story, to open our cover and take a look inside. None of these people who knew me only at the office, or as a fellow college student, or someone I just met at a bar or on the street, would have pegged me and my big damn hair and my strappy sandals as a woman who used to get shit canned off of a green-broke horse regularly during childhood or someone who really doesn’t mind snakes or heavy lifting (although “heavy” is really relative. Despite my upbringing, I have never actually developed any form of upper body strength or confidence with large machinery…in fact, once I nearly killed one of our hired men with a tractor, but I’ll explain myself later.)
But today, in my grass stained jeans, bare feet and unpainted face, I am reminded of the girl I used to be–or the girl I really am. The girl who paid no attention to the fact that her socks didn’t match. The girl who would wear the same shirt day in and day out because it was my favorite, dammit, and it had horses on it. The girl whose skin was brown from the sun soaked up from playing and working hard in the dirt, the girl with the fuzzy ringlets springing out of her ponytail, unwilling to be tamed, unwilling to conform, much like the girl herself.
And I am relieved. Like take a deep breath and hold back the tears relieved. Because I’d lost this girl for a little while. I’d lost her to career paths and paychecks and date nights and deadlines and making an impression that it turns out, I didn’t really want to make. I was working so damn hard to smooth out the wrinkles of who I really was without realizing how important those wrinkles were to me. I was going to the gym to tighten and tone a body that was meant not to sit in a chair behind a desk, but to shovel rock and brush horses and mow the lawn and get bucked off and run up to the top of the hill to see the view. With my buttoned up blouses and my hoop earrings, I was putting up a shield I was unaware of. A shield that was blocking out the best parts of me, not only from others, but from myself as well.
Now, don’t get me wrong here. This confusion will still remain I am sure. Because I like my fancy shoes and my purses and, because I finally got my ears pierced, my dangly earrings. I can strut my stuff with the best of them. But this wardrobe thing is an accent–my abstract book cover that entices you to read the back to get the gist of the plot.
Yes, some people will hear about what I’m doing and where I’m from and wonder why I’m walking around in impractical foot gear with a pile of bracelets on my arm. They will think I’m full of shit.
But you can be whoever the hell you want out here. The cows don’t care.
And I am not confused anymore.
I am a sweaty, muddy, perfumed, tattooed, mascaraed, diamond donning woman in great shoes with scrawny arms,mosquito bites, a bad tan line, chipped nail polish and well groomed eyebrows.
And I haven’t showered in days.