Growing up, whenever there was a school vacation (regardless of length), I felt compelled to be different upon my return. A three-day weekend prompted me to scavenge the mall, seeking out a perfect GAP t-shirt that would make all of the other seventh graders drool with corporate envy. A week over Easter meant a new haircut or an unhealthy amount of time spent laying in my pool, trying to cultivate the perfect golden brown skin-tone (I am half Irish; this is not easy). Summer break? I needed to travel to far-flung places to build my sophistication arsenal. I needed an accent, or at least a fake one. I needed to lose weight or gain muscle, to learn gymnastics or grow three inches. I needed, on that first day of school, the look in my friends’ eyes that said, “you’re a better you.” The world we live in, of course, both helps in creating this need for change and makes achieving it all too easy. A quick perusal of the magazines on newsstands right now showcases too many “new you!” headlines to count, whether it be how to lose 10 pounds fast or reverse aging or try a new hairstyle that will change your life; flipping open the same magazines reveals advertisements and articles geared towards becoming your best self, over and over and over again.
And now, the pinnacle of the makeover madness, the holiday designed to remind us, yet again, that we’re still striving; that we will, in fact, always be striving: New Year’s. Stressed and strung out from too much family time and too delicious gingerbread men, bloated from the eleventh eggnog cocktail and bleary eyed from waking up to play Santa, we look at New Year’s and think, “yeah, that sounds good. I’ll resolve to be better.” Because who couldn’t stand to be a little better? And because, of course, the resolution is the easiest part.
My need for drastic change has subsided over the years. I remember distinctly returning to the hometown I’d moved away from when I was thirteen. I was now sixteen. Since leaving, I’d spent a summer abroad in Germany. I’d stopped wearing bell bottoms (so unfashionable!) and moved on to bootcut jeans. My hair was longer and less frizzy, my skin was beginning to emerge from under its sea of zits. I rang the doorbell of an old friend’s house and stood on her porch, trying to cock my hip out just so. She opened the door.
“Liz!” she said, flinging her arms around me.
“Hey,” I said, my irrational teenage heart sinking. “I thought you’d hardly recognize me.”
She pulled back and looked me up and down. “Nope, I recognize you perfectly.” She caught the look in my eye and frowned. “Why?” she said. “Did you not want me to?”
“I just wanted to be, you know . . . different,” I mumbled.
She swooped me into her arms again. “But I,” she said, “wanted to see Liz.” While I was disappointed, she got exactly what she wanted.
The ten pounds, the red hair, the black, brown or green hair, the tan, the pale skin, the contacts, the new dress: all of it is to get you that much closer to a person you like, not change you in the eyes of anyone else. My friend would’ve recognized me no matter what. The question was if I had become the person I wanted to recognize. If I had become a person I could like.
This New Year’s, I’m resolving to stay the course. Like many people my age, I’m learning to love myself a little bit more every year, and any drastic left or right turns might impede that journey. I resolve to enjoy exactly who I am right now, and exactly who I may be in a week, or a month, or a year.
Happy New Year’s to everyone. May your night and all the subsequent ones be bright.