Saturday, March 22, 2008

My Girl

This morning, while working through the towering pile of magazines next to my bed, I read a poignant article in February's Allure, "Girl of my Dreams" by Jean Thompson. In it, Thompson describes seeing "The Girl I Always Wanted to Be" – something I think we've all experienced. Her Girl stood in line in front of her at an airport coffee shop. Even though traveling can be hectic and tiring, this Girl looked like a summery dream, while Thompson looked like a haggard mess.

The year I worked in France as an au pair, I watched my Girl every day, while we waited to pick our kids up at school. On my first day standing with the mothers by the playground gates, I wore shorts, a tank top and flip flops – true California style. All the mothers looked at me with disdain. My Girl wore skinny jeans, a white button-up, leather sandals, a straw tote, her hair back in chignon. Effortless. When I got back to the house, the dad asked me if we had been "out playing sport." I knew I needed to make some wardrobe changes.

For the rest of my time there, my Girl looked perfect every day. In the fall, she wore a classic khaki trench and black cigarette pants. In the winter, a long black coat and a red handbag. When the weather got warmer again, she pulled out knee-length walking shorts and gold bangles. Her icon status solidified for me the day her husband came with her to pick up their kids. He was tall and good looking (although not as perfectly dressed), and with their children – an older boy and a younger girl – they looked like the perfect family.

At the end of Thompson's essay, she realizes that sometimes "The Girl I Always Wanted to Be" is actually "The Girl I Could Have Been If I'd Wanted." And she sees that she probably didn't want to be that girl in the first place.

Nothing ever broke the spell my Girl cast on me. But as Thompson rightly points out, our Girl "changes over time, mutates along with our chronological age and the prevailing culture." Maybe I wouldn't be as entranced with my Girl if I saw her now, at this stage in my life – finishing up graduate school, finding a job at a magazine, moving to the City. Maybe I would. Or maybe, instead, she would fall into the category of "The Girl We Hope to Be a Few Years Down the Road." And that wouldn't be such a bad thing either.