This is my last day in Boston before driving the 9-plus hours home to Baltimore County, to Owings Mills, to return to my so called “real life” as a stay-at-home mother of two. Re-entry is going to involve my blow dryer, and lots of reruns of RuPaul’s Drag Race.
I’ve been living in graduate student housing at Harvard for the last six weeks and Cambridge, Mass, has a completely different set of rules and attitudes for women compared to Baltimore County. It’s like being in another country altogether. Denmark?
In Cambridge, for example, it is not weird to appear in public with unpainted nails hanging out of your sensible German walking sandals. What’s normal is
having long mermaid tresses an asymmetrical bob.
But in Owings Mills, I would be pumping my 8-year-old daughter for information on the it nail color for summer. Light blue? C’mon honey, Mommy needs to know so that when she rolls up in the private school carpool lane she looks, “pulled together,” “tight.”
I found Boston very freeing. I haven’t worn makeup in more than a month. I know, right? Shiver. It was just me rocking my brown spots and my under-eye puffiness. I also got my hair clipped short, very Womens Studies Comp. Lit., and I put away my hairspray, curling iron, and hot rollers.
However, I did miss wearing eyeliner. I’m a fan of Bobbi Brown’s gel Aubergine. But up here, wearing eyeliner signifies not “pulled together-ness,” it signifies Goth, which is so amusing when I think of all the heavily eye-lined moms at the Hunt Valley Wegmans pushing their oversized grocery carts full of grits.
However, in either place — tony Baltimore County with heels, bangles, long hair, expensive purse, large dog, pneumatic cleavage, and SUV — or in Bohemian Cambridge with reusable burlap sack, expensive independent coffeeshop cappuccino, sarcastic inside-joke science t-shirt, Prius, and cats — the style of femininity is cultural.
Whichever style of femininity you chose, it is a choice. You may not think about the anthropological study of what you are doing as you apply full makeup in Baltimore County to go to barre class, or check the clasp of your tennis bracelet, but some mom up here in Boston is doing the same, just slightly askew. She’s gelling her pixie cut for example, or considering the vegan correctness of her shoes. We could all be exhibits in the Peabody Museum of Ethnology at Harvard along with the ancient Maya, who wore macaw feathers in their hair.
But it’s still all dress-up. Our choice of dress, shoes, car, dog, house, hair, and bathmats subtly hints and sometimes brazenly blares our status and values. It’s good to be conscious of what we’re saying, even when what’s speaking is our carefully groomed eyebrows, or not.
I find it healthy to remember that, as RuPaul has famously said, “We’re born naked, and the rest is drag.”