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The New Old Me

I myself realize I have let myself slip into the negative column of Cosmopolitan ‘Do’s and Don’ts.’

I am born with straight hair and chubby legs.

Mom dresses me in darling pinafores with matching socks. Firstborn, you know.

Through elementary school she still controls my appearance: uniforms and corduroys. And home perms.

I never really mind until junior high when I meet the competition. I attempt to join the Bobbi Brooks crowd, but somehow, I know I am more Sears & Roebuck.

In college I meet the hippies and think maybe this might be a style I can embody. One pair of unwashed jeans looks better as the months go by. My hair is perfect for the un-styled windblown look.

Then disaster strikes. I graduate and get a real job: high school teacher. This comes with a small salary. The money is enough to cover rent, a phone line, and a used-car payment. There is a little bit left over for ramen noodles, peanut butter and jelly and white bread.

I have five polyester dresses, one for each day of the week, and two pairs of low-heeled pumps, one blue and one black.

In class my students read Pygmalion, a play based on a Greek myth. The sculptor protagonist can’t find the perfect woman, so he carves one out of marble. She is the epitome of epitomes. He drapes her in silk scarves and stares at her like a lovesick puppy. The gods feel sorry for him and bring her to life. He calls her Galatea.

George Bernard Shaw updates this story in bonny old England. A speech scholar picks up a poverty-stricken flower girl with a horribly nasal Cockney accent. On a bet, he changes her into one of those posh but snobby women who hang out at the horse races in hats bigger than London umbrellas.

It goes badly. Eliza knows that outside she might be a fashion plate, but inside she is still a lovable flower girl. This is not such a bitter pill, however, because she also knows she will have many more fabulous gowns once she is made into a musical called My Fair Lady.

My students recognize the theme of this makeover drama. They have their own bad hair days and must wrestle with facial skin explosions as well. I myself realize I have let myself slip into the negative column of Cosmopolitan “Do’s and Don’ts.”

Slowly but surely, my silky purple and fuchsia date clothes have been supplanted by brown polyester. My hair has calmed itself into a shorter, easy-care bob. On the kitchen counter rests a family-sized shoulder-strap purse complete with tissues, mints, combs, credit cards, coupons, pens, notepads, wipes, hand sanitizer, energy bars, ungraded essays, cash register receipts….

But inside, inside I am still in a meadow full of flowers, lounging on a blanket, wearing Mexican peasant blouses and huaraches sandals, drinking Annie Green Springs and listening to a live band. Heck, while I am imagining what my real life should be, I might as well dream myself into a rock festival headlined by The Who.

Then one day, seriously one day after the retirement dinner, even before the congratulations cards appear in the mail, I watch a daytime TV show. Women named Hoda and Jenna choose frumpy dowagers out of the crowd of “pick me’s.” Later in the program, the women reappear, twenty years younger, with new hair, makeup and clothes.

I think: I should go to New York! No. I should be realistic and make myself over. Without the chain mail of professional responsibility, without the frumpiness of business casual, I can free my inner being.

I start with my closet because that is where all Stevie Nick’s filmy scarves and swingy skirts have morphed into L.L. Bean long-sleeved wrinkle-free blouses and lumpy wool cardigans which make me look like Mr. Rogers’ female assistant. Into a box destined for a thrift store, I add knee-high nylons and sensible shoes. I even throw in my nun bras. I check the makeup drawer and jettison the sky-blue eye shadow. And the pink lipstick and matching nail polish.

Then I hit the pavement. I am going to buy a sun dress with big yellow flowers. I am going to purchase a large hat and Dolce & Gabbana sunglasses that will make me look like an updated Jackie O. I am in the market for a pink and aqua beach bag and a red convertible Sebring.I am going to paint my toenails orange and dye a purple streak in my hair.

First, the hairdresser. He suggests letting my cinnamon brown, which tends to turn brassy in the southern sun, grow into its natural salt and pepper. I’m for it. I want to be natural. Perfect. Then he trims my split ends. I am already getting back to the real me.

With a few wrinkled coupons I find in the bottom of my supersized faux leather handbag, I leave for Belk Department Store. Of course, after years of frugality indoctrination, I head straight for the Doorbusters. Get this. I can buy one Kim Rogers scoop-necked t-shirt and get two free. I buy one black, one blue, and one, what the heck, aqua. Then I notice the stretch pants. Same deal. I buy one black, one blue, and what the heck, another black.

I can’t believe it. New Balance sneakers are half off.

Once home I try on my new outfits. They are so comfy. I look in the full-length mirror. You can’t even tell my legs are chubby.

I wish you could see the new me. I look so good as I sit on the sofa, place my brand-spanking new tenners on the footstool, lift my cup of tea and turn to the back page of… Ha! I bet you thought I was going to say Cosmo. No, this is the latest issue of AARP. I can’t wait to see who just turned fifty. Or sixty. Or seventy. Or what? Eighty!

They all look so good, almost like I remember them – before their makeovers.


  1. Mary Ann, you nailed it! I can so relate—I still have the blue eye shadow (it might be fungus by now.) Your voice comes shining through your essay—I miss hearing it!

  2. Oh my goodness what a hoot this was! “Mr. Roger’s assistant” made me spit my tea.

  3. Kudos, Mary Ann, on a well-written essay that had me laughing out loud. “Lumpy wool cardigans” and “non bras”–so funny. Your photo is great. Keep shining!

  4. Kudos, Mary Ann, on a well-written essay that had me laughing out loud. “Lumpy wool cardigans” and “nun bras”–so funny. Your photo is great. Keep shining!

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