I’ve never considered myself a vain person. I’ve always been just as comfortable with myself covered in mud and manure as I have been dressed up. But the day my hair started falling out in clumps by the handfuls from the chemo, I became vain. Fortunately, it was also the day that two of my wigs came in the mail, and unfortunately they arrived alongside a copy of the French edition of Marie Claire, that I am featured in.
In June, before my cancer diagnosis, I was interviewed for an article on working cowgirls. Reporter Catherine Castro and photographer Amelie Debray from Marie Claire magazine in Paris, France came to the ranch and spent three days with me. We had 820 head of yearling heifers to work during their visit. The first day it rained all day and I was a drowned rat. The second day I went to work all dolled up, ready to be photographed and my horse and I went down in the feedlot slop five minutes into the day. I was baptized by mud and manure.
I took great pride in not being vain. With that many head of cows to work in two days you don’t go home and clean up, you cowgirl up and get the job done.
The final day I got to truly be a model for a day. I can honestly say I much prefer working cows! I couldn’t believe how self conscious and insecure I became in front of the lens of the camera. I kept thinking to myself that my tall, leggy, golden palomino Dutch Warmblood horse that the photographer choose for the shoot, is much sexier than me and much more of the taste of the Parisian women reading the magazine.
I think we are all a little vain and all struggle with our body image at some point in life. Why else would we worry so much about all our physical imperfections? On some level it’s a measure of self worth to care how I present myself to the rest of the world, but it can become unhealthy when I start comparing myself to Victoria Secret models or the model on the cover of Marie Claire or even the readers of Marie Claire France.
Especially as women it’s impossible in our culture not to learn the lessons beauty teaches us every day. We’ve learned that the most beautiful women in the world are the most successful, they are the best. The images on TV and in print media declare this is the American standard, this is what you should want to look like. This is the ideal, which is why they can appear in public nearly naked, because they have nothing to hide, because their bodies are perfect.
In my naive way, I’ve always thought of vanity as the evil queen in Snow White, gazing into her mirror, desperate and willing to kill to be the most beautiful woman in the land. To me vanity was not hating the cellulite on my ass and thighs or being bald and feeling worthless for being overweight or ugly. Instead it was something sad and/or embarrassing for different reasons, because I couldn’t love and accept myself as I am.
After a long conversation with one of my best friends, I cowgirled up and headed to the bathroom to shave my head. As my long blonde hair fell to the floor, with the magazine in the other room with my photo across from a Prada ad mocking me, I couldn’t hold back the tears. I was terrified of how others were going to react, especially terrified of how my fiancée would react. Would he still want to marry me without hair? Would he be so repulsed that he would no longer want to make love to me? I had created a whole scenario in my head that was much worse than reality. I let my mind wander down the path of self-obsession and the results were torturous.
Then the following question popped into my head – Why do we look at ourselves through this distorted lens and focus on things that are truly unimportant, such as hair?
My hair doesn’t define who I am as a person, it does make me any more or any less of a person. But that didn’t help me feel much better. I came to understand the behind out veils of vanity lies fear. The fear of not measuring up to our own or other people’s standards. The fear of when we are completely stripped down to the true essence of who we are as a human being that we may be unlovable.
I then realized that I didn’t feel insecure the first two days of being photographed for the magazine article. I was happily doing the work I love, fully engrossed in my job, concerned more with my horse and the cows and getting to know Catherine and Amelie, who have become my friends, than I was of what anyone else thought of me.
When you are open to truly connecting to those around you (even if it’s a cow or a horse) and making this world better, you worry less about your hair or your cellulite, because you realize that what’s most important is truly seeing another as a human being, how we look or what size we are is truly insignificant. It is from that place that we rise above the gossip, the comparisons and the fear.
Maybe the most important lesson I am learning is that the remedy for insecurity is compassion, not only for others but first and foremost for yourself.
I don’t want to look like a French Marie Claire model, it’s really hard to pull a calf, let alone saddle your own horse when you are rail thin with no muscle tone. And maybe that is vanity, the seed of choice and personal preference. My own stubborn personal preference for myself that gets a little stronger each day as I treat myself with compassion and clear away the self-hatred and self-doubt. If I am vain, I choose this kind of vanity. The kind that involves persistently, looking at myself with love and compassion, selfishly looking into the mirror until I can not only accept but love what I see. (Written for Montana Ranch Girl)
Nietzsche said vanity is “the fear of appearing original: it is thus a lack of pride,
but not necessarily a lack of originality.”