Not long ago, I visited Austin, where I spent much of my 20s, and I noticed that my female friends were all dressed the same. Cotton sundress, flip-flops, no makeup. And there I was, representing my hometown. Jeans, red heels, mascara at 10 am. Two years after I’d moved back, it was official: I was a Dallas girl now.  

I say this with some ambivalence, as a woman who has spent nearly four decades on the pendulum swing between straight-ironing her hair and dribbling Taco Bell down her hoodie. But if you live in a place, it settles on your skin. This is human adaptability; we lean toward wanting to belong. Once I made fun of Dallas girls in towering heels. Two weeks ago, I nearly fell in my 3-inch wedges in the gravel at Truck Yard.

So what does it mean, anyway, to be a Dallas girl? We all know the cliche: platinum hair, tits that look tire-pumped. But if you sit in NorthPark (which I do), what you notice is how outdated that stereotype is. Persian women, Hispanic women, African-American women. I may be white and blond, but that is certainly not what makes me a “Dallas girl.” 

Instead, what defines us, I think, is a look I would call “pretty and impractical.” Heels. Blowouts. Manicures. White jeans. Flapping lashes that melt in heavy rain. I often think about our city’s azaleas, a flower that is not native to Dallas, which requires an enormous amount of effort to nurture in our dull and inhospitable clay soil, and their blooms last only two weeks. But for those 14 days: spectacular. 

There is a willfulness to our appearance, an enterprising spirit that feels uniquely Texan. You may not have been born beautiful, but, baby, you will get there somehow.

I can spin this metaphor two ways. One is a basic refusal to accept the landscape. Another is a heroic effort to create splendor where there was none. And I think both are key to understanding Dallas women. There is a willfulness to our appearance, an enterprising spirit that feels uniquely Texan. You may not have been born beautiful, but, baby, you will get there somehow.

Back in the days when I sat in vinyl bar booths and threw spit wads at people who tried too hard, I liked to ridicule Dallas women. Actually, I liked to ridicule everyone, but Dallas women made easy targets, with their designer bags and clunky jewelry. I would have told you I hated all that status seeking, as I ordered a Stella Artois, dangled a Parliament in my lips, and courted a different kind of admiration. (All humans are status-seeking. What varies is how we do it.)

What inspired this column a year and a half ago was the suspicion that maybe there was something those Dallas women had that I wanted. Well, what actually inspired this column was fear and envy, but those are the same feelings in harsher words. I also had a writer’s instinct that the way women manicured themselves was a story as central to our city’s narrative as the four major sports teams and a president once shot dead. But fear, envy: I have spent too many of my 39 years dismantling the girl who just walked through the door, and with this column, I forced myself to meet her. What I noticed, more than anything, was that no matter whom I met—how much I disagreed with her politics or her choice of eye shadow—it was infinitely easier to hate someone from across the room. Most people, it turns out, are nice.

Now that I’m wrapping up the column, I do find myself a bit transformed. Expensive jeans. Fancy makeup. “It’s for the column,” I would tell people, which is really a journalist’s excuse for saying, it’s for myself. And there’s nothing wrong with that. I know that when I put myself together the way I want—Taco Bell stains or not—I care less about other women, I feel less diminished by their beauty, and I am so much less invested in the vintage of their fake boobs or who stuck what needle where.

I grew up in this town. I was raised in the neon glow of its flickering downtown skyline. I watched pretty blondes in tiny tops shake their pom-poms, and I mean “pom-poms” as a euphemism. It shaped me, and it warped me, just like any little girl, in any American town. 

But I’m glad that I wear its sparkle on my sleeve now. I’m glad that when I visit New York, where I spent much of my 30s, people see my open smile and my red jacket and my barrel curls, and they say, “You’re not from around here, are you?” My clothes have an accent. They tell a story about me. About a girl who ran away from the place she came from, and later, when she was wiser, came back.