Ringing in 2020 felt so exciting before we knew better. A new decade, a blank calendar page—lots of hope and promise ahead. We barely got the champagne flutes washed and put away before COVID consumed our collective consciousness. Our shiny new decade became fraught with bad news. Instead of hope and promise, mysterious illness, economic hardship, civil unrest, and death have punctuated the news cycle for months.
To lighten the heavy-duty talk, I’d like to reflect on one of the best things to emerge from this garbage fire of a year. It’s been a personal renaissance for me and has changed the way I view myself and others. It’s exposed some of my less flattering thought patterns and replaced them with a far healthier mindset.
I’ve found myself way less concerned with things that bothered me before. Physical truths about myself and the toll of time on a body. Extra pounds on my frame. Graying hair. A face that is beginning to tell the world I’m approaching a half-century of life. When held against the truth of the unpredictability and fragility of life, it’s all superficial nonsense. This harrowing year has yielded in me an incredible gift:
The rise of the shlumpadinka and the embrace of her beauty.
For the uninitiated, Oprah coined the term shlumpadinka. Upon some cursory Google research, it seems the term became widely known in early 2008. Oprah herself defines it thus:
“I made this word up a long time ago,” she says. “It represents, for me, a woman who dresses like she has completely given up…and it shows.”
What does any of this have to do with COVID and The Worst Year of the Millennium? Embracing my inner shlumpadinka has become my persona, my ethos, my battle cry.
Before COVID, I used to try on several outfits and fling the rejects into a pile on my bed before settling on the least horrible one. I left for work feeling dejected and frumpy. I constantly berated myself for not being able to lose weight. I found fault with my hair, my face, my everything.
Fast forward to Spring 2020. Suddenly, I was teaching from home in pajama bottoms and a t-shirt, shambling to the kitchen in slippers for more coffee before starting a Zoom call with my class. For months, did not have a haircut or color, a pedicure, an eyebrow wax—nada.
Not that I do these things regularly, but they were small indulgences a few times a year to spruce up the old gray mare. Temporary analgesics against the pain of aging and not looking the way I wanted to.
Once lockdown began, I was just happy to see my students on a video call or take a walk with a friend. Fretting over my appearance went out the window. Leggings, sweatpants, and hoodies replaced the dresses, cute shoes, and shapewear I stuffed myself into when going to work. And it felt amazing. Who cared how it looked? I was alive and healthy and grateful.
Now that school is open again, I’m wearing elastic-waisted scrub pants to work. I pair them with t-shirts emblazoned with things like Still I Rise and Make Orwell Fiction Again. English teacher vibes for the win. I’ve been wearing sneakers and leopard print Crocs instead of shoes that promise they are comfortable at 7:30 AM and taunt me by noon with pinching and blisters. Sports bras give me enough lift to be out in public, sparing me from feeling like I am being sawed in half by underwire.
I’ve put on a few pounds during quarantine, but my shlumpadinka anti-couture collection reassures me. “Hey girl, it’s a pandemic. Don’t worry about zips or buttons. Just enjoy life.” In the morning, the greatest concern I have is making sure my clothes aren’t too wrinkled. If they are, I throw them in the dryer with a wet towel and tumble them while making my lunch.
Finally, free of concerns about gray hair or a pudgy middle, I realize my beauty is more about my mind and attitude. I mean, of course, that’s true. I know it in my mind, but my heart was slow to accept it. So yes, Oprah, I do dress like I’ve given up.
I’ve given up berating myself and worrying about what others think.
The best part? When I returned to work in September, some of my colleagues appeared to have had the same revelation. Let’s be comfortable. Wash and wear. Sensible shoes. Stretchy fabrics and warm sweaters for chilly fall mornings.
This shift to comfort and self-acceptance has been a delightful silver lining to 2020. I’ve been able to slow down and recalibrate. I hope you will too.
Embrace life. Embrace yourself. Step proudly into your shlumpadinka destiny and face the day ahead as if it is a magnificent gift. Because it is.
Tracy is a New Jersey writer who loves Earl Grey tea, spending time outside, and painting. She lives with her husband and children in a home where birdsong and rainstorms provide the soundtrack for her creative life.