E.B. Harper for Lisa

I’m taking the week off. But I got the best substitute blogger ever: E.B. Harper. E.B. is currently living in Beirut and is all sorts of fabulous. Enjoy and happy Tuesday.

“Do you know that restaurant Crepaway at the mall?” says my personal trainer after our latest session, evoking a restaurant which has the rough American equivalent of a Baskin and Robbins.

“They have the motto: Come as you are. What I don’t understand is why you are dressed for Crepaway every day. “

And in that one moment, the part of me that spent more than a decade in the Midwest met the reality that I was now living in the most fashionable city in the Mideast.

“I think that it’s important to learn about the local culture,” he goes on to say, “and in your case that means wearing makeup and getting dressed up. I don’t want to hurt your feelings, but if I met you in a bar I wouldn’t look at you twice.”

And with that he went on to describe a five-point plan, all the while I just sat there stunned that somehow I had spent a lifetime getting dressed in the morning for a day of fashionable outings, at the local food courts of the world.

How did this happen?

“You need to start with your fingernails. They need to be longer and you need a French manicure. You need to do your hair, every day, and start dressing sexier. Perfume is a must, wear one scent each day next week and we will figure out which one is best.”

Putting on perfume before going to the gym, it had to be a joke. True there were women who walked around the stretching area with “rich girl” bags on their shoulders; I was the girl who had been mistaken for a boy at the age of 16 at the end of a x-country race. I didn’t hire a personal trainer so I could be more beautiful or lose weight. I wanted regular doses of positive feedback and my quads back.

“You spend hours a week at the gym and won’t spend two minutes learning how to properly apply mascara. I just don’t understand. And your Facebook page is a mess. We need to clear out some of those bad photos. From now on I want to see pictures of you going out and looking good.”

He then went onto my Facebook page, cleaned out all the unattractive photos, changed my profile picture, and wrote the status update “It’s time for a cHaNGe.”

As with anything, it’s difficult to create a personal timeline of physical identity. For me, post-adolescence it largely feels like a blur with occasional great haircuts and unexpected weight gain/loss. That said, looking back I can comfortably admit that much of my life has been spent avoiding looking my best. It has always felt safer, both in the sense that it minimizes unwanted attention and saves me from the depressing feeling that my best might just never be that good. Unattractiveness as self-defense – ­­ now there’s a motto to be proud to have stood behind.

So here I was, being asked to challenge myself to be better, look better –all in the name of cultural sensitivity. It was a bargain I felt I could agree to, and yet another reminder of why sometimes we have to go so far away just to find ourselves again.