I'll be the first person to admit that I am not like my peers. I never have been. I never will be. The majority of the time--99% of the time, even--I am quite alright with that. I can fit in enough to...well...fit in enough, but I am definitely different. Most of the time, actually, I don't even think about it anymore because I hang with people on the same wavelength as me. My friends are people who get it, and get me, and are people I feel good around. I guess that's why we're friends.
This weekend, though, I had a holiday party thing I had to go to for work, and I stayed with some of my colleagues from work--friends from work--who invited me to stay and go to a Christmas festival near their apartment the following day. What fun! I love working with these folks. They make great colleagues, we laugh, we help each other out, we support one another, and we serve as sounding boards and idea generators for one another. I could not ask for better people to work with.
So I went, I hung out, we had fun, we laughed a lot, and I came home. Driving home yesterday afternoon, though, I had this distinct sinking feeling in my stomach. It had been coming for a while and had been building throughout the afternoon. I ignored it, because I knew I had fun, I knew spending the weekend with them was better than spending the weekend at home in SmallTownUSA by myself, and I knew my friends had fun as well. What's the problem?
I'm not good at ignoring things for long, though. My mind likes me to think things to death, and if I attempt to avoid that, it only serves to make it worse. So I started thinking.
My friends, Amanda*, Sarah*, and Matt*, were the primary cool kids I hung out with this weekend. Other people were there at various points, but Amanda, Sarah, Matt and I were the fearless four who went adventuring. Amanda and Sarah are, in a word, gorgeous. They both in different ways exemplify our culture's ideas of beauty. Although we were just going to a street festival in the cold where people drank beer and bought gingerbread cookies, Amanda spent at least half an hour doing her make-up before we left. She straightened her hair. She tried on three different outfits before settling on the skinny jeans, tall boots, sweater with a cowel neck and a belt that emphasized her skinny waist, and I swear to all that is holy, her purse matched her boots. When we met up with Sarah, she was also in the skinny jeans, with boots, a cute holiday-ish shirt, and an adorable little peacoat. Every hair was in place, her eyelashes were aligned, and she had a cute little purse that Amanda flipped over. Their jewelry all matched and I'd bet money that their underwear matched their bras. And Matt? He wore a red shirt with a black tie and a pullover sweater so he looked like he stepped out of an L.L.Bean catalog. I was, without a doubt, the ugly friend. If I'm honest with you--and I do believe in honesty--I spent much of my time walking around focused on the fact that I was the bruised or misshapen banana in this bunch, and praying to the Goddess-of-Women-Who-Don't-Fit-In that nobody had a camera in their adorable, shoe-matching bag.
To be fair, I was at a distinct disadvantage because I had only what I had packed, did not have access to my full wardrobe or make-up or accessories, and...let's get real. Even if I had, I wouldn't have looked like that because that's not how I dress. My hair is always in some sort of disarray, my body is far from perfect, my accessories never match, and I don't own any matching bra and underwear sets. Sure I'll wear some mascara, but that's typically the extent of the makeup, and my eyes are terrible and have been rejecting of any contact I have tried in the past 5 years, so I seem to be stuck with glasses until I can afford Lasik. To make me feel even better, Amanda and Sarah commented routinely on their appearance, asked one another for opinions, and commented on how much they had eaten, or hadn't eaten, and which clothes were going to fit or not fit after the upcoming holiday season. When Sarah posed questions about what to wear to an upcoming winter wedding, and which purse would match her dress, Amanda was able to think it through and come up with an answer. Me? I just agreed with whatever was said as I, honestly, have no opinion or experience to offer on whether a clutch with feathers or a clutch with sequins would be better with a black strapless dress with gold sequins and a little poof in the skirt at a winter wedding. (The answer, for anyone curious, was feathers).
So we're walking down the street and we started going into stores along the very expensive stretch of road we walked along. There were jewelry stores, purse stores, shoe stores, and expensive cupcake stores. There were random expensive clothing stores, insanely expensive furniture stores, and another jewelry store. We walked through the festival, sometimes going into stores to warm-up, and it was in these stores that my sinking stomach feeling originated. See, when women shop together, I've found, we all comment on what we see and what we love and what we don't like and what we can't imagine anyone ever buying. This proves difficult, however, when the women you are with act like they would buy out the store in a heartbeat and, had someone given you a thousand dollars upon entering the store and told you to buy whatever you like, you would have left empty-handed. There is something in me that just can't justify ever spending that much money on a purse. And the shoes? I would either break my leg, wobble like an elephant on stilts, or never get my foot in the damn things to begin with.
But you know, even being the ugly friend, even having nothing to say about the $500 purses, and even being the only one who didn't try on a pair of $185 heels didn't bug me as much as this: the signs/mugs/plaques. You know what I'm talking about? They have signs like these in all cute little shops. They can say anything, but these signs held primarily quotes about lipstick and shoes and what it "means" to be a woman. What women should be like. The way, supposedly, that women are. "A girl should be two things: fabulous and classy," said one, with pictures of high heels and lipstick around it. "Shoes are the foundation of all fashion," said another. My friend pointed to it, and nodded knowingly. "That is so true," she said. I nodded. "Yup," I said. One can only crack so many jokes to avoid the awkwardness, and one can only disagree so many times. "Just around the corner in every woman's mind - is a lovely dress, a wonderful suit, or entire costume which will make an enchanting new creature of her." "A dress makes no sense unless it inspires men to want to take it off you." The quotes were endless. My friends agreed, "yes, that's TOTALLY true." I laughed with them. As The Ugly Friend, it seemed only appropriate: one can't be The Ugly Friend and also disagree about things every woman wants! That would indicate being perhaps a hopeless cause, or worse.
At one point, I was desperate for some sort of validation. As Matt and I stood waiting for Sarah and Amanda, I pointed to a sign that said something to the effect of "All a woman needs is a good pair of heels and some great lipstick." I nudged him and motioned towards the sign: "I've gotta tell you," I said, "I just don't buy it." I motioned in the direction of the $500 purses. "And that? I just can't understand."
"Oh," said Matt. "Huh."
"Yeah," I said. "Just not how I was raised, I guess."
"Hmm," he said. "Every woman I've ever known went crazy for this stuff."
And just like that, the final bottoming out of my stomach happened. Perhaps, because I was different, because I don't wear skinny jeans and match my earrings to my purse and my purse to my shoes, perhaps I am less of a woman. That feeling--that feeling of being less of a woman, of not quite meeting the criteria I am supposed to fulfill to keep that title--is what stuck with me in the car ride on the way home. I am different, and somehow less than, and not what I am supposed to be.
It's not anything my friends said or did. If anything, it's my own insecurity playing out and has nothing to do with them, but it's also the effect of a society that has taught men and women alike that, just as "all men" are macho and strong and manly and brave, women are interested in shoes, moody, cry at the drop of a hat, are sweet, and match their lipstick with their purse. When people--such as myself--don't fill that stereotype, and are among people who either fill that stereotype because that is genuinely who they are or because they drank the Kool-Aid, the only logical conclusion that can come up in the moment, sometimes, is that they are less than what is expected. Are there women out there who love fashion and shoes and lipstick? Absolutely. Is there anything wrong with that? Of course not. Is this trend representative of all women? No.
I don't generally mind marching to the beat of a different drummer. Sometimes, though I wish the drummer would just, at the very least, be in tune with the music of the others around me.
*All names have been changed.