Letting Go of (and holding on to!) Awkward Stages
"You know... your Instagram account is just... bangin!" said an ex-boyfriend a few years ago to me, as we sat in his Asheville kitchen during the height of quarantine.
"You are extremely hot, Kristie. You are the only person who doesn't see that. You still think of yourself as the awkward teenager with all those issues, but that isn't you anymore..."
"When are you going to realize that's not you anymore?"
Truth be told, there were many years in which I was barely able to tread above my own insecurities. Throughout my teenage years, my appearance was pretty much... standard for a teenager! Braces, zits on and off, weight fluctuations (remember those girls who "couldn't seem to gain weight"? SO not me...), contending with 90s jeans (made for flat butts, mine was NOT), laughed at when I gushed about Queen and other glam rock (as I am wont to do).
Even before that, I was hyper-aware of how much I lacked in the looks and popularity department. My best friend in 5th-6th grade was poached at 13 to become a fashion model; she subsequently dumped my non-modelesque ass for the exclusive chainsmoking nymph crowd: 13 year-olds with older sisters who helped them dress, sneak into the Limelight, and find hot boyfriends. (Cause that was the thing to BE at 13, where I grew up...)
I found a bit of relief in my all-girls high school where I could focus on writing and acting - two things I loved most in life. Some tweaking of my eating habits helped me flourish into a lithe young miss with long, long hair... sitting in a traffic jam one day, a car full of teenage guys opened their window to ask if I would consider going out with one of them. I totally loved / believed it, too, because I was definitely looking righteous that summer.
And then college happened: 1996. I gained weight, cut my hair short like a gorgeous rocker chick I knew (who at the time had an amazing countenance and body - and the hottest indie boy with curly hair I had seen to date at her lunch table every day), and settled into being part of the scenery. One very nice but not attractive guy made attempts to date me, and got all his hot friends to try to vouch for him (imagine being approached by a bunch of hot guys because they want you to date their unattractive friend... not a great moment in life!). Instead of caving from peer pressure to date men I wasn't attracted to, I held my own. I knew I would emerge from my ugly phase again, as I had in high school. With no courtship prospects, I wrote, I acted, and I became the best platonic friend / chainsmoking writing partner to all the then-hot indie boys and hoped one day I could waltz in and out of their lives like the hot rocker chick did, with all of them. (#HERO)
And so on and so forth through the years. Living in China for the first time and gaining weight, acne reemerging - amidst gorgeous young Chinese women. Going to grad school and getting hit on by a hot MFA-type but then getting dismissed after he found a gorgeous indie queen. Coming back to Washington DC yet again with a bad haircut, and no dating options. My looks and body fluctuated so much that I wondered when the point of no return would be: would I just eventually lose my potential altogether? (And what was up with those women who at 30 still looked amazing with no effort? Oh, just you wait for 35 :)
In 2015, I finally cried uncle. I grew my hair back for good, committed to exercise and skincare, and the rest has been smooth sailing...
Except that my body and mind remember all of my ugly duckling phases. It creeps in, always, to remind me that no matter how beautiful I am now, for many years, I was NOT. And so, when a good-looking, successful man enters my orbit, like my ex, I immediately think - what does he see in me? (other than all my inner qualities which only stokes the flames so much!) How long will this really last?
As a Taurus, I am stubborn and rooted in this earth. I take myself, my relationships, my success, and my looks, with utter seriousness. I feel it deeply when I am "letting myself down" - a minor weight gain, a decision gone wrong, a job not won, a friendship breaking apart. I look at these things and I say, "What can I do differently NEXT TIME to avoid this outcome?"
In essence, over the years, I have viewed my fluctuations and changes as failures, rather than for what they really were: opportunities to turn inward and develop myself.
For example... Chinese. Would I have learned Mandarin to the level I had if I had been a ridiculously gorgeous young woman back then? Probably not. I would have found a Peace Corps boyfriend, gone all in, and perhaps today would be married to this person. All the while, I would have been speaking English, spending Saturdays with said Peace Corps boyfriend, cooking breakfast and watching movies, sweet times that would have led to ... nothing I would have wanted today.
Another example (which floored me): I recently was brought back into the orbit of a then-gorgeous ex of mine from '99, a guy from Norway (half-Lebanese too, could he seriously be any hotter?). This then-24-year old drummer and national rock celeb (not a hard status to obtain in Norway), with his full head of lovely caramel hair and a perfect 1990s cherub rock face, was devastatingly gorgeous. You can imagine how equally devastated I was when he broke it off; I lamented for a number of years that I couldn't secure a marriage proposal from him.
Fast forward to 2022: we are now both in our 40s, me with my mermaid hair and #hotbody4life he with ... and did I mention my long hair? I imagine us meeting up and him saying, "We have both aged, haven't we?" to assuage himself. But the truth is, only one of us looks like we are in our 40s. Looks aside, would I have wanted to be the wife of a tired-looking doctor now? With his kids and all? Well, no, no, no, no, no, no, NO!
I reflected upon this concept with a (ridiculously and timestoppingly) beautiful man I traveled with recently: As young women, we often think we know exactly what we want, only to find out... it isn't really what we want.
We say we want a family, we say we want partners, we say we are in love and that's forever and for always... (#CSN). We think we know that a certain decision based in luck and timing will be the be-all-and-end-all, we see ourselves and potential partners as never growing old or changing. But, we always, always change. People we are in love with today will inevitably change and if we are truly invested, we will be ok with that; often times, though, we are just looking for the beauty in someone else that we have yet to see inside our own selves.
Straying back to the topic at hand: it is certain that I have changed beyond measure since my teenage / young adult years. But, the most beautiful parts of my life and who I truly became as a person happened when I was not the focal point of anyone's life; when I was not pretty enough to be distracted by people I would eventually outgrow, outpace, and no longer be interested in.
Awkward Kristie is the reason today why I'm not just a very attractive middle-aged woman who looks much younger than 44. I am interesting, I have choices, and I know, I am all that. The secret to the sauce: letting go of the awkwardness without letting go of the beautiful person that emerged from it.