Most of my friends think I'm a pretty ballsy broad, but the truth is, I just have a wider comfort zone than most. I struggle with feelings of insecurity and self-doubt just like everybody else.
Today I did something bold I've never done before: colored my hair hot pink. In the age of mermaid hair, that probably doesn't seem like a big deal. However, as a GenXer rapidly approaching AARP eligibility, it was a huge step outside my comfort zone.
But it shouldn't have ever been that way.
When I was 13, I was obsessed with Michael Jackson. Thriller was, hands down, my favorite cassette tape of all time (still one of my favorites) and I spent long hours in my room memorizing every word and attempting all of MJ's famous dance moves.
Man, did I love his style. I loved it so much, I decided to copy it.
I convinced my mom to let me get the curliest perm available to a white kid living in rural Kansas, and confidently instructed my mom's stylist to cut it shorter on the sides like Michael's pompadour mullet. I was so excited to go to school and show off my new hairdo.
You all know how this story goes - it's a rite of passage most children experience at some point. Nobody thought I was cool. They made fun of me. Even the boy that I liked. Especially the boy that I liked.
That's when I learned a life lesson I've carried with me always. Everyone knows this one, too. We've all seen the meme:
'Shortly after the Great Hair Scandal of 83, a similar fashion incident occurred that involved bright, striped socks worn with matching culottes that I loved but nobody else did.
From that day forward, I vowed to temper my full personality. I had learned that once most people got to know me, they wouldn't like me.
Now, that doesn't mean I became a wallflower. Not at all. Instead, I found an 80s loophole that went something like this: Different is okay, as long as you're still sexy. It was the Madonna litmus test.
And to this day, that has been my personal style. Different, but not so different that boys didn't like me.
Regardless of your political opinion of the Brett Kavanaugh confirmation, if you attended high school in the 1980s, the stories that emerged from the hearing probably made you cringe. Boomers and millennials were stunned and offended, but we GenXers weren't. We went to those same parties every single weekend.
I've always been proud of the fact that as a GenX woman, I could choose any career I wanted, earn my own money, choose to marry and/or have children or not, and do a whole bunch of things my mother's generation couldn't do, but hoped their daughters would. And for the most part, we have.
But many of us were, and still are, caught somewhere in the middle between equality and compromising who we really are so the boys will like us. If we're not the sexy girl, we're the good wife.
It may seem like our millennial daughters and younger sisters have it better, but I'm not so sure. They heroically launched the #metoo movement, but they seem just as insecure and almost as willing to objectify themselves as we did.
I spend a lot of time doing everything I can to help Tosh become the best he can be, but for the past 18 months or so, I've spent more time focusing on myself than I ever have in my life. Not superficial self-improvement, but deep soul diving work. Ugly, Pandora's Box kind of stuff.
It's been the hardest but most rewarding work I've ever done. One lesson I've come to accept within the last couple of months is that I wish I hadn't felt embarrassed about my Michael Jackson hairdo. For almost two years I've wanted to color my hair something cool, like lavender or teal or magenta, but those memories of being laughed at in the lunch line always held me back.
That's why I took the plunge and colored my hair a color that boys my age don't generally like. (Although, a millennial woman I discussed this with today disagreed - "My mom does lots of things style-wise that I'm not brave enough to do, and she pulls plenty of dick," she said.)
I absolutely love my hair. And for the first time in 35 years, I don't give a fuck whether any boys do, too. Or any girls, for that matter. Some will. Some won't. The important thing here is that I no longer care.
As an autism parent, I'm 100% on board with accepting Tosh exactly the way he is. I want him to be able to pass freely through society and progress academically so he has options in life. But when it comes to hand flapping and playing with age inappropriate toys and everything that makes him different from neurotypicals, I couldn't care less.
Anybody who is lucky enough to know him and love him will do so because of who he truly is, not who he thinks others want him to be.
From this day forward, I vow to apply those same standards of acceptance to myself, too.
Heather Anderson is a natural health educator, writer, blissfully happy autism mom, fintech marketer and lover of life in Southern California.
Please join me on this autism journey. Let’s create a positive, supportive community in which we can learn, grow and prosper. Where the focus isn’t just on your autistic child, but on your own personal growth as well.