One of the great things about getting older is that I'm less self-conscious about certain things. Changing in the tiny crowded dressing room at yoga doesn't faze me, and I know it would have made me uncomfortable when I was in my early twenties. I'm quite sure no one is looking at my almost-40 butt, and if they are, I don't really care what they think. That's a kind of self-acceptance that I didn't have 10 or 15, or possibly even 5 years ago.
Sure, I do care about how I dress, how my hair looks -- but I figured out my basic look many years ago, and it's just a question of maintaining it. A new black jacket to replace the old one, a slightly different variation on my hairstyle. I have some social anxiety, but that's about actually having to interact with people, not about what they might think about how I look. I watch my younger students posturing and posing for each other -- the carefully calibrated spectrum of fashionable-trendy-cool-alternative -- and I find it anthropologically kind of interesting, and kind of charming, but I'm also thankful that I'm now almost 40, and pretty much immune to such issues. I am who I am -- a bit more stylish than some of my colleagues (not hard to do on my campus), less stylish than some other people in my profession. Right in the middle somewhere, I'd guess.
Earlier this week, some photos were posted online from the infamous high school reunion (which I did not attend) -- I looked through a bunch of them, and was really surprised to see how old a lot of people looked. The men in particular had not fared so well. Big paunchy bellies and a lot of gray hair. It was sort of reassuring that I couldn't even recognize many people, unless their name tag was readable in the photo. There are a few faces who look basically they way they did in 7th grade, but everyone else is sliding pretty quickly into middle age. I have to confess to feeling a little tiny bit of schadenfreude while looking at the pics -- not because I want to look the way I did in high school, but I'm certainly glad I haven't gone completely gray.
But then the universe taught me a little humility, when I went to go see my piercer about something later the same day. Now, I love my piercer -- he's experienced, careful, and a truly gentle personality. He has a beautiful calming voice and creates a mellow atmosphere even in a place full of needles. He's also so much cooler than me that we might as well live on different planets. I go in there to see him, and I instantly feel incredibly boring and square. He never says or does anything that would make anyone feel uncomfortable (and after all, plenty of his business is piercing cheerleader girls' navels) -- but he has metal spikes sticking out from all over his face, elaborate tattoos, and extremely Gothic hair. I go in, and I'm suddenly teleported back to junior high, when my friends and I would hang out at the arcade playing video games and hoping that the punk high schoolers would notice us. I'm awkward and tongue-tied, and I don't think it's just the "doctor's office" nervousness elicited by the smell of the latex gloves. It's sort of oddly rejuvenating, though, to feel that wish to be cool, at least for a few minutes.