I recently broke my nose (long story) and when the doctor took the splint off and handed me the mirror, my first thought was “Thank God I don’t look like Rocky Balboa.” And if it were twelve years ago I would have stopped there, but it’s not, and I didn’t. So my second thought was, “Oh my God, I’m starting to look like I’m in my 40’s,” which makes total sense because I’m in my 40’s, but it just feels so … wrong.
I have never been a classic beauty, and I know that. I look more like Bette Midler than Bar Rafaeli. Still, when I was younger I never seemed to have problems meeting guys who were brave enough to date me despite the fact that I talked about toxins at dinner and fell down occasionally while dancing. I really didn’t stress out about my looks very much then, at least not as much as a lot of others did anyway.
In college other women often took great care to look good and started getting ready for Friday night dates on Thursday morning. In contrast, I even went to my afternoon classes dressed in sweats, with no make-up, and with my hair falling out of my pony-tail. And I also might have gone on some dates looking like that if my friends had not intervened by threatening to lock me in my closet and make me listen to a recording of my roommate singing The Wind Beneath My Wings at her bat mitzvah.
In law school other women spent their rent money having their designer suits tailored perfectly for job interviews, but not me. I unthinkingly wore an old blouse with loose buttons to an interview to be the research assistant to a nationally respected expert on the First Amendment. Luckily, the First Amendment addresses pornography, and so I got the job even after accidentally flashing him.
Frankly, I was kind of oblivious. When I went out with female friends, they often had to swoop in and “rescue” me even though I had no idea why they were doing it. I honestly thought that a lot of guys just shared my fascination with subjects like early Twentieth Century mountaineering, the history the shtetl, and Latin American fatalism. Who knew that men were willing to listen to me lecture for an hour about how polar ice core studies have demonstrated the environmental impact of the industrial revolution just so they might have the opportunity to sleep with me. Personally, I think that shows a lot of determination.
I’m a very “visual” person and sometimes I have “ah ha” moments when presented with a graphic demonstration of a concept. I’ll never forget the day that I was strolling down the street chatting with a male friend when he suddenly started laughing. I asked what was so funny and he said that it was amusing him to watch guys do a double take when I walked by and risk their lives to check me out. I had never noticed that reaction in anyone, so I immediately looked down to try to figure out if my blouse was open or my skirt was stuck in my pantyhose again, but nothing seemed to be amiss, so I just surreptitiously started looking around a little as we walked on and he was right. How weird was that?
Unfortunately, that epiphany signaled the beginning of the end of my self-confidence and a great escalation in my social anxiety. I finally really understood why so many people found me attractive even though I was uncoordinated and socially awkward; something in my “not beautiful but kinda interesting” looks appealed to them. Then I worried because while your IQ would not get flabby, your ass certainly could. And the more I worried, the less attractive I became on the outside and on the inside. The anxiety made me want to eat to comfort myself, and as I gained weight, the anxiety about that made me depressed. When I got depressed I didn’t feel like being active anymore so I got heavier and my self-esteem got worse. And it took a real hit in other ways too, because I suddenly didn’t believe that anyone really liked me as a person very much.
And then came the baboons. I read about a study in which scientists observed that young studly male baboons were more attracted to older female “cougar” baboons than young hottie baboons. That didn’t make any sense to me since the younger females would have obviously been more fertile and surely had much perkier boobs. The results had been replicated several times though. The conclusion was that the older females demonstrated more sexual confidence and it was that confidence that made them attractive to the males.
Not to sound cynical, but I have certainly seen the opposite type of behavior many times among humans, and I asked a friend of mine who was a neuropsychologist why that was. After a ninety page disclaimer about how she was not stating anything specific about any particular individual, and this was only a general observation, yada yada yada (as a lawyer I get this preface from every friend who carries malpractice insurance), her conclusion was that confident men liked confident women. Men who had self-confidence and self-esteem issues of their own preferred women to whom they felt superior, and thus, the younger the better. That really made me think. I found confidence sexy and so did guys. Well, guys who didn’t belong to the Humbert Humbert fan club anyway.
I wish I could say that from that day forth I felt amazing and I became a Twenty-First Century Gloria Steinem/ Mae West hybrid but that didn’t happen. You can’t really feel attractive if you feel unhealthy and I felt unhealthy. So, slowly but surely, focusing on how I felt rather than how I looked, I started exercising and eating better. It worked and I felt much better health-wise both mentally and physically but THEN, just when everything was rolling along, and I was starting to sing Tina Turner songs in the shower, I wound up facing the prospect of dating again, but this time (dum dum dum!) … as a woman in her forties. And the worry came back.
It really does seem to me that baboon males must have fewer issues than human males because human males do seem to like very young women a whole lot. It would be easy to wish that I was in my twenties again. The fact is though, that when I was that age I was not nearly as interesting, as laid back, as patient, as wise, as giving, or as anything else frankly as I am now … except for confident. I was confident. So, that’s the one thing I had to get back.
I’m working on it. I continue to strive to be healthier and to make sure I take care of myself. I do some things just because I want to, not because anyone else does. I insist that people treat me with respect and afford me dignity. I celebrate my friendships and don’t stress out about romance. Whatever will be will be.
I do mess up sometimes. A male friend recently pointed out that I sometimes seek validation based on external factors. And after a brief period of indignant denial I realized he was right. (Hey, I’m only human, not a baboon). But I am getting there! I just wish that I hadn’t ever started to worry about it.
So that brings me to my final point. Oh, okay it brings me to A point; while it might sound trite, beauty really does come from within. You need to love yourself. (Not that way, but you can do that too). And if you ever forget what an amazing person you are, start reminding yourself daily, taking care of yourself, and if you need to, getting healthy one step at a time. When your inner light is shining it will make you even more beautiful and life is too short to spend hiding away because you don’t feel good enough to get out there and embrace your crazy.
In short, be a baboon.