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Not the Girl You Think I Am

 

You're not the girl you think you are. 

...So sang the song by Crowded House. It’s so true, I’m not the girl I think I am sometimes, nor am I the girl that others think I am. 

I have been thinking about how much our bodies change, while inside us we remain locked in a vision of who we were 10 or 20 years ago. I catch a glimpse of myself from the side in the mirror and realise that to the observer, I probably look like a frumpy middle-aged woman. Inside, I still desperately hope that I am an athletic trim-ish person who is doing okay after having a few kids. I don’t imagine that I am model material but I still view myself as the person I was maybe several years ago when my metabolism was still my friend.

I was talking to a lady I’ve known for about 15 years who had high school-aged children when I first met her. Now she gushes about her grandchildren and how much she loves being a nanna. And as I watched her face and the folds and saggy bits around her cheeks and chin, I thought, “Yes, this woman is a nanna. She’s gotten old!” And yet when I first met her I saw her as a mother.

I wonder if people see me after not being in contact for a while, and gasp inwardly, “Oh, how she’s aging. How she’s let herself go!” Maybe. I guess it is a bit confronting to realise that children no longer see us as someone in the generation of their mother, but in the generation of their grandmother. I worked with a girl at school who commented on my new hair colour. I told her that I’d dyed it to cover some grey hairs and she studied my head and agreed that her nanna has grey hair. When I thought about the age of her mother it came as a shock to me to calculate that I would be closer in age to her nanna rather than her mother. And yet I have a three-year-old. But I do have a daughter who’ll be turning 19 this year so technically, I could be a nanna as well. (Please, no!)

One of the reasons that I wear glasses is of vanity. I don’t really need them when I meet with friends or walk down the street. I’m short-sighted so I legally need them for driving and they sure help if I am watching tv or looking for signs in a supermarket. But I wear them almost constantly when out in public, mainly because I have such dark circles under my eyes I am worried that removing the disguise afforded by frames will stop the conversation. Everyone will stare, mesmerised for a minute, and then be so gob-smacked that they won’t be able to continue their train of thought. It’s amazing what I do as a result of how I think others will react.

When my aging mum moved closer to us in the Liston area, I took a photo of her, which I then showed her. I thought it was flattering for someone in her 60s and yet, Mum was horrified. “Oh, I don’t like that! I look like an old woman!” I tactfully said (as tactfully as family members usually talk to each other): “Umm, you are old.” Mum couldn’t reconcile the photo with her inner image of herself.

I guess this blind spot that we have of ourselves - and hopefully of our friends and family as we all age together - allows us to forget about the outer casings of our physical bodies. Like in the movie Shallow Hal we often see the person inside rather than the actual body in front of us.

For a while, I lived with a good friend who is Aboriginal and sometimes I caught myself seeing her hands or feet in a detached manner, and realising that her skin was quite brown. It sort of goes with the territory (and Territory also, since that’s where she was from) but as I interacted with her on a daily basis I didn’t consciously say ‘yep, she’s brown and her hair is black’ each time I talked with her. I observed her smile and her facial expressions that I knew so well. The colour of her skin was so inconsequential that I ceased to notice it. At the same time I knew fully that she was Aboriginal, but that was her being, not simply a visual sign represented in her skin.

Back in another millennium, I also spent a couple of years in daily contact with a group of indigenous students while I studied Aboriginal Welfare. I did this course partly because of my own indigenous heritage, but to anyone looking at me I would have seemed like the odd one out. But hanging around with all the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who accepted me into the group, left me feeling that I was ‘one of them’. And sometimes when I went home I was surprised to see my white face looking back at me.

Who was I really? The woman others saw me as, or who I viewed myself in light of the way others treated me? People’s perceptions of me (good or bad) cover me like a heavy coat that needs shedding in order to feel lighter. 

At times when I feel offended or upset by people who try to intimidate me or take advantage of me, I see myself as the10-year-old girl who still wet the bed and sucked her thumb, cringing at conflict and being unable to defend herself. It is a big effort to rise above that self-image and realise that I am a grown woman with much strength to draw upon.

The crux of it all really, is having the insight to see myself as a special human being with a unique place and calling in life. If I walked through each day considering the heights I could reach with a view of my abilities and opportunities, I would be a much nobler and resilient person. What others think of me, or my tattered snapshot memories of a past self shouldn’t hold me back. I’m not the girl you think I am – I am so much more. 

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