In the cheery aisles of a resort-town jewelry shop last week, my sister Becca and I were accosted. Not by a sketchball with a wolf whistle, even as my straight-from-the-gym kid sis snapped the hems of her short-shorts—the kind deemed “runderwear” by spandex enthusiasts, as it were. No. Equally awkward but not quite as gross, we were instead propositioned with Worldy Life Advice.
“You got a date tonight?” the middle-aged female store owner asked Becca, having overheard her mention meeting up with prep-school-hunk-of-the-month. “Well, word to the wise: Don’t wear a hair piece.”
She spent the next ten minutes in full detailing the events of a 1960s summer night, recovered from the annals of her memory expressly for us.
Like Bec, she’d had a hot date. But having had every last strawberry-blonde tress chopped from her head the morning before—“Poof! Vidal Sassoon did away with it, and I was famous for that hair!”—she decided to wear an artificial hairpiece to lessen the shock. Manly McStud came and picked her up; dinner, dancing and drinking ensued. Apparently she was still a femme fatale, even without her signature mane.
But it was at the top of her mother’s apartment building later that her self-esteem came, quite literally, crashing down. “We’d gone back there to make out, you know, and he had me crushed up against the wall of the balcony,” she said, her clouded eyes focusing on something unseen over our heads. “And then it fell. Twenty-three flights. Down and down my fake hair went—and you shoulda seen the look on his face when he realized what I looked like underneath it.”
Then, predictably, the heartbreaker. “I don’t think I ever heard from him again,” she said.
I can’t really remember how Becca and I reacted, although it was probably halfway between an awkward laugh and a sincere-sounding apology. We shuffled to the door. Bec went on her date (sans hair piece). I came to school (sans hair piece). I forgot about the hair story.
Or I thought had.
The thing is, as may or may not have been the intention of the story’s teller, I can’t really forget about it. I see the same thing echoed everywhere on campus. Acrylic curls are not the only way to mask your most personal insecurities—any way to up your physical potential, from attire to plastic surgery to steroids, has been or is being used on this campus. I’m not talking about conformity, really, and I’m not condemning students’ legitimate desire to look a certain way. Anyone whose byline appears below a “Season’s Hottest Fashion Trends!” headline in the Chronicle archives (guilty as charged) should refrain from such hypocrisy.
But there’s a difference between preening for yourself and gluing a fake ponytail to your head to please our friend McStud. Sadly, the latter mentality is the more prevalent around here. It is always astonishing to see how many people dress, talk and act just to please others—perhaps more astonishing given that we are usually fully aware of how shallow we are. But how often have you had the “Ohhhmygod she lost so much weight this summer!” conversation over dinner, often followed by a self-concious fork-raking of lettuce leaves? And how many freshmen are scrambling to rechristen themselves as “Duke students” right now by way of the J.Crew catalogue?
More importantly, is there an ’09 facebook group for this?
If you think looking or acting like everyone else will make you more secure, think again. I say this because in my admittedly limited life experience, the most pulled-together, beautiful and outwardly perfect people I know are also the most baggage-laden and insecure.
As for me, I hope I will continue to spill coffee, be 10 minutes late and have a white-girl ‘fro. I have too much on my mind to try to stifle my apparent awkwardness, or to worry about accidentally revealing the “real me.” Baggage, schmaggage—I’m trying to travel light.
Sarah Ball is a Trinity sophomore and editorial page managing editor for The Chronicle. Her column appears every Thursday.
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