Friday, January 15, 2010

Growing Up Female by Laura Sobik-Kavanagh

I was on internship finishing my doctoral degree in clinical psychology. During one of my many breaks from writing, I wandered into the bathroom to obsess about my hair and to ask myself a couple of what seemed at the moment to be really important “big” questions - do I need highlights? Should I go red again? How about a cute little haircut? I looked closely. I turned away and looked again. My stomach actually turned as I realized...I had found a gray hair. And it was not even totally gray - only the inch closest to my scalp was gray, as if my body had just decided to start the aging process.

I went through a bevy of reactions all at once. I felt betrayed - as if somehow I’d thought I would get to skip the aging process? I felt excited – was I finally a woman, for real this time? The truth is, I was not sure that I really “graduated” to womanhood when I thought I should – when I graduated from college, or I when lived alone in my own apartment or when I paid off my car, or when I finished my Ph.D. or even when I got married - no, no this was really it. As I stood there, I experienced a crazy sense of acceptance within the context of a childish foot-stomping tantrum.

As a feminist, I fight like crazy against our ageist, sexist society that tells us that pretty young girls have all of the fun and power. I am a woman who doesn't believe in god but apparently has an existential crisis every time I am faced with a physical sign of my own mortality. I am a young professional who’s still looking for a mentor, yet I am already in the position of mentoring others.

As a therapist, my job is to be part of peoples’ journeys – I see every facet of life reflected in what my clients tell me. On a daily basis, I work with people to explore, heal, and accept insecurities, fears, losses – sometimes immense, unthinkable losses. I watch growth, healing, and the endurance of pain that gives me immeasurable hope about humanity and meaning. So shouldn’t I be able to handle having a gray hair a bit more gracefully?

Standing there, looking at my beginning-to-age self in that bathroom mirror, I realize that I’m facing yet another transition, yet another personal change. I both question the person I am growing into and feel empowered by becoming her. Maybe womanhood isn’t about finishing with change; it’s about embracing it.

So, I am now a woman who has gray hair – or at least a gray hair. I have officially started to look the part of a person who knows something about the world. About life. About confidence. About womanhood. And you know, once I stop, take a deep breath, and think for a moment, maybe the truth is, I’m starting to be one as well.

                       --Laura Sobik-Kavanagh is a clinical psychologist at James Madison University


  1. If believing that "pretty young girls have all the fun and power" is ageist, then what is believing that only a person with gray in her hair can look as if she "knows something about the world. About life. About confidence. About womanhood?"

  2. You might want to re-read the piece as you have completely misinterpreted the message.



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