Use Your Body Up

While waiting with other members of our food co-op, someone who should think of other ways to start a conversation asked me a cuttingly critical question. I couldn’t even come up with an answer. That’s not like me. The best response I could muster was a fake laugh, as if to acknowledge that she must have been joking. (She wasn’t.) Her question seemed to be more curious than mean spirited but it forced me to think about how other people see me.

I thought I’d let Beauty go, along with her twin sister, Shame, long ago. Apparently not.

Some people look amazing all the time and at any age.  They know what clothes are in, what accessories to use, how to walk in fussy shoes gracefully. I’m impressed by them even if they seem like a species only faintly related to my comfortably slouchy self.

My presence makes people who are fashion backward and technologically inept feel much better about themselves. Clearly there are perks for hanging out with me. But apparently I give so little thought to my appearance that others might come away with the wrong impression. As my questioner put it, “You really leave the house looking like that? It must be easy when you don’t care.”

I do care.

I care about practically everything.

It’s exhausting.

I churn through my days trying, and sometimes succeeding, in doing what good I can do even if on the smallest scale. I talk to people and animals kindly, try to listen more than react,  and when I’m upset ask myself what darkness in myself lets me see shadows elsewhere. I write about natural learning and sustainability and peace. I support good causes and when times are hard, as they tend to be, I attach myself to hope like a barnacle.  This leaves very little energy for personal beautification. Heck, I rarely muster up the ooompf to keep weeds from towering over my vegetable plants so there’s no way I’ll get around to using a blow dryer or nail polish. I’ve never had the money let alone the inclination to have a manicure or pedicure, go to a spa, or have my hair styled. Well, I’ve never actually had a hair style….

When I came home I emailed a few close friends. I explained I’d been at the co-op, where we unload a truck and do other labors befitting less-than-great clothes, so I wore jeans and an old embroidered cotton shirt, my hair tied up and scuffed clogs on my feet. Because I’m no saint, I described the unflattering horizontal stripes of the shirt my questioner wore and how it was a so tight that her form-fitting pants pushed bulges of flesh through at least three of those stripes. (I try to be non-judgmental. That day I failed.) Then I asked the most important question. I’ve never steered that question to appearances before. My friends were all ridiculously nice when really, I was hoping to know if it’s time to start dying my hair or stop wearing my daughter’s hand-me-ups.

I know we broadcast something about our self-esteem via our appearance. Still, I’m not any more motivated than I was before that day at the co-op. I tweezed an eyebrow once, back when I was a teen. It hurt at the tears-in-my-eyes level. Won’t do that again. There’s no way I’ll bother wearing earrings or remembering hand lotion.

But I’ve realized an appearance-based truth from all of this. My body, like everyone else’s body, gets used up by life. And that’s exactly how it’s supposed to be. Years of changing diapers, gardening, canning, washing dishes, kneading dough, and taking walks no matter the weather have left me with creaking knees and hands that belong on someone much older. These are all ways of using my body for a purpose. When I stroll off the planet I want to know that I’ve enjoyed all the health, vigor, pleasure, and meaningful work my body can generate.

During yesterday’s walk the wind was intense and it started to rain. My face and hands were pelted with icy drops from a beautiful still-bright sky. I should have left the house with a scarf and gloves but I didn’t turn around. I walked right into the wind, letting it toss my hair as freely as it blew the last leaves off the trees. I felt completely alive.

enjoy your body not your looks, beyond beauty, beyond body perfection, die used up,

Aja-ann Trier /

31 thoughts on “Use Your Body Up

  1. A couple of years ago I had a back spasm. The herbalist who I went to listened to all the tidbits of info I could give him in order to make up a remedy. He paused for a while and finally said, ‘oh, you treat your body like Harley [motorcycle], you enjoy the heck out of it’. When I read your post Laura, I laughed at how similar you and I probably are. Thanks for the reminder to wear a scarf ; ) Today it’s very rainy and damp and I’ve got a long walk ahead of me. Great piece. It made my day. Thanks!


  2. Your words speak of the beauty that you must surely carry with you throughout all your days. I love you post.
    Have a wonderful day. Walk with courage into the wind all your days. Live your life honest to yourself.
    Love to you and yours


  3. >As my questioner put it, “You really leave the house looking like that? It must be easy when you don’t care.”

    Wow! That’s crazy. If her demeanor wasn’t as hostile as her words, I might have replied by telling her how awfully I mess up when I do care about my appearance. I have a photo from just before a job interview. The suit I thought was go great makes me look like a bag lady. I like comfort, so it was loose. I thought it draped nicely until I saw that photo. I tried to dress up for a date recently, and it was so frustrating. Or I might have honestly said I didn’t understand dressing up for that sort of event. If someone I liked said something like that, I might have first joked about it, “What? You don’t like my ensemble?”, and then asked for fashion help. (But I’d likely reject most of the advice as too much trouble!)

    I’m so sorry she managed to cause you pain. My insecurities are around other things. I really don’t care about appearance much (though perhaps I should). But someone like that could easily put me in a funk with some other putdown – something about how I interact with people.

    >I was hoping to know if it’s time to start dying my hair or stop wearing my daughter’s hand-me-ups.

    I love my gray hair. I have loved it most of the years it’s been with me, though there was a time when it made me feel like I looked drab. That stage has passed. I hope you’ll find a way to love your hair as it ages.

    Thank you for writing this.


    • I had to laugh at your tale of the interview suit. Story of my life. Even when I think I’ve managed to “pass” as someone who has a clue about clothes, photos reveal the truth. But that’s the joy of not caring all that much about appearance. You and I can just do what we’ve got to do and save those insecurities for something else.


  4. Laura Grace, I feel so much affection for you right now..when is it I get to come hang out with you??
    So glad our world has people like you who are truly present in their bodies, comfortable in their own skin! The spirit of one who knows herself emanates such presence that another who is seemingly affected by the superficiality of the world is drawn to this presence in confusion..and does not know how to word her real question: “How is it I might be more like you? I am intrigued.”
    They have not realized their own fears as they have not delved within enough to even grasp who they themselves are, fundamentally. However, on some level, this fellow human being recognizes something, yet does not realize what it is and falls back on learned, conditioned approaches that have nothing to do with the initial recognition. Thus the stupid question. You played the part of catalyst that day at the co-op, as this woman probably thought about you that night as she went to sleep, wondering how and why she was so blunt and insensitive to you..You have probably triggered the opening of a door to never-before-explored areas for this person! Way to go!


    • Katherine, I adore the generous and open-hearted way you interpret my questioner’s motivation. I’m well acquainted with saying the wrong thing when I really mean to connect with someone or to express something beyond what I’m able to say. I joke a lot, especially when my heart just wants to leap out of my chest. So you may have something there. Maybe, just maybe, there was something more to her question than simply a really clumsy way of starting a conversation. Or maybe it wasn’t. She’s actually an interesting, very forthright, and generally friendly person. But I’ve got to say Katherine, I think your interpretation cuts to the core of what some of us feel when we’re in the presence of someone who can help us open a door. I’ve felt it many times and rarely been able to act on my feelings. I’ll be thinking about how any of us can better deal with such moments.

      And when ARE you coming to hang out with me?


  5. It never ceases to amaze me at the insensitivity of people in this world who are so worried about damaging people’s self esteem. Do they think that these comments help?

    I have a skin condition that affects my face and most of the time it looks really bad…like really, really, bad – ulcers, sores, swelling, and redness. Every time I leave the house I get asked, “What’s wrong with your face?” Very matter of fact and rude, if you ask me. I try to answer without going into all the medical mumbo jumbo but it is tiring.

    I’m with you though. I don’t hide away in my house or try to do things to cover up who I am. This is me, deal with it!


    • Oh Rachel. My heart goes out to you. What a challenge. And yet you “face” the world with fewer pretensions than people who rudely question you.

      Not sure if this is helpful or annoying but a friend’s son has had a raging case of acne with open sores, swelling, redness so severe that his skin looks blue in places. The approach he takes to people’s comments and questions is humor. Lately I heard him say, in a very matter-of-fact tone, “Clearly I’m a zombie.”


  6. I am so sorry this woman hurt you and tried to shame you. I’m also sorry for her – for whatever has hurt and shamed her so deeply that she can treat other people with such hostility. It’s mind-boggling that anyone would come out with a statement like that, no matter what a person looked like, and I hope you are able to reach the point where you don’t take it seriously, except to be concerned about her emotional health.

    I think there is something especially beautiful about women who have the confidence to dress appropriately “down” for an occassion. There is a grace in the workaday ponytail, the practical jeans, that I for one can not carry off. But I understand how you feel, and I thank you for sharing so honestly. I’m sure many of us have been in the same position (I certainly have) and can empathise.


    • I suspect, Sarah, that my questioner was truly boggled that I was so unconcerned with my appearance. Her outfit was surely trendy even if it didn’t seem all that flattering to my fashion-dunce eye. But after the qualms I felt, I think she gave me the gift of realizing exactly what I wrote about—that our bodies are given us to use. Some people adorn their bodies with beautiful clothes and tend them carefully with skin care products. That’s one way of using them. Some are amazing dancers or athletes or in some way keep pushing to new peaks of physical performance. That’s another way. And some of us simply use our bodies in ways that have meaning and purpose in our own lives. The thing is, enjoy your body. I’m just starting to see how important that can be for each one of us.


  7. Appearance is important, but more important is our image of ourselves. I like your post and all the comments. I’m one of those who used to worry about how I looked. Now that I have wrinkles, I am learning to like what I see in the mirror even though it seems my face is sagging more every day. When I’m not in that place of acceptance, I remind myself that the most important thing is, “Am I enjoying life?” If I can say, “Yes,” that’s all that counts. It always picks me up. I like to wear pretty clothes, and I love shoes, mainly because I love color, and I think color creates a mood, both for the wearer and the observer, so I enjoy it and use it. I also like to be comfortable in old jeans and baggy clothes and no makeup, so I enjoy that, too.

    Oh, and I have never been able to understand how some people can make a comment like the one you received. Yes I can – they are really insecure. Plus, ask deeply personal questions of a complete stranger. But that’s me – I’m from New England where nobody asks personal questions of their best friend.


  8. Your story makes me think about a homeschool info night a few years ago. Apparently I left right before “the good part” — a younger mother who was thinking of homeschooling looked around the room at all the older veterans and asked, “What about burn-out? I see none of you bother to wear make-up.”

    I guffawed at the thought of me or any of my friends ever bothering to get made up and coiffed. And I loved that she thought it was homeschooling that made us look like that!


  9. Ummmm….I wear my worn out yoga pants, the ones splattered with paint, when I help at co-op. My hair looks like it’s been plugged into a light socket when I drive to the co-op at 5 am. I prefer to die totally used up and worn out from work and play. No showpiece person sitting on the mantel for me. I’m sorry your questioner was having an ugly duckling day and didn’t/couldn’t see the swan that you are….and she is. We are all light shining through windows, and you, Laura Grace, shine very bright indeed!


  10. I don’t understand that woman saying this to you. Apart from being unable to understand why someone would be so hostile…You ARE beautiful. whether you want to be or not. She was unable to see this, it seems, or maybe she actually did…maybe she saw the light in your eyes and knew it wasn’t in hers..


  11. I love this article! I turned 50 last year, and I rarely wear makeup or earrings or my hair in anything other than a ponytail or a braid. My daily uniform is a t-shirt and jeans. We are unschoolers in my family (ha, more homeschoolers), and we don’t care too much what other people think about what we do or how we look. We’re too busy living and having fun! The older I get, the less personally I take these kinds of questions or comments from people; because, really, who cares what anyone else thinks? It’s more important what you think of yourself.

    I love your written response (and the Harley analogy is wonderful), but I certainly think it’s okay to respond verbally to anyone who makes personal comments like this. I probably would have tried to make it a teaching moment for her by saying, “It is! I have so much more time to concentrate on things that really matter to me!” I interpret it the same way Katherine did — maybe she just didn’t know how to say, “I wish I could be like you and not care about such superficial things.”

    “If only you could sense how important you are to the lives of those you meet; how important you can be to people you may never even dream of. There is something of yourself that you leave at every meeting with another person.” ~Fred Rogers.

    Thanks for the great blog!


    • You’re right Nancy. It’s important to respond verbally. I wish I’d come up with saying what you suggested. Problem is, sometimes the response I really want to make is one that occurs to me the next day. Or a week later. I’m just as likely to freeze up or make light of something that’s hurtful. But in a lot of ways I think that the whole thing was a good experience. It made me acknowledge who I am. Sure, I’m still impressed with people who look fantastic at any age. I think a sense of style and self-composure is amazing. I don’t have it but I’m able to recognize it when I see it. But I’m okay with who I am. Now, to teach myself to start using hand lotion and wear a damn scarf when it’s cold!


  12. I prefer my hugs from folks I love, rather than clothing that squeezes me in places I’d rather have free. I have learned to embrace my curls that I once wanted long, blonde and silky. There is a freedom in accepting who we are and where we sit, I think. As for staying warm, there’s always the hat and gloves in the back seat of the car. See you at the food coop, my friend.


  13. Laura, I’ve been wracking my brain for days now, trying to remember who said this, and couldn’t find it. Tonight, as I tried to ask a friend what the author’s name might be, I suddenly remembered:

    This is the true joy in life, the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one; the being a force of nature instead of a feverish, selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy.

    I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the whole community, and as long as I live it is my privilege to do for it whatever I can.

    I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work the more I live. I rejoice in life for its own sake. Life is no “brief candle” for me. It is a sort of splendid torch which I have got hold of for the moment, and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it on to future generations.

    George Bernard Shaw


    • SO perfect. I remember a tiny bit of this from somewhere, the “being a force of nature instead of a feverish, selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy.” Thank you Sue! And thank you, retroactively, George.


  14. I remember someone at school saying I was “most likely to get dressed in the dark.” I try to think people mean well most of the time but there are still those moments that leave us thinking, “did they just say that?” Your post is beautiful and really touching. I don’t like how people equate a way of appearing as “giving up,” you know? I like to be comfortable and able to keep up with my kids. I have made an effort to learn about clothes/makeup in case my daughter asks, but it really is subjective. I do have days where I feel dumpy but usually I just feel like me. Have a wonderful new year!


  15. I am a hair dye liberated no make up mom to six home birthed kids. Life has its turns but I always think to that old lady with her braids and garden sitting on her porch drinking lemonade barefoot. That’s who I aspire to be. I wear my jewelry for me and the whole looking in the mirror thing is getting easier. I feel seventeen but look….. well, my age. I find you beautiful from your writing. Your kids and hubby are who matter most after yourself. I think it is those that are trapped by the Madison Ave idea of what we are to look like that are the lost people. Not us.
    Think of all the money we have saved and the true self image we project for our daughters and sons.


    • Oooh, I want to be that old lady too!

      I think you’ve really summed it up. What we do for beauty we do for ourselves. The rest of it we can leave behind, saving money (and anguish) and preserving the true self.


  16. I am so grateful to have found your blog! Today is my first time here, and for the first time- I’m interested in a blog! You are a gentle soul, and beauty is what we feel when we are near someone, not necessarily see… I say this from a retired- hot -bartender- turned -frumpy- old- mom point of view. I choose gardening, canning, refinishing a piece of old furniture or baking up something wonderful over hair, make-up and outfit everyday! Which is why my kids and sisters keep trying to put me on “what not to wear” 😉 Hope you have a fun filled, body using day, my new comrade 🙂 …Laura


    • “Beauty is what we feel when we are near someone”—-so true, but only when we’re open to this wider way of seeing. So glad you are. And btw, someone in my life threatens to put me on What Not To Wear too!


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