My daughter has entered her ‘grey phase.’ I went through the same phase when I was a student at university. It’s that period in a girl’s life when she suddenly realizes that her power doesn’t lie with her body and her looks, but with her personality, ideas and intellect.
It’s similar to what I’m going through now, but sort of in reverse. I’m going through what is commonly acknowledged as the ‘invisible phase’ for middle-aged women; a phase where we can no longer trade on our looks and need to pull out the bigger guns of intellect and personality.
I quite like being invisible and my nerdy daughter relishes not having to worry about body image any more.
But I do feel kind of sad for her, too. I feel sad that she feels the need to cover up her beauty and her sexuality to be taken seriously, although NC was never the kid that pranced around in pink tutus, fairy wings and silver Osh Kosh shoes, but rather the tomboy who was inspired by Thomas The Tank Engine and Harry Potter and who was toughened up by playing rough and tumble with the local boys.
To this day she gets more turned on by rocks and environmental change.
I was never that girly as a child, either, but I’ve tapped into my girly-side more as I’ve grown older and become a mother, mellowed and started liking myself more. I remember my own style at university was very similar to NC’s androgynous look now; the main components of my wardrobe being a range of over-sized ex-army shirts, vintage jumpers and baggy boyfriend jeans that hid the curves that I felt hinted at weakness and betrayed my gender.
NC did try to conform once, towards the end of high school when the formals that she had always cynically judged as popularity contests, began to loom perilously closer. Overnight, all her friends became interested in boys and began to post up images of hot men and their prom dresses on Facebook, rather than the memes of Harry Potter that NC still identified with.
And for a short period of time there, she conceded that it might be easier to try and fit in.
But she developed an ugly, embarrassing rash on the day of her year 12 formal, which coordinated perfectly with the red dress we’d hurriedly picked out for the event at the last moment.
To this day I believe that rash was caused by some inner turmoil created by not being authentic to herself, and since then, I’ve noticed that her washing pile has slowly taken on a much more muted, grey hue.
The pretty, summer dresses, crop tops and slinky skirts have long gone and now every piece of clothing is a variation of grey and at least a couple of sizes too big, so she doesn’t draw attention to her natural, physical beauty.
I am secretly proud of my girl for her insistence on being herself. I’m ashamed that I don’t tell her that often enough. She always did have an iron will. I remember trying desperately to persuade her to wear pretty dresses when she was little, and contact lenses in place of her thick glasses when she was a teenager, so fearful was I that she would remain a wallflower. But she was always adamant about who she was. I can still remember the day she patiently explained to me that it didn’t matter what was on the outside.
She was about ten at the time.
When she turns it on my daughter is a siren and can stop both sexes in their tracks. My dad still loves to recount the story of when they were in Paris together a few years ago and he asked NC nervously if she would dress up that evening for some posh dinner they were attending. When she entered the bar that evening my father almost didn’t recognize his granddaughter and apparently the whole area went silent, such was the transformation. He describes it as a Pretty Woman moment.
NC has always been who NC wants to be. She allows the world to see the parts of her that she admires most about herself; that is, the thinking NC, the NC who is an intelligent young woman and whom I have no doubt will go on to represent those women who demand equal opportunities, rather than ask for them.
NC’s world is not grey, really. If anything she is black and white. Her world houses ambition, promise and a rainbow of vivid colours. The grey is a veneer. She reserves her colour for causes she is passionate about, the people she loves and those who love her.