Why Can’t I Look Like Stevie Nicks?

Growing up, I didn’t consider myself attractive. Blame it on the 70s or my lack of self-confidence, but beauty, for me, had nothing to do with being freckly and super tall. In my opinion, beauties didn’t wear size ten shoes either, nor did they slouch. Add shyness and social awkwardness to the mix, and you had me: the perfect storm of ugly.

I have clear memories of gazing around my elementary school, wishing I could trade parts of my face, body, and personality with other girls: knock-knees for dimples; bushy eyebrows for a cute little nose; skin that burned for skin that tanned; gawkiness for social graces.

But my idol was Stevie Nicks: the coolest, most gorgeous woman in the world. Stevie was crazy-talented, but also petite, delicate, mystical, and sexy. While I had only two good features: blond hair and blue eyes with long lashes.

In high school, things got worse. I decided that not only was I too tall, but also too fat, and started restricting food, then vomiting. But anorexia and bulimia are cruel diseases because although most people experiment with them hoping to look better, the result is almost always the opposite. I ended up bloated and acne-ridden, my teeth lost enamel, my hair grew dull. I looked so sickly in the professional graduation pictures taken for my high school yearbook that I asked my dad—an amateur photographer who understood the power of good lighting—to do a retake and chose a black-and-white version of one of his shots. I should note that my parents were concerned about me, but I kept my illness hidden from them, constantly lying and assuring them I was fine.

Years passed, and I remained ill. I took to wearing heavy pancake makeup, flowy dresses, and baggy camouflage pants. My teeth got worse, so I smiled less. But several people told me I had nice breasts; hence, I searched for clothes that fit tightly on top, but loosely at the bottom. My life did not improve. The men I dated didn’t love me for the woman I really was because even I barely knew her.

My first insight into a more meaningful definition of beauty came when I started working as a middle school teacher in Boston. I adored the job and the kids, and because I was so busy and challenged, I was also unable to obsess over my weight, teeth, and pimples for at least eight hours every weekday. I wish I could say I stopped binging and purging after school too, but I didn’t. However, I began to realize that the other teachers and students didn’t care at all about my appearance; what mattered to them were my words and actions. Never before had I believed I had anything real or useful to offer the world.

I stayed at the school for five years, then moved into marketing, where I enjoyed some success. Still, I believed I needed to look good to be happy. I worked out like crazy and tried to hide my bad teeth, which had been further damaged in a bicycle accident. Even after I found a great boyfriend who convinced me to get help for my eating disorder—probably saving my life in the process—I hated looking in mirrors. The boyfriend and I married and had kids, but I busted my butt to lose the baby weight. And when my “nice breasts” were reduced to nubs after feeding two voracious nursers, I wore padded bras, pushups, and underwires.

Then, in my forties, I started making rules for myself. For example, I wouldn’t leave the house without “real” pants or a skirt. In other words, sweats and yoga pants were strictly for exercising. Ditto for athletic footwear. I went nowhere without makeup, and my hair had to be blown dry. Whenever I got a glimpse of my graying roots, I’d run to the hairdresser or at least the drugstore for another box of L’Oreal. And although I ate well, I was extremely careful not to overdo it; thus, my weight stayed low. Dessert was always out of the question. I also ran a couple of miles each day, and in really bad weather, I’d run up and down the stairs in my house for about forty minutes. As for my teeth, they were becoming a health risk, so I began the arduous and expensive process of getting them fixed. But I wasn’t sure what to do about my skin. How would I afford a facelift? Because I’d surely need one soon.

Now most of my friends broke my “rules” every day, and I didn’t judge them. But I continued to judge myself quite harshly. I still looked nothing like Stevie Nicks, but I think I felt—in some sick way—that as I aged, maybe I was getting closer. I wasn’t competing with my peers, but as they let their hair go gray or white, gained weight, wore less makeup, and dressed more comfortably, I was (in my mind) doing better! Maybe I believed I was finally evening the score after all the time I’d spent wishing I could trade features with other girls as a kid. Hey! Look at me! I’m in my forties and wearing skinny jeans! And belly shirts too!

Now let me state for the record that I firmly believe all people should feel free to wear whatever makes them feel beautiful and comfortable, but I wasn’t comfortable in those clothes, and they didn’t make me feel beautiful either. I guess I was just trying to convince myself that I could do the hip, stylish thing. It felt weird, though, and unauthentic. I’d get home and immediately change into sweats.

Fortunately, I’ve come to my senses lately, and finally feel as though I love and accept my true self. I still color my hair, but quite a bit of time passes between dye-jobs. And although I appreciate fashion and makeup, I always opt for comfort first. Yoga pants in the grocery store? No problem!

People occasionally still tell me I have nice eyes, but my lashes are thinning, and my eyelids droop a little more each morning. All the exterior things I once believed were so important are disappearing. But I feel stronger. I’ve vowed never to have plastic surgery, and I love dessert. I still exercise—it’s healthy!—but with a relaxed attitude. You may not like my appearance—or me, for that matter—and that’s OK. I’m fifty-one, I’ll never look like Stevie Nicks, but I’m good.

Photo Credit: ahisgett via Compfight cc

Mary Rowen

Mary Rowen is a writer and blogger who often writes about women of various ages growing up or figuring out what they want from this world. She grew up in the Massachusetts Merrimack Valley, graduated from Providence College, and has worked as a teacher, marketing writer, and political canvasser. She lives in the Boston area with her husband, two teenage children, dog and cat.

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    I just saw Ken Hoffman’s Ted talk about Infinite Worth. And I’ve been talking more and more about this with my kids–how we all feel we’re not “enough.”

  2. Dori Owen

    Hah, do I love this piece! And didn’t we all want to be Stevie. I never came close, either, Mary, thanks for telling our story so well. P.S. I do think you’re beautiful Love xo D.

  3. My Inner Chick

    Dear, Mary,

    every single woman in the universe
    CAN RELATE to this piece.

    EVEN Stevie Nicks!!

    No matter what we looked like, we were NEVER good enough, pretty enough, thin enough, smart enough.

    Isn’t it liberating to FINALLY just love ourselves for who we are?

    X x You are beautiful!

  4. Renee DeMont

    You are Mary, and that is a a gift. Nobody else can say that. Beautiful, inside and out. I bet Stevie Nicks had struggles of her own. Don’t we all? Happy to read you are in a better place at 51. Btw, I live in yoga pants. xox! 🙂

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    Thank you, Paula. I agree with what Rachel said as well. Funny about the vaseline! Maybe that’s the secret. Will think about that next time I have an author photo taken 🙂

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    Thank you, Shareen! I admire you so much for your intelligence and beauty, and also for your courage to write words that enlighten the world day after day. Peace and joy to you in 2016. xo

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    Thanks, Sheryl! I am going to check out that TED talk right now. Thanks for the heads up about it. I’m sure I’ll be watching it with my kids later on.

    I’m so happy to have you in my life too. I hope you know how much your courage inspires me, and that if it weren’t for you, I don’t think I ever would’ve had the guts to try anything other than traditional publishing. Your kindness and generosity never fail to amaze me. xoxo

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    Ah Mary,
    I just saw Ken Hoffman’s Ted talk about Infinite Worth. And I’ve been talking more and more about this with my kids–how we all feel we’re not “enough.”

    I’ve always seen you as beautiful, amazing, talented and such a kind, wonderful person. And even though I knew you were struggling with this when we met, I still never saw you as anything but courageous. If you could see YOU in my eyes, you would see a woman that inspires me with her strength. I’m so very happy to have had you in my life. Just thought I’d say that…considering that once again your strength shines with your courage to be so honest. Darn, Mary. Just…darn.

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    Hi Rachel! For some reason, my reply to your comment ended up above. I’m sure I did something wrong, and am not sure how to fix it. Anyway, just wanted to let you know that I appreciate your insightful comment and did reply 🙂

  10. Mary Rowen

    Thank you, Annie! I totally agree–true beauty lies within each and every one of us. Societal pressure to conform to unrealistic standards can make things really difficult–especially for women–but one way we can gain power is through strong friendships. I’m so glad to have you for a friend.

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    Your story is powerful. True beauty is not on the surface, it is what lies within. Thanks for sharing your inner beauty and your strength.
    Annie H.

  12. Mary Rowen

    You’re so right about the body dysmorphia, Rachel. Why is it that so many of us see only the flaws in ourselves? I guess it’s a lifelong project to find the pretty stuff–both physical and otherwise.

    As for sharing honest feelings in writing, you’re an inspiration and a role model for me. I hope you know how many people you’ve helped with your work. xox

  13. Mary Rowen

    Jan, you’re beautiful the way you are! A number of years ago, my mom had an eye doctor who offered to write her a referral to have her eyelids lifted for “medical reasons” so her insurance would pay for the surgery. She was so surprised by the offer that she considered it briefly–hey, free cosmetic surgery?? But when she spoke with her general practitioner, he was shocked that she’d risk her health and possibly her life for what was really nothing more than vanity. That was one of the things that made me realize I’d never be getting anything “lifted.” Sometimes I wish we could go back to the days when cosmetic surgery wasn’t so common. In any case, you’re awesome! xo

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    You make some very good points and in a frank, relatable manner! It is funny how we think if we just had the right body and face we would be happy. I’m at the age (well, actually past the age) when many friends are having “work” done. I just figured it was a useless battle! Too much work! Jan

  15. Jackie Cioffa

    Dear Mary,

    This post made me sad, and happy.
    I can’t imagine the struggles you went through, and am so happy
    you’ve reached a wonderful stride of self-acceptance and confidence.
    You’re quite the idol to me, and I bet with the right makeup you could rock The Stevie look. But, I prefer the Mary one. Pretty, hip, gifted and special.

    Rock on, sister.

  16. Avatar

    Mary, your piece is beautifully honest and hits home for me, too. We’re so hard on ourselves, aren’t we? Body dysmorphia is such a soul stealer. I too look in the mirror and see the flaws, not the pretty, not the things people compliment me on.

    Truly, why do the people around us love us? Is it your thinness? My green eyes?

    No. It’s our compassion, strength, ability to give a helping hand or needed smile at the right time — and maybe, most of all, share honest vulnerabilities in meaningful passages with others who need them.


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