There are some conversations that can only happen when you’re in that altered reality, time-warped state known as vacation. Meals are more leisurely, so you can sit at the table longer and tell stories. Car rides, free from the pressure of getting to work or school, become fertile ground for talk too.
Bedtimes? On days when I’m schlepping around to kids’ sports practices and such, I’ve got a mental count-down clock going. When will Robin quit wiggling and go to bed? When will Camilla finally turn out her light so I can have beer?
But in vacationland, bedtime is often the best time to get into the Real Talk.
This past July my family traveled to North Carolina and Virginia to see grandparents (my in-laws) and cousins (my husband’s people and mine). When we arrived at Herman House in Raleigh after a full day of air travel and airports, we quickly got settled in the two upstairs rooms. ‘Buela invited the kids to read some of the old favorite books on the shelf, mostly picture books from the 1970s.
For some reason, the book Color Me Beautiful jumped out at me instead. I grabbed it off the shelf.
“Ha! Color Me Beautiful,” no way!
“What the heck?,” Camilla, the 11-year-old, replied.
“I could swear we had a Color Me Beautiful color consultant at the Girl Scout sleepover,” I muttered.
“What’s a color consultant? What sleepover?”
“Someone who tells you what color clothes and makeup you should wear…Yes! We were working on a badge. It was called…Looking Your Best! Fifth grade, so maybe 1986?” It was all flooding back.
“Woah, a badge with a comb and brush and mirror on it? For real?,” she said.
When most of the badges Camilla has earned since starting Girl Scouts in 2011 have been about doing things (cooking, first aid, you know—practical stuff), I guess Looking Your Best just didn’t sit right with her. In fact, I learned later, Looking Your Best was one of the most popular Junior badges until well after my time, according to this excellent Girl Scout history blog.
“Well, sure, it was mostly about making the most of your best features, I guess. If I’m honest, we probably talked more about why you should brush your hair every day—so it doesn’t get those horrible tangles! And why you can wear whatever you want to play at home, but you need closed-toed shoes for camping and your Girl Scout uniform for when you’re representing scouts in a parade or something. So, more like Taking Basic Care of Yourself and Dressing Appropriately for Your Circumstances probably would be a better name for it.”
“Yeah, but a color consultant? What does that even mean?”
“Oh, it was probably someone’s mom who just needed to practice on us before she got her first paying client. She told me I was a Spring. So, I don’t know, I should wear pink and pastels or something like that.” (In reality I gravitate toward a palette of black, denim, blue, brown, and uh, black.)
“Wait, people would pay to have someone tell them what colors to wear?”
“Someone, somewhere did, I’m sure.”
We paged through the book, alternately laughing out loud and getting indignant.
“Right! and Wrong! Look, on this page it shows the lady in a round-necked shirt…that’s Right! apparently. She’s an Autumn, so the dead-leaf color is really working for her. The collared shirt is Wrong! because it’s pink and she’s an Autumn. And because her neck is…wait for it…TOO SHORT.”
“Wait, whose neck is too short? Too short for what?” Camilla looked at the Wrong! photo and squinted. She flipped a few more pages. “Huh, so pant cuffs are apparently good to shorten legs that are TOO LONG. What the…”
I guess perspectives have changed over time. Looking your best is about achieving the look you were going for, not about conforming to a pre-set standard of beauty. Right?
When talking about clothes you’re trying on, you say “Ah, this doesn’t look good on me, I’ll try a different size/color/cut,” right? Not, “Ah, my butt’s too big for this outfit.” It’s hard to remember to do that sometimes, but I was super proud that my girl found Color Me Beautiful with all its Rights and Wrongs to be completely outside of her known or aspired-to world.
Guess what I ran across next and immediately took out to re-read? Blubber, by Judy Blume. I would love for Camilla to start reading Judy Blume but I think she would be absolutely horrified by Blubber. The girls are so mean to poor Linda! (“Wait, that girl in the red dress is the one they think is fat? She’s not fat!”) The gang even corners Linda in the bathroom and tries to make her take off her clothes. And we think sexting is bad–school in the 70s was horrible.
After all of this talking and reading and thinking and laughing and being indignant, a different kind of beauty conversation went down, this one between my six-year-old son and me.
Him: Mom, can I groom you?
Me: You mean comb my hair? Sure, I’d love that.
Him: *gets started combing* Can I pick out your dandruff?
Him: I won’t eat it.
Him: You know, like a chimpanzee does.
Him: Camilla told me, chimps comb each other and eat stuff off of each other.
Me: They eat bugs off each other cuz bugs are part of chimps’ diet. Yes, you can pick out my dandruff. Thanks, buddy.
And then it was finally bedtime and I got to have beer.