Saturday, May 26, 2012

Conforming--or Not--and Coping

Despite my better judgement, I've continued to listen to punk rock on the way to work:  Bad Religion, the Clash, the Violent Femmes, the Ramones.  I've thought about the non-conformists that I've met throughout the years.  I've thought about my own years of resisting becoming what the greater culture told me I should be; sure, I read Seventeen magazine and Glamour, but I read them more to avoid becoming that kind of female than to pick up beauty and fashion tips.

Some of you might say I internalized that process a bit too well.

Or maybe I'm just sloppy.  I prefer to think of it as having set priorities.  I'm not going to spend hours every week ironing.  I'll put on some lipstick, but I'm not going to take a half hour or more every night before bedtime to moisturize.

Or maybe I'm lucky to be blessed with relatively good skin.

It will be interesting to see if these priorities change as I get older.  Will I spend more time coloring my hair as more gray comes in?  Will I spend more time smoothing creams on my skin as I see more creases and wrinkles?

My dermatologist would jump right in to remind me that I don't spend enough time on sunscreens now.  He's right.  I don't like lotions, so my beauty regimens, such as they are, avoid those things.  I have more sensitivity to smell than lots of people, so chemical smells are often a problem for me, as are most cosmetic and soap smells.

I will, however, tolerate the noxious fumes if I can have a bit of brightness added to my hair.  Yes, I realize the contradiction.  I realize the cost:  I could buy a lot of mosquito netting that would help African children avoid malaria for the cost of the coloring my hair that I do several times a year.

I found myself thinking about my own aesthetic ideas of beauty and art yesterday as I read the various people commenting on the controversy erupting in the young, gay, male art scene in New York City (go here for a succinct timeline of the controversy with links; go here for further elucidation by one of the poets who kicked off the conversation with an interview in The New York Times).  It may take you back to the horrors of young adulthood and remind you of why you're happy to have made it safely to the other side.

It's interesting to be at midlife and find our relationships with our physical selves changing.  When I was young, I felt myself at war with my body and its tendency to hang on to more weight than I wanted it to (oh, those infernal last 5 pounds).  Now that I'm older, I'm more at peace, and profoundly grateful not to be facing some of the challenges that my friends have faced or are facing:  cancers of all sorts, diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, herniated disks, the list goes on.

The other day, I found myself wondering if those of us who resist conforming find ourselves with coping skills we didn't expect later.  I've spent a lot of time thinking about what our culture tells me I should want (beauty, endless youth, fame, money) and my own values.  I've thought about what I want (time to create, a life lived with integrity, social justice) and what to do when what I want conflicts with what the culture tells me I should want.

I work in higher education, a field facing job losses and reorganization and shrinking futures.  I wonder if my past as a sneering adolescent has better prepared me for this time than someone who has spent their whole life trying to maintain appearances, trying to afford an upper-middle-class existence.

Or maybe it's my apocalypse girl self, the one who's always scanning the horizon for the mushroom cloud, the one who stockpiles staples, the one who shudders at how easily the water supply can be disrupted--maybe she's the one who keeps me calm in the face of possible catastrophe.

1 comment:

Sandy Longhorn said...

I am sooooo glad to be on the other side and so much happier. I confess that I spent a good deal of my teens and twenties bemoaning my lack of New York style/beauty/hipness. Now, I'm finally at peace with my body and my beauty, non-pop culture approved such as it is.

Thanks for the thoughts on this.