In three days from now, I’ll be stepping out of my comfort zone and onto a train to London, to go to Mumsnet’s BlogFest. I probably shouldn’t admit here quite how big a deal this is for me. I am a stage in my life where my comfort zone equates roughly to my postcode and a cagoule: familiar, easy, safe. It isn’t that I’m not looking forward to it, but the reality (Trains! People! Oyster cards!) is starting to daunt me a little the closer it draws.
Having booked tickets ages ago, I’ve spent the last week or so wondering what to wear. I’ve narrowed my outfit down to something warm but lightweight; casual but smart; comfortable to wear and appropriate for everything I’ll be doing over the weekend – but able to fit into my handbag so as not to require lugging round everywhere with me.
I haven’t quite found it yet.
To my shame, beneath all the practicalities of packing, I know there’s a lurking wish to look good. Months ago, back when I booked my ticket, I was full of plans to lose a stone and have mastered my makeup and undergone a haircut to render my mop somewhat less hedge-like by November. Instead, of course, I’ve spent this last week inhaling biscuits and coming sadly to the realisation that I can afford neither the time nor the money to go to the hairdresser.
It doesn’t matter how much I tell myself that it doesn’t really matter. The people I hope to meet have been talking to a six-year old’s scribble of me for the past three years, after all; it’s a conference for writers and bloggers, not wannabe Miss Worlds (isn’t it?). I’m not going there to size up other people’s appearances, and I’m fairly certain they’re not there to do it to me.
So why am I doing this? Why do I do it, every time there’s a big occasion that requires me to shed the cagoule? Is it just me? It’s not a new development since I left work to be at home, though the bar has undeniably lowered as the number of events requiring consideration of my appearance has decreased. Weddings, nights out, holidays even: I can understand the desire to try to look ones best, but it goes beyond this. It’s not just about finding the perfect pair of jeans or boots that actually fit.
Being scrupulously honest, there’s a feeling that if I get it just right, find that dress/shoes/lipstick/weight, the real me will magically be revealed. There’ll be a wave of a wand transforming kitchen rags to ball gown; an astonished reaction to glasses removed and hair released from its bun tumbling down the back; the glorious f*ck-you moment of walking out of a store, purse unopened, after the snooty staff realise they got you wrong all along. It is ridiculous. I am nearly forty: a professional woman, a wife, a mother. I may have dreams left in me, but I am as close as dammit to getting there, wherever “there” is. This is the real me, warts and all*, and – consciously, at least – I’m actually happy with it. I’m not waiting to be discovered, much less rescued. Is this just a hangover from stories and books and films where the heroine realises her true destiny as soon as everyone else realises that she’s beautiful? Has that moral got wrapped up in the culture of endless self-improvement that we’re all subject to; the subtle nudging to be continually dissatisfied, continually looking a way to make it all better via judicious use of our credit card? Or am I just projecting my own insecurities onto everyone else’s happy relationship with the changing room?
I don’t know, but I don’t think I’ll be doing it differently any time soon, try as I might. And I still don’t know what to wear on Saturday.
*I don’t have warts.