When I could first walk and talk I think my family became confused as to whether they had had a son after all. I had no interest in anything related to girls. Not only did I dress like a boy I wanted to be one. It was fun being a boy, you got to wear trousers, climb trees and get messy. Boy’s could pretend to drive Knight-Rider Kit car and wear A-Team pyjamas. More importantly they were not expected to enjoy ballet, play with Barbie and get excited about My Little Pony’s and Care Bears. From an early age Mum gave up trying to put me in dresses; it really was not worth the tantrums and instead of Ballet classes I was enlisted in the local swimming club.
During childhood the urge to actually be male passed but unfortunately the downside of liking David Hasselhoff’s car, having short hair, climbing trees and always sporting grazed knees I was still mistaken for a boy and often referred to by strangers as 'son'. This gender confusion was exacerbated by the fact I looked just like my father but thankfully without the beard and bald head.
I met my best friend Sam when we were eight. We were cast as two gentlemen in a serious period drama school production, somehow related to the teacher’s strikes that were prevalent during the early eighties. We dressed in top hat and tails and unknowingly narrated profound political statements to the parents and school governors. Our mutual love of the spotlights, applause and standing ovations meant we clicked straight away. OK we were on a tiny wooden platform for about ten minutes, forgot our lines and sang atrociously. The following year we were once again under the bright lights as male, ragga-muffin factory children in another politically highbrow production. We had not improved so this was the end of our short lived acting career.
Sam was not overly girly, she was just cool. She started to advise me about fashion, music and how to put makeup on. She taught me the ‘Time Warp' and the infamous 'side stepping around the hand bag' dance whilst listening to Whitney Houston in the privacy of our bedrooms. When Mum encouraged me to buy ‘unusual, different, good fun’ clothes my best friend thankfully discouraged the purchases. Following one disastrous shopping trip Sam couldn’t hide her amusement and blatantly laughed when I turned up wearing Joseph’s Technicolor dream coat. I appreciated the honesty as this prevented a much greater humiliation at school. Saying that, Sam did turn up at a party wearing white stiletto’s, so maybe I should not have been so trusting of her taste!
I grew my hair, hopped down from the trees, stopped fighting and became more aware of my looks. To embrace my new found womanly appearance at ten years old I was taken for my first salon professional hair cut. It was quickly established that years of swimming had left my blonde locks so badly chlorine damage there was only one option. Off came the very fashionable basin haircut leaving nothing more than an inch of hair. Staring back at me from the mirror was a round faced, chubby, younger version of my father that was practically bald!
Growing up, changing becoming conscious of appearance you really do not want to hear how much you look like a man especially if that man is quite stern faced and has the opposite temperament to yourself. Dad still tells dry jokes with a dead pan expression and when he smiles he looks slightly uncomfortable and a little unnatural. My Mum on the other hand is a cross between Mary Poppins and Maria; she even looks like Julie Andrews. She has a beautiful, warm, caring persona that men love, and if she wasn’t so nice, women would be jealous of. Of course, and with no jealously in my tone, my sister looks just like her!
As the years progressed my taste changed from liking Hasselhoff’s car to his Bay Watch lifeguards. Sam and I pinched alcohol from the parent’s cabinet, got hooked on Twin Peaks, cried watching Beaches and talked about boys, OK I talked about Laura Palmer! I became confident in my abilities, personality and lifestyle but still I could never quite get rid of the negative feelings that I looked masculine and like my father.
To this day I sometimes see my reflection and feel uncomfortable in my appearance. I could use clichés such as it’s the person inside that counts or beauty is in the eye of the beholder but that is not helping me, so now I need advice. What I would like to know is how does someone change a perception of themselves decades later? How does one become so comfortable in their skin they feel beautiful without becoming arrogant? I would hate to wake up at sixty, look in the mirror and see a good looking woman who was always there, smiling back and not having appreciated her.