I was feeling quite proud of myself, I had woken up before the sun had risen, prepared my daughter’s lunch for school and my own lunch for work, packed my work clothes to get changed into post workout and walked into my 7am pilates class (across town) with five minutes left up my sleeve.
My pilates instructor came up to me while I was using the reformer, checking to make sure my uncoordinated body was doing what it was supposed to. That’s when I looked down and saw the black hairs spiking out of my legs, contrasted by the pale white skin that sat behind it.
The feeling of embarrassment wasn’t too bad but then it dawned on me, if my legs looked like that, what did my arm pits look like? And the answer was, hairy. “I’m sorry” I told Georgina*. “I totally forgot to shave.” She laughed and told me, “Don’t worry about it, I didn’t even notice”.
Why would she care? Why should I care? Why was I apologising? It was a 7am pilates class, I was here to strengthen my weakened abdominal muscles post-children, not to show off my hairless body.
Don’t shoot me for the generalisation but women (not all, maybe not even most but definitely quite a lot) seem to apologise for their appearance if it isn’t quite up to what they consider ‘acceptable’ standard.
The countless times I have seen or heard a woman (myself included) say “sorry” for their outfit, state of their hair, lack of makeup or any other variation of their appearance have made me not only question why but more importantly, how is this impacting on the next generation of females- our daughters? Our nieces? Our girls? And maybe even more importantly the next generation of males – our sons? Our nephews? Our boys?
The sponges that our children are make it imperative that we as parents, uncles, aunts, adults in general, are aware of our behaviour; even the behaviours that come inadvertently to us, because it all, good and bad, gets soaked up.
When my daughter, aged five, told me to delete a photo of her and to not show it to anyone because her hair looked “disgraceful”, I realised I needed to really reflect and change some of my own behaviour when it came to commenting on appearance, or in my case, apologising for it.
Like the pilates class experience, there have been many other times where I have apologised for how I look. Mostly these have been in situations where people aren’t going for glamour or aesthetics. Yet I have still found the need to explain that I usually look better than this and that there is a reason for my appearance and lack of effort.
This has extended (in relation to my abundance of body hair) to visits to my obstetrician, to my GP at pap smear time, the masseuse and even the beautician prior to being waxed.
I have apologised to the grocery delivery man for wearing pyjamas at 8am on a Sunday morning when the delivery arrived. I have apologised for a red dry nose after having a head cold, for wearing old track pants and gum boots at my property while doing tasks outside and a visitor has popped around unexpectedly, for nipping down to the supermarket with my hair un-brushed and bumping into someone I know. I have even apologised for sweat marks on my clothes at the gym.
“I ran out of time”, “ I think I need better deodorant” and “this is what being a mother does to you" are my common catch cries. “Sorry, sorry, sorry”.
I would definitely not define myself as vain, I am not one to obsess over my appearance by a long shot, yet when I find myself in these situations I keep apologising. When other women do the same thing in my company, I am always telling them to “stop being ridiculous” or joking, “You should see me half the time."
But I keep finding myself doing exactly the same thing, without even knowing I’m doing it and without even understanding why. And now I see these off the cuff comments I’ve made -apologising for how I look that perpetuates this idea that you need to look ‘nice’ all the time or apologise if you don’t, is being passed onto my five-year-old daughter.
So I am vowing to embrace my hairy legs, ‘home clothes’, sweat patches and to stop apologising for my imperfect appearance.
* Names have been changed for anonymity.
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