I've been thinking about my hands lately. They're small. They are plain. I don't do well with polish or long nails because they chip and peel, and sometimes I bite my hangnails. Gross, I know.
I wear three rings--my wedding ring, my engagement ring, and a cocktail ring that belonged to my mother, and before that, my great grandmother.
I've been thinking about hands lately because I take such terrible care of mine. The skin on the backs is often rough and cracked from too much cleaning without gloves, and they are cut up from working with paper crafts. They are a mess.
For years, I've been telling myself that my hands are like this because "they're useful." It's the height of Midwestern haughty to tell yourself that you're hands are busier than someone else's, to act as though your rough paws are that way "on purpose."
I was plain, my hands matched my clothes--sort of tossed together carelessly. I had a small wardrobe, and I basically wore the same things over and over, rotating each weekday. I had one small ring that I wore: a treasure that had been my mother's when she was little girl. The band was gold, and had some detailing. But special part for me was the emerald-green glass set into it. I wanted desperately to believe it was really an emerald, and I must have said it was. The glass, though, was obviously old and scratched, and clearly not an emerald, and I was teased for wearing a ring from a gumball machine. Having messy hands didn't do much to enhance it, I imagine.
The funny thing is that I have always loved the look of my hands. I like the bend of my fingers, even my bizarre, hitchhiker's thumb. I really like the color of my nails without polish; their pinkish-lavender moons remind me of the inner layers of tiny seashells. I love how they fly over the keyboard, and I like the short nails on them. They feel so, well--me. Perhaps I romanticize them because I'm defensive of that little girl whose hands told so much about her life.
Thinking about all of this makes me ask why I continue to neglect caring for my hands? The smallest things would make a difference--wearing rubber gloves to clean, putting on moisturizer at night, trimming the hangnails (or just using cuticle cream). I resist. I do believe it is part of a story that I tell myself about the "busy hands." It's a story that carries into other areas of my life--the same reason it is easier to do something for someone else than it is to do something good for myself. It's also springs from the fear of becoming too outwardly focused; I harbor an irrational anxiety about turning into an adolescently mean girl, my perfect nails turned talons to sharpen on the weaker spirits of women plainer than myself.
Like I said, it's an irrational fear. I don't think mean and beautiful necessarily go together. I'm not the meanest of sorts, and I love feeling beautiful. I love makeup, and good skin. I love clothing, even if I don't always dress much beyond my LLBeany -uniform. I am somewhat vain about my hair, and I have shoe lust as much as the next woman. And for all that, I have never felt myself becoming that bitchy-type teenager, though there are some days I wish I could call her into service to give my confidence a boost.
The bottom line is that I neglect myself because I labor under the most common of burdens: When it comes to meeting the needs of those around me, I feel as though I should come second--or fourth, or last. It's pervasive. I serve my plate last at the dinner table. I wash my clothing last. I "sneak" into the study to do my writing only after I've done (yet another) load of laundry. I get to my artwork only after I've done a project with Esme. If there is a good side of the apple, I give it to one of the girls and eat the bruised side myself. I bathe when everyone else is clean, and if my clothes get ironed, it's only after I have finished all the other ironing (not often!). You get the idea.
It is good to be able to set aside one's own needs. It is often necessary as a mother to do so, I realize. But I have taken it way too far, I think. Must I feel a guilty twinge at such a small thing as when I put moisturizer on my hands? Because I do feel guilty, even for doing the simplest of things for myself. Probably the saddest thing is that the guilt isn't coming from anywhere else but me. There is a part of me that is self-defeating. This part of me is convinced that I am not worthy--of time or respect or care, I don't know. But it's there. I see it in the way I treat myself, in the way I treat my hands.
I'm not alone in this. There are lots and lots of other women who must feel this way, obliged to be last on the list, whether from fear or self-loathing or a firmly-instilled (and misguided) sense of "what makes a good woman." I wonder if they think about this, and if thinking about it makes them as lonely as it just has made me...
I started this long post talking about hands, and it is to my hands that I look now: the way that I treat myself is, in fact, in my own hands. As this year progresses, I am seeing more and more that through simple changes, I can shape the way I see my own life. Perfect or imperfect, I create all sorts of things with my hands. It's time to create something for me.
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