So we've been having long discussions as a family about each of us having to cut back on our spending to accommodate my daughter's college expenses ($50,000 a year!). C has been trying hard to go along with the program, living austerely by her lights. But a few days ago she wanted to make an appointment with a hair dresser who, even after discounting $50 (because she had her prom do done there), charged $125 for a trim. After much haggling we arrived at a solution: I would pay my maximum for a haircut—$75 (well, I pay $15 for my cuts at Astor, but I do understand that that's a pittance, and it's a mystery even to me how those barbers pay their rent)—and she would pay the remainder out of her graduation/allowance funds. Anyway, afterwards, she was very pleased with her haircut and making plans for her next one since her cutter had told her she needed to get a trim every 8 weeks, and worrying about how she would arrange her haircuts at Skidless.
"You know, once you get to college, you may find that you don't care quite so much about these things," I ventured (primly). "So it may not be so much of an issue. You'll develop other interests, and how you look just won't seem that important."
"Mom," she said (knowingly). "You never stop caring about how you look. Admit it, you still care."
And she's right. My standards are lower than hers, but I fuss endlessly over how to camouflage my shmoo-shaped body (without breasts, my figure is like a butternut squash—narrow on top and wide at my bottom) and how to arrange my sparse gray hair to cover my scalp (it's a lie that everyone's hair comes back thicker and more lustrous after chemo; some of us get less hair, period—and what little there is comes in without its original color, perhaps because, as in my case, it was dyed anyway), and window-shop and really shop pretty much continuously (o.k., mostly at Daffy's), looking for the article of clothing that will make me beautiful. And sometimes, like C, I think I've found it—and, yes, for a few moments it does make me happier.
At heart, I'm still 13. But the gift I was given (and the gift I keep getting) is that I was unable to achieve a popular standard of physical beauty. So I had to define myself in other ways. I sought to identify myself as smart, nice, responsible, an independent thinker, "good." C's handicap is that the world considers her beautiful and adulates her for it. She's in the running beauty-wise. She doesn't feel so confident in other domains. So, like any pragmatist, she rides her strength. If I had that strength, would I not ride it too?