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The Picture that Changed My Life

In October, we held our 8th annual United Way Golf Tournament. It was a big year - bringing the total we've raised over the life of the event to $1 million. I head up the golf tournament, but there are a lot of mill employees who volunteer on the day to make it successful.

This year, to show my gratitude, I sent thank you notes to all the volunteers, letting them know how their dedication makes a big community impact. I scrolled through my pictures from the event and printed out photos of the volunteers to insert into the thank you notes.

One picture I printed was of me and three young female engineers who work at the mill. I ordered four prints, one for each of us.

When I got my prints in the mail, I started going through them, writing out notes to each of the volunteers. I peered more closely at the photo of the four of us. And I had a very stark realization:

I am never going to attract attention based solely on how I look ever again.

I mean come on. These girls are tall, thin, with shiny hair and clear tight skin. I looked like that in my 30s, too. Now I'm kind of dumpy with glasses and jowls and a double chin that are screaming for a facelift.

But that self-awareness felt so incredibly freeing. I was able to put down the massive and unwieldy expectation I had of myself to impress people by looking a certain way. For the first time since I was a naïve young child, I was free of that burden. And the thing about putting down a burden is, you never realize just how heavy it is until you do.

I'm not sure where this expectation came from. High school, I guess? Or junior high? Liking boys who didn't like me back. Wanting so badly to have a boyfriend, like my friends did. But I obviously didn't look right. Didn't look good enough. At my 20 year high school reunion, the boy I had a crush on my entire senior year looked at me and said, "Whoa! You did not look like that in high school! You looked...12."

I was underdeveloped. No boobs to speak of. I despaired of my "fat tummy" when I was, in fact less than 110 pounds when I graduated. I wore braces until the summer after my junior year because my adult teeth were so slow to come in.

But I tried. Oh, how I tried. I wanted to be pretty and popular. And I was neither.

All that is rather common, I think. There was literally an 80s TV show about it, where Sarah Jessica Parker was one of the uncool, unpopular girls. Yes, the woman who would become the most chic, most fashionable, most on-trend image of the 90s was also the awkward teen with glasses and frizzy hair.

I have had the privilege of meeting some women recently who are 100 percent comfortable in their own skin. They are confident and secure and love who they are, whether they meet society's ideal of a perfect woman or not. They literally do not care what society thinks about them. I hear a lot of people talk that talk, always have. I had no idea that people I knew actually lived it. Another eye-opener for me.

Because once I hit my 20s, and Mother Nature finally remembered to give me boobs, and I grew my hair out natural - big and curly, which happened to be exactly on-trend for the time - people finally noticed me. Men noticed me. I had attention. I had dates. I had boyfriends.

I had a job, and started buying more stylish clothes. Once I finished college and had a real job, I started buying more expensive clothes. And through it all, I never stopped comparing myself to other women and struggling to keep up with their style. I so envied my beautiful, glamorous Latina friends, who bought their high-end handbags and shoes at East Memphis boutiques. I made do with moderately priced Coach bags and $200 shoes from Macy's, looking good but never feeling like I quite measured up.

After my divorce, people asked me why I cut all my hair off. I said, "Because I could." Don't get me wrong - I change my hair A LOT, and I have had it short a couple of times. And I was in the mood to have it short again, so I just did it. Not a lot of thought put into it. I just did it. Because I could.

And I am loving having it short. I feel cute and sassy. And that picture.

My hair. It's. So. Short.

But I looked at it, and I remembered that I don't care what other people think about how it looks. I cut it short because I wanted to. And I like it. And I now have the freedom to be what I like, without worrying about what other people think. Just like my iconic friends who are comfortable in their own skin. Just like my glamorous amigas who likewise styled themselves confidently.

Now, when people are attracted to me, I will know it's because I'm smart. I'm witty. I'm clever and talented and wise. It will be because of my leadership abilities. Or my way with words. I can look any way the hell I want and let my character do the talking.

There is so much freedom in that. I always suspected I would get there, in my older years. Like Diane Keaton in a Nancy Meyers film. I just wish I hadn't taken 40 years to get there.


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