Goldenrod, Dandelion, Forest Green, Midnight Blue, Violet, Orchid, Salmon, Burnt Umber. The names of Crayola Crayons popped the curious synapses in my brain. What was Umber? Why would you burn it? I loved the way the 64 crayons stood proudly upright in their four smaller cardboard boxes inside the larger yellow and green one, demonstrating their creative potential. All of the colors fascinated me – even the ugly ones – but my favorite was Magenta. It wasn’t just the color, it was the dignity of its name. Ma-genta, Ma-genta. It was magisterial, vibrant, alive.
My earliest career aspiration was to be a bartender. One afternoon, when I was about six or seven, I saw a photo in the Los Angeles Times of a female bartender wearing hot pants. What an amazing fashion choice! I was IN. I got my mother’s shears. I knew nothing of Elsa Schiaparelli then, but I was captivated by intense pink, so I chose my favorite bright pink double knit polyester bell bottoms. I laid them out on the kitchen floor and cut off the legs. In less than ten minutes, I had a pair of hot pants just like a bartender!
I flew down the street fueled with exuberance given by my new hot pants to show my mom’s friend what I had done, delighted that I’d created something stylish and amazing all by myself. When she answered the door and I saw her searching and failing to find an encouraging word to say, I was crestfallen.
Those are the first three paragraphs of my essay, A Girlhood in Color, all about growing up as a girl in Los Angeles in the 1970s.
It was so much easier to be excited by fashion and style when I was a child. It didn’t occur to me to wonder if my legs were thin enough or long enough for hot pants. I just made them and put them on with delight! But that freedom only lasted a few more years.
As an adult I loved fashion even more, but I felt an excruciating ineligibility to participate. I knew I wasn’t worthy. Here are the first paragraphs of The Other Beauty Myth:
The sun from Central Park was shining through the windows on the 5th floor at Bergdorf Goodman when I walked out of the dressing room to consider an adorable Etro dress in the three-way mirror.
The dress had a delightful floral pattern – insouciant without being saccharine, girlish yet sophisticated. It was the perfect balance for a woman in her early 40s. The cut suited my frame and dress was on sale. But I couldn’t buy it. My constant companion, the voice in my head, pointed out that it showed too much of my flabby upper arms. She said that once again I’d screwed up an opportunity to celebrate myself by wearing chic and beautiful clothes.
“You are not as beautiful as you could be,” she said. “And it’s entirely your fault that your arms look like that in this dress. You never did work out enough. You have no discipline. You don’t deserve this dress.”
I walked back to the dressing room and took the dress off, because if I defied her and bought it, she would point out my arms every single time I put it on. Who can live with that?
I’ve spent my whole conscious life loving beauty, clothes and style. But by the time I was twelve, I was choked by the painful certainty that I’d never be thin enough to be truly stylish. To desperately want something that feels impossible to attain – isn’t that the definition of obsession? Now that I’m nearing 60, my only goal is to reclaim some of the delight and exuberance I felt as a child. I’ll let you know how it goes . . .’