This summer during my house renovation, I pretty much lived in three pair of shorts, assorted ratty t-shirts, and my sneakers. Since all my earthly possessions were crammed in and piled up in my garage, on the rare occasion when I needed other clothing, I had to crawl over a mattress, squeeze between couches and then belly crawl under a table to get to the stack of clothes bagged up and stacked on a dresser. It didn’t happen very often and that was fine. Gypsum dust filled the air and wet paint was around every corner. My shorts and t-shirts were the perfect ensemble for that time and place.
As most of you know, the work went on forever and there were only a few days between when I shoved the last contractor out of the house and the start of school. The night before my first day of class, I hurriedly hung my work clothes back in my newly painted closet. The next day, I grabbed an old reliable, if somewhat boring, outfit and wore it to school. The next day I repeated the process, barely stopping in front of a mirror check out my bad self. I knew I didn’t feel great in my clothes, but after all, I had just been through all kinds of upheaval. These were my teaching outfits that I had worn for years. They were not very exciting but they had served me well in the past.
So there I was at the start of week three, walking up to my office when the maintenance man, who is one of my good friends who saw me through the mess of last year, stopped, stared and said, ‘What in the hell are you wearing? “ (Believe me, given his tone of voice and his facial expression, there was no way to misconstrue this comment as a compliment.) I looked down at my clothes and suddenly I saw them for what they were: a baggy dress and old lady shoes. What was I wearing anyway? These clothes that had fit me well before and were my idea of what I should be wearing as teacher no longer fit me in any way shape or form. I felt old. I felt schlumpy. I knew it was time to make a change.
Now, almost every woman who goes through a divorce loses weight. For me, it was a fairly dramatic nine pounds in one week, twelve pounds in total. I knew I looked skeletal, but the thought of eating made me sick to my stomach. I stayed that thin for some time. One day when I was wearing black tights and a long straight black dress, the same blunt friend said to me, “Lord, girl. You are one bun away from being Olive Oyl. For God’s sake, go get some clothes with some color and eat a pizza while you are at it.”
Now I am a pretty evolved woman. I totally understand that my worth does not depend upon my beauty, but when you are left behind by a man and he goes directly to another woman, all the anxiety about your looks that you thought you dealt with when you were twenty-two come back. When I closed my eyes at night, all the black cockroaches of insecurity came out to click and rattle in my head. Was I not pretty enough? Had I let myself go? Is that why he left? Was the other woman a beauty with no wrinkles whatsoever? In the light of day the stress and tension of the divorce showed on my face. I looked drawn and exhausted. I felt drained. No ego boost there. This summer while cleaning out the house, I came across all those pictures of me during the kid years. It was painful to look at some of them. There I was in the large glasses, the stringy hair, the bulky sweater with the catsup stains, proudly holding out a perfectly groomed, clean, impeccably dressed little boy who did not care one hoot how he looked. Was it possible that through time, stress and sacrifice I had lost all the beauty that once was mine? Could I ever get it back?
There is something about getting a wake-up call in the middle of your life. Divorce certainly tears down everything that is familiar to you and it’s your job to rebuild. That day at school I realized that while those clothes were a little big on me, the real issue was that they did not fit my personality any longer. Those were my old Betty clothes and I was a new Betty. I went home that day, got out of my car, stood in my garage, took off that dress and put it in the Goodwill bag. Then I went to my closet and cleaned it out. I took out anything that I didn’t like. Whether it was old or new, if I put it on and I didn’t feel good in it, out it went. It was scary at first. It went against everything I had been taught. Who did I think I was throwing out perfectly good clothing? A woman on her own, with a single salary, in debt over a home renovation should not be so picky. The voice of my mother was strong in my head and yet, finally, there was a stronger voice that come through too. You are no longer settling. You deserve to feel good. You are in charge of how you look. Life is too damn short to wear clothes you don’t feel good in.
The next weekend I went to my hairdresser and got a new haircut. I bought some new make-up and most importantly, I bought some new clothes. I figured it was time to have some fun, to take some chances with my style. I forced myself to try on clothes that I ordinarily would have passed by thinking they were too far out for me. Every day, I am surrounded by 18 and 19 year-olds who celebrate their creativity by putting together outfits that are sometimes winners and sometimes not so much, but who cares? They inspire me with their willingness to try new things. From now on, I’ve decided to dress in clothes that make me feel good about myself. In the past, I have worried too much about how people view me and have taken the “safe” route, but I have discovered when people are confident and feel good in whatever they are wearing, no one questions their choices. Everyone feels good being around people who feel good about themselves. It’s all about the attitude, baby.
Never fear. I am aware that I am a woman in my fifties. There will be no rhinestone thong playing peek-a-boo from some pair of low-slung jeans. I get it that halter tops are probably not appropriate to wear to work. But I recently fell in love with some rather hip looking boots complete with strap around the heels and some skinny legged jeans and, honey, I bought ‘em and I wore ‘em and I feel great in them.
Life gave me a do-over and I grabbed on to it. Sometimes I’ll try on an outfit in the morning and face the mirror. When I waver on whether I should take a chance on a look, I say aloud, “Oh, why the hell not?” and I laugh. Seriously, if not now, when? I am done with the kid years, I am dating a wonderful man, (who, by the way, thinks I am absolutely gorgeous no matter what I am wearing) and I managed to stop gaining back the weight I lost when I got to a comfortable place for me. In many ways, I am in the prime of my life. It’s time to have some fun, to live, to explore, to take some chances.
I wonder now if life had not given me this opportunity, whether I would have snapped myself out of the hole I was in. Maybe. Maybe not. All I know is I was given a chance to reinvent myself and I am grateful for it. No more Schlumpy Betty.
Now, not to be a big shot or anything, but this is my 1000th post. Everyone in Blogland knows that on the occasion of your 1000th post, you get to make a request and your readers are required to carry out that request. (What? You’ve never heard of this rule? It’s true!)
Here is my humble request: I would like you, my dear readers, to arise up off of your buttocks, go to your closets and get out one piece of clothing that you dislike--that shirt that makes you feel fat, that pair of pants you spent a lot of money on but that make you feel old, that sweater that someone gave you but that you hate—and I want you to throw it away or donate it. Get rid of it. Don’t listen to those voices in your head that are telling you to keep it. Listen to me instead. You deserve to feel good. Life is too short to wear clothes that make you feel less than absolutely great.
Are you with me, my people? Will you carry out my request?
Repeat after me: “We will, Betty! We will!”
Leave me a comment and tell me what you are getting rid of.
Now go out there and be fabulous.