My world has been utterly changed over the last few months by moving across the country, returning to active duty and beginning the final year of my doctoral education in clinical psychology. It’s been wonderful and scary and stressful and exhilarating.
There have been three major (and many minor) struggles for me in this transition.
1) I had to leave the first community that I had truly become a part of as an adult.
2) I had to learn (and am still learning) how to balance hard, quality training with a solid 8-10 (and occasionally longer) hour work day.
3) I had to find my new identity as a Medical Service Corps officer.
I’ve touched on the first two already and will probably be talking about the second quite a bit over the next few months as I am beginning my rotation in the inpatient clinic on Monday and will be working from 0700-1615 at a minimum. Today, however, I will discuss the third.
What’s the big deal, right? I mean, I’ve been in the military before… this isn’t new. But it is. It is so new and so very very different. Also, I didn’t like who I was when I was last on active duty. I was definitely still working out some very problematic personal stuff and I hadn’t found an identity that 100% made sense to me yet. One of the things with which I struggled previously was finding space to be “feminine” while also presenting a military presence and not appearing “too feminine” so as to not be taken seriously. I recall shunning the color pink for many years because I associated it with being “girly” and that was somehow not okay because it was just so stereotypical of women, right? It turns out that I actually really like the color pink, more specifically I’m a huge fan of magenta. Who knew?! Not me, because I wasn’t allowing myself to like pink.
Also, I was NOT an endurance athlete when I was last on active duty. I was just beginning to dabble in half marathons and 10 milers but I wasn’t a triathlete and endurance sport wasn’t a lifestyle for me. It was just something I did sometimes on weekends and hoped I was fit enough to finish and still be able to walk to the car afterward. Now, training is a part of my life. Without it, the days don’t feel complete and my body and mind feel sluggish and uncomfortable. And maintaining my competitive edge requires some creativity and serious dedication now that I have to get up at 4:30 a.m. to squeeze in a pre-work workout.
Knowing that I’m beginning a rotation that will take up much more of my time than what I’ve been accustomed to, I thought that this would be a good time to go as low maintenance as possible with my hair. I’m not much of a make-up wearer. Generally, I curl my eyelashes and put on mascara every day during the week but that’s it, unless you count lips gloss applications (which are often replaced with vaseline, anyway). I decided to take my even shorter hair to a new level of short…
As silly as this may sound to some people, cutting my hair was actual a real emotional challenge for me. Every time I’ve cut my hair shorter over the last year I’ve thought “will Justin still find me attractive?” or “will I look like a boy?” I was especially concerned BECAUSE I’m not much of a makeup wearer. Of course, this concern was only reinforced when I was speaking with one of our administrative personnel at the hospital the other day and she said “Oh, you’re married? I thought you were gay.” It’s an unfair but common stereotype, I guess, and especially in a military setting… short hair on a female = lesbian. Well, straight gals can have short hair, too! I’ve noticed that since I’ve cut off my hair, I’m more focused on remembering to put my uniform-appropriate earrings in every day and I never miss a mascara application. I often wonder if people will mistake me for a man when I’m in uniform… and I did get called “sir” once.
I didn’t realize how much this had impacted me, though, until I was texting with my mom today about my hair (and my efforts to learn how to style it properly at this length). I really wanted her to approve of my haircut… partly because she’s my mom and partly because she does hair for a living but for some reason it was really important to me. And she only seemed somewhat approving. I thought “this doesn’t look good on me” and “I’m not as attractive now.” Then I thought “I’m not that attractive now according to who?!” and “why the hell should I care if I’m happy?” Truly, this hair is very convenient for me as an athlete with a busy work schedule. I need every extra minute I can get right now if I’m going to keep pushing myself in the sport of triathlon while also excelling at my job. And why can’t I say what’s feminine? I mean, I AM a FEMALE, therefore I AM feminine.
Why is it so hard for us to own that? Pop culture wants to dictate what’s feminine and what’s not, what’s attractive and what’s not. I mean, pop culture even tells us what is important and what isn’t… like… never mind that we landed on a comet, there’s a photoshopped picture of a reality TV show star’s arse that we should all be focusing on instead. Take this fun, new, funky song (that keeps getting stuck in my head) for example:
First of all, I love this tune. It’s cute and it’s catchy. However, the lyrics really aren’t as empowering as they could be. Listen carefully. This girl’s mother tells her not to worry about her size because… “boys like a little more booty to hold at night.” I mean, it’s great that it’s basically smashing the stereotype of only tiny girls being attractive but NOW we’re saying that it’s okay to be bigger as a woman because boys like it? No no no no no! It’s okay to be bigger as a woman because people come in all sorts of shapes and sizes and as long as you’re healthy, your measurements shouldn’t really matter! So, my husband laughs when I sing along with “tell them skinny b#tches that…” partly because I’m one of those “skinny b#tches” but also just because he likes to laugh at me. Anyway, now the song is basically saying that I need to have a “more booty” to be attractive so SOMEBODY loses out on being the “ideal” that “boys like” regardless.
Alllll of that to say… be bold. Be you. Consider experiencing the freedom of NOT having to blow dry 16 inches of hair every day. Is that something YOU would like to change? Then change it. Be curvy, be thin… either way, just be healthy in body AND spirit.
As for me, I’m going to be a triathlete who is practical about the time it takes to get ready for work after a workout. I’m also going to be a psychology intern… and a naval officer… and a Christian… and a wife… and many other things that I’m going to do those in a way that fits with my morals and my priorities and I’m going to do my best to break the mold when that’s what being me calls for. I’m sure I’ll fail sometimes. I’m sure that, sometimes, it will be so easy to just follow the pop culture flow that I won’t even notice I’m doing it. For the time being, I’m going to focus on the things which are most important to me and that’s my spirituality, my role as a wife, my job and my triathlon training… and NOT on whether or not someone assumes I’m a lesbian because I have uber short hair.
*This post about being brave is partly inspired by Ms. Renee High who ran her heart out at the Richmond Marathon this morning. Check out her new Facebook page at Eat With Purpose! Also, thanks to my hubs who doesn’t bat an eye when I say I want shorter hair or smaller boobs (cuz seriously, they are just extra weight to carry in a race)!