L. wants a post about "the subject of making a deliberate choice to be more well-groomed/attractive, and how that affects your interactions with the world around you."
I think this will be a constant tug-of-war with me. I'm a little bit vain, and I'm learning how to make myself prettier by paying attention to how I dress. I know a little mascara and eyeliner and a good haircut make a big difference. But I'm not very vain. I'm just not that pretty, and have grown up always being good friends with extremely beautiful women, so I'm accustomed to being "the smart one" or a cute funny sidekick, and not the person who grabs your eyes from across the room. That's an okay role for me. So it doesn't often occur to me to spend a lot of time trying to beautify. It's kind of a late-ish development, and I'm prone to forgetting it. And I'm always outdoors, messing with things, so I've always got bruises and cuts and often dirt under my fingernails, and a pair of flip flops and a fleece vest and my hair pulled back into a pony tail generally make a lot of sense.
During all the fuss around the wedding I was in a public role. I wasn't concerned so much about looking beautiful as about looking confident and pulled-together, but it made me pay attention to my appearance with a higher level of scrutiny than I usually do. There were lots of out-of-town friends, people I knew from when Neighbor and I were in college together or from other various youthful adventures in our lives. And so there were more occasions than usual when people said to me, "You look beautiful." I'll tell you, it's nice to hear. I resolved to find more chances to tell people they look great. That compliment, when sincere, can make someone's day.
One of the wedding guests was a friend of Neighbor's from college. She's a science writer and an extraordinarily beautiful woman, but she doesn't partake in anything girly. She's just starting to consider that it might be worthwhile. We talked about femininity on the Saturday before the wedding as I painted my toenails a deep blue-purple. (She sat beside me, painting each fingernail a different color, then removing the color with a cotton ball.) She's more afraid of all the trappings of girliness than I am, and we talked about how it can be fun to dress up, to beautify, to spend time on your appearance. "It's everything I don't want to be," she said: shallow, surface-focused, not straightforward, about disguise and trickery. "But it's fun," I said, and she paused for a while, and then said, "Yes. That's confusing." I've gotten over my conflicts about wanting to be pretty. I don't think it's a moral weakness. But I don't know how much time to give to it and I'm not naturally skilled with makeup or even clothes so my efforts vary. It's usually an afterthought.
Neighbor had her eyelashes dyed for the wedding and I was very impressed with the results. I've been fixating on that as my next beauty experiment. And I've lately been receiving the Title 9 catalog, and when I flip through it I find myself aspiring someday to be a model for them. Those women are beautiful partly because of the interesting lives they lead. I'm never going to be a breathtaking femme fatale; I know women who are, and they're lovely, and so different from me in physique and temperament that it's like apples and oranges.