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Thursday, 15 June 2006

On Wearing Shorts, Aging, and Beauty
Topic: Body Image

A few weeks ago when the subject of wearing shorts came up, someone quoted Oprah as having said that no woman over 40 should ever wear shorts. At the time, I expressed my vehement opposition to that opinion, ending with something to the effect that Oprah and the fashion police could kiss my asparagus, I was wearing shorts in hot weather.

Now, that should have been the end of it. But it's been gnawing at me since then. When I was trying on shorts at the store, when I was rubbing fake tan on my legs, when I was deciding between the longer or shorter shorts, it would come back to me, "Oprah said..." and I'd get irritated all over again. So this morning when I was shaving my thighs in preparation for wearing shorts, I tried to work out why I couldn't just let it go, and I think I've figured it out.

It's this whole idea that youth is more beautiful than age. Who says so? Well, "everybody." Our concepts of beauty are arbitrary and culturally-driven, but so pervasive that it's easy to forget that they differ in other societies and in other eras. We think it's the TRUTH, the way it IS. But when I think of how much wiser, steadier, more insightful, self-confident, and capable I am now than I was when I was in my 20's, it doesn't seem to me that my age is something I should want to hide. I think we've got this one upside-down. I think that young people should be dying their hair gray, wearing false bifocal lines in their glasses, and painting blue lines on their legs and age spots on their hands, to look more like us.

What's really awful is that this cultural adulation of youth is so pervasive that we older people believe it ourselves. We think the signs of age are ugly and try to hide them. It reminds me painfully of the way that before the "Black is Beautiful" campaign of the '60's, many African-Americans had so internalized the idea that Caucasian looks were more attractive that they straightened their hair and tried to bleach their skin with lightening creams. I think we need an "Age is Attractive" campaign, so that we can begin to see our wrinkles as badges of honor to take pride in, not something shameful to erase with botox injections.

Personally, I see many older faces that I think are indeed beautiful, and I often wish I were I sculptor so that I could capture that beauty. If I were a sculptor, my statues would be of old faces filled with character, not of callow, vacuous youth. So I think it's tragic when someone who wields such influence as Oprah Winfrey does, and who is herself over 40, perpetuates the idea that their is something inherently so ugly about the aging body that we should be ashamed to show our legs.

I will go on wearing my shorts and work on overcoming the cultural concepts of beauty that I have internalized which tell me my blue-veined, baggy-skinned legs are ugly. Power to the old people!

Posted by whaledancer at 1:37 PM PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Monday, 26 June 2006 2:00 PM PDT

Friday, 9 June 2006

Looking in the Mirror
Topic: Body Image

I've never been much of a one for looking at myself in mirrors. Back in my REALLY neurotic days (I'm much better now...honest), I avoided mirrors out of a secret fear that someday I'd look and there'd be no one there. I got over that about 30 years ago, but then I just never developed the mirror habit. I'd look in the mirror when I brushed my hair and that was about it. On those rare occasions when I wanted to check my outfit in the full-length mirror, I usually had to remove the clutter that tends to accumulate in unused corners of my life, before I could get to it.

It's not from a problem with self-image. My self-image has always been pretty darned good. Even at my highest weight, I pictured myself as fat, but I didn't think there was anything unpleasant about my looks; more like roly-poly and dimpled. On the contrary, when I did look in a mirror, it was often an unpleasant surprise, because my self-image was generally better that my mirror image. Occasionally when I was out shopping or something, I had the experience of seeing a pleasant-looking, fat, middle-aged woman come walking toward me, and then realizing with a shock that it was a mirror.

Anyway, it was never much of an issue for me. That is, I never felt a pressing need to develop the habit of looking in mirrors.

Which is why I find it strange that lately I've developed an impulse to look at myself in the mirror. Often. More than once a day. And in all stages of dress. Now, I can honestly say it isn't vanity. It's not that I'm admiring my now-thinner figure (okay, maybe just a little). It's more that I've lost my self-image. I really don't know what I look like now. I sometimes look at other women and wonder "Is that what my figure looks like?" I don't know. So I keep looking in the mirror.

It's still a surprise, although not unpleasant. The person I see in the mirror is older and droopier-looking than I expect. Also thinner. Often more dour-looking than I feel. I feel a private delight in some of the details: "Oh, look, RIBS." "Hmm, only one chin." It's when I'm dressed that I'm most pleased with what I see. Not bad. Pretty much...normal looking.

But the thinness is a recurring surprise. I think one reason I feel drawn to mirrors is a need to check that the fat hasn't snuck back on when I wasn't looking, because the thinness doesn't seem real. I expect it to disappear like Cinderella's ball gown at midnight. After I bought a bunch of size Small tee-shirts, even though I had tried on each of them in the store, when I put them on at home I knew, KNEW, that they would be tight on me. I could hardly believe it when they slipped right on and looked fine. There's this loose cloth where the tee-shirt hangs down from the bust, where I expect the belly-bulge to be.

So maybe there is an element of vanity. Looking in mirrors is more fun than it used to be. But mostly it's surprise and puzzlement. Who IS that woman?

Posted by whaledancer at 6:37 AM PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Friday, 9 June 2006 6:53 AM PDT

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