People Get Ready

14 Aug


Photo by DMT


During the past several years, I’ve often wondered what’s taken me so long to make the decision and begin to work toward moving to New York City. The answer to this question is one that simultaneously makes me ashamed and proud.

My initial trip to New York, while opening my eyes to a whole new world, also left me feeling insecure and out of place. As J. and I walked the streets of New York, I felt like a country bumpkin.  New Yorkers, even the scruffiest of them, are stylish people, and as I looked around and observed the crowds, I felt old, fat and out of place.  Returning to Michigan only served to exacerbate the feeling.  I’m loathe to admit it, but two years ago I didn’t think I was “good enough” for New York City.

I was overweight, out of shape, and lacking style and pizazz in my wardrobe, makeup and hair. I was Eliza Dolittle before Henry Higgins.  Cinderella before her Fairy Godmother showed up and waved her wand. The proverbial Ugly Duckling before that whole swan thing.  Okay, maybe I’m being a little dramatic.  Don’t get me wrong, I had a lot of other things going for me – I am a kind, intelligent person who is an excellent teacher and is funny as hell – I just didn’t have the outward appearance that reflected these qualities in a way that would fit into a New York City lifestyle.

Once I’d broken up with my ex-partner, I started to make some big changes. I moved into an apartment complex that offered a gym membership as part of my lease, and started working out regularly.  I quit eating fast food, at first, because I could no longer afford the expense, but as I watched my body begin to change, I realized that eliminating it from my diet had also meant I’d eliminated the calories.  I switched over to more healthy foods, and even began cooking, which “shocked and awed” many people who know me.  Slowly, the pounds came off and I began to feel more energetic and attractive.  When I hit a plateau in the spring of 2009, I hired a personal trainer to advise me about how to get better results from my workouts and counsel me about my nutrition issues, and with his help I lost another 60 pounds.

The weight loss meant that I also needed to replace my clothing, for this I turned to the Fashion Design students at the college where I teach general education classes.  My students were more than happy to advise me, and recommended that I wear shorter skirts and higher heels.  At first, this felt ridiculous.  A 43-year old teacher wearing above-the-knee skirts and 3″ heels?  Unacceptable!  Impossible!  Outrageous!  Well…maybe just one short skirt.  And those high heels are kind of cute.

My students were unflaggingly kind and enthusiastic despite my resistance.  They encouraged and applauded every small change I made, and continued to make suggestions and offer advice.  Every couple of months, J. would travel to Michigan from Chicago to shop with me and slowly but surely I acquired a wardrobe that reflected the more fashionable woman I wanted to be.  As I lost more weight, it became easier to find stylish bargains, and I was excited as I moved from the world of Plus Size Xs to the world of S/M/L.  The moment of triumph came last spring when J. (who is a size 6, and can wear anything) and I were perusing the sale racks at the Gap, and I wondered out loud if a t-shirt would fit me.  J. encouraged me to try it on, and lo and behold, I found that I could fit into shirts from the Gap!

A year before my Gap shopping experience, D. did me a favor for which I will never truly be able to thank him.  For years I’d been a bottle blond, I don’t remember when or why I’d started dying my hair blond, but it had become a habit and I wasn’t sure I liked it anymore.  I mentioned this to D. during a conversation, and he said that he’d always had a personal preference for brunettes, but that was just him.  Since I respect him as a friend and an artist, his casual comment caused me to start wondering if perhaps brunettes were the ones who have more fun, and as usual, I read too much into what he’d said, and heard him daring me to take a chance and try something different (and as usual, his response was “What the hell are you talking about?”).

By the next day I was at the store buying hair dye and making the switch.  It was unsettling, but once I’d gotten used the dramatic change, I began to feel like I’d come home to myself.  As a blond, I had worn more dramatic makeup, but as a brunette, I didn’t need as much since my hair color complimented my skin tone instead of detracting from it.  I ditched my red lipstick and dramatic eye makeup, trading it in for more natural shades of eyeshadow and lip gloss.  The results were dramatic, and the response was overwhelmingly positive.  I felt more confident and….did I dare to admit it?  I began to feel sexy enough to flirt with New York.

As the months rolled on, I learned new tricks for improving my hair and makeup, and I bought more skirts and heels.  I was amassing a New York-worthy wardrobe, and I finally felt like I had style.

These days, I wear a combination of clothes from Vive La Femme, the Avenue, Lane Bryant, the Gap, and Ralph Lauren, and my shoes are mostly from Nine West.  No matter whether I am at work or play, I feel fashionable and that makes me feel confident.

It’s been a long, challenging road, and I’m nowhere near the end, but now I feel like I’ve got enough confidence and style to say “Yes!” to a date with New York City.


2 Responses to “People Get Ready”

  1. Kit August 16, 2010 at 1:46 pm #

    You made me laugh when you mentioned the ‘What the hell are you talking about’ thing 😀
    And you know what? Who cares how old you really are on the inside. On the outside, you’re young enough to go on a girl’s night out with a bunch of twenty-somethings! You wear stuff I would never even /dream/ or trying on.
    Keep livin’ the Dream, Mary. Keep livin’ the Dream.


    • Mary August 16, 2010 at 3:36 pm #

      Thank you Kit! Thank you for such a wonderful compliment! I think it’s all of you folks who keep me feeling (and acting?) young! You can wear ANYTHING you want to! Dream, Kit! DREAM!


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