“What’s that?” the lady asked, pointing at some blotchy spots, otherwise known as freckles, on my face and neck and hands, “Are you allergic to something?”
“No,” I replied, “That’s just my skin.”
“You know you can buy some stuff to make those spots go away,” she said helpfully.
I’m covered in freckles. China hates freckles. The only Chinese word I’ve come up with for freckles literally means “black spot” which makes them sound awful, so I can understand why they’re so undesirable. If I leave my apartment without makeup on, I will get to have the above conversation at least once. Guaranteed.
It’s not just the freckles. One random guy was complimenting my beautiful baby and said, “It’s a good thing she looks like her father because he’s much better looking than you!” His bluntness wasn’t as surprising as the fact that I’d never met this guy and my husband wasn’t with me at the time, but he knew enough about me to make this observation (throwback to that Glass House post from a couple months ago…).
“It’s a good thing all my kids look like their father,” I replied.
The bigger my baby gets, the more I hear, “She’s much prettier than you!” I’m actually so glad to hear that. It could be much worse. If my baby was funny looking, I would constantly hear things like “Hey! Look! That baby looks like a monkey!”
How do I manage to walk away from these comments with my confidence still intact? Maybe the “You’re so white and beautiful” comments I used to get from my Chinese college students help check the negative stuff. All I know is that cross cultural living calls for thick skin (even if it’s freckled) and a sense of humor. Most of all, I know my creator is well pleased with me because I’m fearfully and wonderfully made, so I don’t have to get affirmation of my beauty from the world. And my mom says I’m pretty. And I think I’m pretty. Sometimes random taxi drivers think I’m pretty (until they see my baby).
It’s been said that “beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” I never grasped just how true that is until living overseas. The differences can be so overwhelming it makes my head spin. For example, Americans spend money to have themselves baked alive in tanning beds or sprayed with chemicals to achieve the perfect “I just got back from a beach vacation, and now I just exude this health glow!” look. Meanwhile, women in Asia are spending money on beauty products and spa treatments that promise whiter skin and go to great pains to guard themselves from the sun so that they can achieve that “I stay indoors because I’m well off, and I don’t have to work in the sun” look.
Like our Velvet Ashes writer, Amy Young, who coined the phrase, “Messy Middle,” I often find myself stuck in the messy middle when it comes to beauty and fashion. I arrive in America after 10 months in China and my sisters gasp at the sight of my pale legs.
“It’s summer for crying out loud! Go get some sun!” they say.
I arrive back in China after enjoying a summer in Texas where I didn’t try to stay pale or go to great lengths to get a tan, and my neighbors gasp, “You’re so black!”
When it comes to fashion trends, it gets even more confusing. Urban Asians pick up on different fashion trends than people in West Texas. If I try to follow the latest trends and fads here, I go back there for the summer and don’t quite fit in. Each place has a style all their own, but for one reason or another, I don’t/can’t do what all the “cool kids” are doing. My feet are too big and I’m too tall in China, and my wallet is too small in Texas.
So, what’s a girl to do? I know not all of us enjoy fashion and such, but I like to be a little trendy, get a little dressed up and feel girly and cute sometimes. I’m surely not alone here.
During my time in China, I’ve been through a few phases. In phase one, I just threw fashion by the wayside and embraced my Chaco hiking sandals backpacker girl look, and I was happy with it for that one year. In phase two, I still loved my Chacos, but wished I had a few things to wear on date night or girls’ night out and started to despise my simple wardrobe. Phase three, I finally found a fusion of sorts and arrived at a wardrobe that’s functional, cute and didn’t break the bank. I’m happy here in my messy middle. Let me illustrate by walking you through my current outfit:
1. My bag–it’s colorful and fun, but not a much sought-after, top of the line, designer label often carried by styling Chinese women. It’s probably out of style in America as well, but there’s something of a “global nomad” look to it that I like. I’ve had it for four years and it keeps working (even after I cut out the torn liner), so I keep using it!
2. My skirt–it’s one of my favorites, and like my bag, it’s almost four years old. It goes with lots of different tops and can be updated with a “trendy” necklace or fresh, new top. And, it has pockets. Who doesn’t love pockets?
3. My shoes–most of the time, this is precisely where it goes all wrong for me. I see so many women in this city strolling the streets in heels. They seem to go for fashion over comfort, and most of them have tiny feet. My feet are ginormous, even by American standards. So even if I went for fashion in this department, I’d still not quite fit the bill (not to mention I can’t even buy shoes my size where I live). Since I walk at least 1.5 miles a day and climb at least 10 flights of stairs while carrying a baby, I mostly go for comfort. I do have a few pairs of cute shoes, and they help me feel dressed up from time to time.
4. My cardigan–a hand me down! Yes, I’m over thirty and still love hand me downs. Every summer my sisters clean out their closets, and I hit the jackpot! Teammates are great for this too. As humbling as it may be to admit it, hand me downs are a key to my wardrobe.
So, that’s where I’m at with this whole beauty thing. What about you? Where are you in the mess of being comfortable in your own skin even when your skin doesn’t fit the description of beauty in the culture you find yourself in? Do you embrace any sort of fashion while overseas, or did that, like the rest of your normal life get tossed out the window when you got here?
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