From Wikipedia: The expression “resting on one’s laurels” refers to someone relying entirely on long-past successes for continued fame or recognition[…].

I’ve always thought of myself as generally confident, and almost (dare I say it) able to resist the unbelievable pressure to look pretty all the time. In my head, this Maria was born when I finished high school, started University and was able to reinvent myself to the eyes of others. Still, I was determined that the change affect me as well. I did not just want to seem like the girl (or is “woman” a better term here?) who didn’t have to look perfect all the time, I wanted to feel it myself. I wanted to be free, I suppose, and to rebel against a pressure that I’d started to think was outrageously ridiculous.

To some extent, I succeeded. I’ve certainly come a long way since high school, even though I have the occasional flashbacks. How do I measure this at least partial success, you ask? By how I now rebel against, don’t care about, or at least consciously think about all those sneaky messages telling me how I “ought” to be. I shave my legs when I want to, mostly. I wear short skirts or shorts, despite having thighs that move when I walk, that aren’t perfectly tanned and smooth, that rub together at the top. I don’t feel like I have to wear makeup or do fancy things to my hair to dare walk outside. Of course, some of these things are made easier for me because I have certain “get out of jail cards”, certain attributes that are considered socially positive, and thus make it easier to be a rebel in other areas. My skin is well-behaved most of the time. I have an hourglass figure, which might not be as often portrayed as the typical model body type we see everywhere, but it’s still a “good number two”. I know how to appear confident and happy, and this can make people blind to pretty much everything else sometimes.

In high school I had an English teacher who said I was very, very good at his subject, but that it was important I didn’t start “resting on my laurels”. That made such an impression it’s become sort of a mantra of mine; not so big that I am never pleased with myself, but just to remind myself that I can do even more than I think, most of the time. Which is why I’m rather ashamed to admit that I’m now (metaphorically) sitting on a whole armful of laurels, and they’re sodding comfortable, and slightly squashed. I think this all happened after my initial success of transforming myself after high school. In a way, I did it. I became more confident, less focused on being traditionally pretty and perfect, and in general felt better about myself. The problem arose when I, after a couple of years, considered my work in this area done, and focused my efforts elsewhere. That’s when the laurels started gathering.

A few days ago I had to buy bread for breakfast, and ventured out with wet hair and no makeup, dressed in jeans and sneakers and a woolen sweater (which, as most of you know, is definitely not Maria-like attire, but it was practical and I was hungry). On my way to the grocery store, a guy was walking towards me, looking just the kind of ruggedly handsome I never can resist. As we got closer, I mentally applauded myself for feeling that I didn’t mind a handsome guy seeing me so very much au naturel. I even thought that he might not even really look at me now, but if I’d been looking like my “normal” self, or had gotten to talk to him, he would probably really like me. When he was a few meters away from me, he looked straight into my eyes, and smiled one of those oh-so-charming half-smiles. And you know what I thought?

I thought of a million reasons why he might smile to me like that, EXCEPT THE POSSIBILITY THAT HE FOUND ME BEAUTIFUL. Like maybe he thought he knew me. Maybe he felt he “had” to (admittedly, I was staring a little). Maybe he was really smirking, not smiling, and not thinking nice things at all. Once I got home and got some food in me, the episode popped up in my head and demanded attention. As I thought about it, more and more things started bothering me. First, that I still seek positive attention from complete strangers. Second, that I still think I’m able to correctly guess what other people are thinking – strangers, even. Third, that even after all that work on my confidence, my mind still automatically tells me I’m not beautiful without being at least minimally groomed and styled. I know I can be smart, and interesting, and funny, but without making an effort with my appearance, some part of me tells me I can only be, at best, cute or strangely charming.

See what I meant about those laurels? It’s as if my mind said: “well done, Maria, we got this far. But from now on, I won’t let you move a fraction of an inch further”. Those laurels might feel comfortable, but I think they’ve started to rot.