As I took my seat in the audience, I took a slow look at the people around me. There were conversations happening everywhere. Some serious, some lighthearted, some loud, and some whispered. Hands joined in greetings and introductions, and arms pulled shoulders into happy hugs. The stage was set, the show was getting ready to start, and the seats were filling up by the minute.
I fiddled with my rings, two on each hand. I don’t get to wear them as often as I’d like because I work with too many metals and chemicals that might damage them. So when I do put them on, it means I’m going somewhere special, somewhere fun, somewhere I want to feel the slightest bit fancy.
I put on my favorite pair of jeans and a fun top, a pair of white sneakers and my jean jacket. Standing in front of the mirror while I got ready, I put on mascara and some eyeshadow, and brushed product in my hair to give it a little oomph. I felt comfortable, I felt cute, I felt like myself, which is my favorite feeling—especially since it hasn’t always been the most common.
Getting ready can be a miserable process. Sometimes you walk into your closet and it feels as if all you own is a series of different colored grocery bags, and when you put them on you feel like the trash that people throw into those grocery bags in an effort to upcycle. I have been brought to tears by everything from the seam of a sock to the tag on a t-shirt. I have participated in the cliché throwing of outfit after outfit onto my bed, and I have dramatically slid down the front of my dresser, with my shirt half on and my pants unbuttoned, hoping that by the time I hit the floor the world might spontaneously combust so I won’t have to finish getting dressed.
If I manage to get through that step though, all new obstacles await me in the bathroom. With the slightest error, my go-to makeup routine can become a session of torture. Sometimes I’ll put on the finishing touches and think, cool, I’ve turned a goblin into an oily goblin with eyeshadow. Other times I will look at my concealer brush as if it has betrayed me by not turning me into an entirely different person, and I apply so much powder in an attempt to hide my blemishes that I look like I fell asleep in a bowl of flour—then I’m mad about that and so I start over.
And sometimes, I’ll get all the way ready, feeling pretty good, or, at the very least, not pretty bad, and then I’ll walk out, either in public amongst strangers, or just into my living room amongst friends and family, and think, awesome, everyone looks great and I look like I rolled in the gutter and then put lipstick on.
I’ll admit, sometimes the mere prospect of getting ready can sway me from wanting to leave my house. The threat of feeling those negative feelings about myself or of comparing myself to others can prevent me from wanting to go anywhere at all. Because at home, in my space, amongst my things and my people, I know I can be exactly who I am, exactly the way I look, with no judgement. And when I step outside, I expose myself to a lot of eyes and opinions that I am sometimes not ready for.
But I’m starting to learn that while yes, some days are just going to be tough, sometimes getting ready is going to feel less desirable than getting the stomach flu—with the finished product feeling just as nauseating—the more you start to appreciate, understand and know who you are on the inside, the more you are able to honestly, accurately and comfortably present that person on the outside.
As I sat down in the audience on Saturday night, I felt like myself. I knew why I’d chosen that outfit and why I’d put on my makeup and my rings, and I wasn’t looking around the room for reasons why those choices were wrong or inferior. I knew what made me feel confident to go out, and I loved seeing what everyone else chose.
Looking around, I saw a snakeskin blazer and black boots, a grey sweater with a small, hand embroidered flower on the back, a fedora, a black breton with lace detail, a shiny silk shirt tucked into a pleated skirt, a Tommy Hilfiger jacket, straight hair, curly hair, hair that was gelled back, suits, blue jeans, high heels, sneakers, necklaces, earrings, bedazzled masks and headbands. There were patterns and solid colors, and textures of all kinds.
In a room full of about 100 people, not one looked the same. But each of us had stood in front of the mirror, maybe agonizingly, maybe casually, maybe for hours, maybe for a few minutes. We all stood in front of the mirror and said, “okay, we’re going out tonight.” Maybe not everyone felt as confident as they’d like to, and maybe a few people walked in with that familiar feeling of, why does everyone look great except me? But as I looked at the people around me, I was just happy to see us all out. Happy to see us all expressing ourselves and our styles, all different and all wonderful.
We’d all overcome the biggest obstacle to getting ready—ourselves—and now we were all there, ready to have a good night. The lights went down, the show started, and I smiled, comfortable.