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Jessica Whitworth

No, no, I did not change my name. I did, however, change my persona for the past week.

When Matt and I got engaged 17 years ago, it never occurred to me to take his last name. I had a (since aborted) academic career to think of, but more than that, I had a strong sense of self to which the name Jessica Goldstein mapped in a way Jessica Whitworth did not.

Here’s a thought experiment. Close your eyes. Now listen to the name Jessica Whitworth. What does she look like in your mind’s eye? In mine, this person was tall, leggy, and blond. She looked like the college women I remember so well from my first visit to Carolina, the sporty types out for runs or playing tennis, their sun-lightened ponytails swinging as they went. These girls can return a tennis serve, look good in two-piece swimsuits, don’t wear glasses and only think their hair is ever frizzy. These girls ought to be in The Preppy Handbook. They are in sororities.

They are the anti-me. My life, so dominated for so long by academic pursuits and outsider status, left-wing politics, bad eyesight, little to no athletic ability, and Roseanne Rosanneadanna hair simply didn’t match this imagined Southern woman attending a clam bake (trayf!) in her Lilly Pulitzer dress. So Goldstein I remained—proudly so: I have embraced my unruly hair, wear black most of the time, don’t mind my glasses, love Larry David, and still feel a twinge of guilt when I eat crab legs or other forbidden food.

This past week I found myself at the Sea Pines Resort of Hilton Head Island, South Carolina with my Whitworth husband, Whitworth son, Whitworth mother- and father-in-law, and Whitworth brother-in-law. I was the only one there with bad eyes, frizzy hair, no tennis game, and a restricted diet.

Out of my natural urban habitat, some old habits traveled with me. I still speculated about the wages and origins of the workers I ran into. I bemoaned that I could not find a decent cup of tea anywhere on the island. I was enraged at the number of restaurants using disposable dishes. And I was bummed to not visit Savannah (a real city!) or the Gullah cultural center (a real museum!).

I know, right? I’m a pain in the ass!

But something kind of funny happened, too. I went running three days during the week, complete with tiny pony-tail. Risking humiliation of the first order, I picked up a tennis racket multiple times. Thanks to contacts I bought for running, I could enjoy the beach without feeling disoriented or worrying about getting lost. Seriously, unless you’ve been there, you can’t imagine how hard the beach and pool is for the bespectacled and seriously near-sighted. I dove into a bucket of snow crabs with minimal guilt. I bought a Lilly Pulitzer shirt.

I know, right?

I tried out this other persona, the one I’ve been speculating about for 17 years now. It was a better fit than I had expected, and for sure made a beach vacation a lot more fun. You could call it an educational experience or an exercise in letting go of certain preconceived notions of who and what I have been, am now, and must be.

But there are limits to my experimentation. The hair is and has been totally out of control the entire week. That Lilly Pulitzer shirt is navy, not hot pink and green. And today, my first day home, I am looking forward to nothing so much as tucking into the Sunday newspaper and enjoying a cup of decent tea. Goldstein girls represent!

One Response to “Jessica Whitworth”

  1. blg says:

    Good post, quite funny and clever.
    You should consider a balancing trip to…umm, say, New York.

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