wear your red dress


(This post is dedicated to Chris, who looked beautiful last night.)

Last Saturday night I went to see a show. I saw a friend there, someone I like but don’t know well. She looked beautiful in a red dress and heels. Not her usual attire, as she’s a woman of a certain age who’s a no-makeup, no skirts/no dresses kind of person.

She looked fabulous in a knit dress of an eye-popping fire-engine red that really completed her black-and–gray hair and olive skin tone. She kept saying she felt self-conscious, but she didn’t look self-conscious. She looked happy and beautiful. She’s ending a long period of unhappiness in her life, I think, and she has the excited look of someone who’s enjoying herself, who’s stepping out into the world after a long time of holding back. I told a friend that it’s like a shy and excited 14-year-old is looking at you out of her eyes.

When I told her she looked too hot to feel self-conscious, Chris told me a story from her childhood.

Once, when she was a child, her family went out on the town. Chris’ mom got tipsy and was full of herself, embarrassing Chris with her uninhibited behavior. Seeing her daughter’s distress, the mom explained something that Chris never forgot: that people are so into themselves and their own insecurities that they really don’t notice you the way you think they do.

And I agree. I don’t know that it’s people’s own insecurities that stop them from noticing, but I agree with Chris’ tipsy mom that people just don’t judge, condemn, or even notice us the way we think they do.

I see a lot of this sort of thing at the gym. I worked briefly in the fitness industry, and I currently work out several days a week. Over the years, both as gym employee and as a person working out, I’ve seen a lot of very self-conscious gym newbies.

Newbies to the gym are frequently heavy women there to lose weight. And when they take a group fitness class, they frequently don’t know the moves, feel odd, and look awkward and embarassed. They feel that everyone’s looking at them, laughing, judging. I’ve been that new person, and I’ve seen that new person, and I know that that’s so often how newbies feel. They think that they look ridiculous, and they feel inadequate, incompetent, and totally other.

To these newbies whose faces burn with shame: here is what is really going on. We at the gym notice you, but not like you think we do. We see you, and we remember being new to the gym ourselves once. We do not judge you. We wish you well. We think of you for a few seconds, and then we think of lunch, or how our arm is hurting after that last set of tricep kickbacks. It’s not that you don’t matter, it’s that you are not the burning flame of ridicule and shame you believe yourself to be. You’re just another person at the gym. Be proud of yourself for just showing up.

Last night Chris was a burning flame – feeling awkward but looking wonderful, like she’d worn that red dress out dancing every Saturday for the last few years, and knew that it flattered her and made her look vibrant, alive, happy, herself.

So for all of the self-conscious people of the world, wasting their happiness in self-doubt: wear your red dress!  Do your aerobics! Don’t let ever let dignity be a handicap. Give yourself permission to have a learning curve or moments of awkwardness.  It’s part of the charm of being human.

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