Do you feel pressured to maintain a younger persona than your years, and how do we even define younger? Do you devote hours to slimming exercise and drool over food you really, really want to eat, but won’t allow yourself? I’m speaking mainly to the women here. From what I observe, men are okay with pulling their belts down to release their bellies from restriction, while women jam themselves into more and more perverted versions of “shapewear.” Am I sounding sexist here? Okay then, I can live with that.
I recently watched some old black and white movies from the late 1930s and 1940s. One in particular, called Four Wives (1939) jump-started my current train of thought. In this movie, four young women of marriageable age have joined the race to find suitable husbands. Their father is a widower, and his sister, Aunt Etta, is the mother figure in residence, and it is she who inspired this run-away ramble.
Aunt Aunt Etta is an active, vital part of the household, and based on the age of the father and the girls, she must be in her fifties or sixties at the outside. Now clear your mind of any visual reference to anyone you know today in that age group. Aunt Etta’s 1939 physical persona is presented in a dowdy housedress, unsupported breasts hanging to her waist and feet laced into sturdy, sensible shoes. Her hair is pulled into an untidy grey bun, and I don’t think she wore the lightest touch of lipstick. There must have been something very comforting about these motherly, Aunt Etta types, always wearing an apron and fussing about the kitchen, ready to offer a cup of tea or a re-assuring hug. Their place in life was defined, and they seemed content with the status quo. Back then, if an older woman gained a bit around the middle or her hair greyed, no one thought twice about. Make-overs weren’t offered, expected, or requested.
Based on thickened waistlines and the fashion dictates of the 1930s, there was no mistaking a woman in her fifties for a woman in her thirties. With the exception of Hollywood glamour queens, the average woman dressed “age appropriately.” I remember my own trim grandmother passing on a dress because it was “too young for her.” She came out of an era where the mothers and grandmothers believed they’d had their “time”, and were happy to step aside to let the younger generation shine. Sometimes, when I see women killing themselves to look as good as their much younger daughters, I’m not sure if we’ve really “come a long way, baby.”
So who was better off—women in the mid-1900s who were allowed to let their middles expand and their hair turn grey, or women today who don’t look much different at fifty-five than they did at thirty-five? Which generation is trapped by society’s expectations? It’s wonderful that women today stay active way beyond fifty and refuse to be relegated to the bleachers, but I sometimes despair over what is expected of us.
I have to wonder whether the female Baby Boomers and Gen X’ers are looking younger longer because of improved diet, greater sexual freedom, more gym time, and better beauty products, or is it because more and more woman are turning to surgical procedures, hormone injections, and Botox to prove that sixty is the new forty? Aren’t we still sixty on the inside no matter what we do to the packaging? If it takes tummy tucks, liposuction, and kidney-damaging KETO diets to fit into those size 4 jeans, maybe we need to take a collective breath and rethink.
And along those lines, whose fault is it anyway that cosmetic procedures have become de rigor? Advertisers? Men? Hollywood. Not really. It’s an inside job. We all make noises about how no one has the right to criticize what someone else wears in public—Wal-Mart patrons excepted—but we do, don’t we? We nudge, we tip our heads towards the offender and raise our eyebrows. Little comments are exchanged, and we settle into our slim and fashionable superiority as we adjust our Spanx, or wave away that croissant that now we can’t justify enjoying it in public. Do we walk away happy, feeling deprived, or maybe just a little bit ashamed? Do we wait until we’re alone to sneak that yummy treat, only to obsessively exercise away the extra calories? I’m not pointing the finger here, just posing questions. I’m as guilty as the next person of all of the above, and I’m asking myself why.
After all this rambling, what’s become apparent to me is that none of us will truly be as free of societal constraints as we think we are until we stop judging each other. We will truly have come a long way once we accept ourselves, and each other, for being our genuine, individual selves, without peer pressure to starve or slice-and-dice to fit in. Don’t say it isn’t there. It might be subtle, but judgmental peer pressure is alive and well and living among us.
So lovely ladies, whether a size 4 or a size 12, we are the glue that holds society together, and we need to never forget that. Our aging, child-bearing bodies are to be celebrated, and our collective wisdom is our shield against the shallowness of youth, not gut-restricting shapewear or liposuction. And next time someone offers you a croissant, for God’s sake, accept and enjoy it…and sure, go for a run afterwards if you must.
Photos below: My grandmother at 65 and at 92.
3/9/2021 09:26:05 pm
You said it! Thanks for helping justify the words "I don't frickin care" every time they come outta my mouth...which are pretty often these days. Especially when I pull in the drive thru and order a milk shake.
3/10/2021 08:33:18 am
LOVE your comparison to Aunt Bea. That's perfect. Exactly the "type" I had in mind and she is just like the Aunt Etta of this move.
3/10/2021 10:28:12 am
I agree! I've never understood why women continue to subject themselves to high heels and other uncomfortable clothing. Bring back the 70s so we can wear Earth shoes and loose flowing styles :)
3/12/2021 03:00:19 pm
LOL . I used to wear high heels all the time and loved them. Wore them to work probably into the early 90s. I think it would kill me now to put on a pair. I'm into looking decent, but I absolutely have to be comfortable, even if that means buying a bigger size !!!
3/10/2021 12:24:37 pm
Oh my....I have soooo much to say on this subject. Much too much to write. Our chosen "hobby" put a lot of pressure on me as did my career in fitness until I started dancing in major competitions outside of Tucson.. and attending international fitness conferences. Both incredibly enlightening. our first meeting post Covid keeps getting longer.
3/12/2021 03:06:04 pm
Yes, there's nothing like being out on a ballroom dance floor to make a you way too aware of how you look to others. Competitive world on many levels. I was an exercise instructor in the 70s for a couple of years. Never, every thought I'd gain weight the way I have. But...I'm trying hard to be as healthy as I can be, drop a few pounds, and lose my lifetime, self-consciousness about body image. It's a tough one. No matter what I might say, I'm as caught up in it all as the next person.
3/11/2021 08:01:03 pm
I have had to work on giving myself permission not to beat myself up about food. I'm never going to be thin. I'm never going to be beautiful. I am going to be happy with who and what I am. It's hard to overcome the programming of a lifetime. I think women can be harder on women that men are. There is so much that can be said about this.
3/12/2021 03:09:11 pm
I really believe women dress for other women more than for men. Men don't notice half the time. We (women) all need to cut each other some slack, and stop setting the bar higher than most women can reach. We put too much pressure on ourselves and others. You, my dear friend, are one of the most authentic people I know...no pretenses. I love that about you.
3/18/2021 10:00:46 am
Well, I've given up trying to look younger and thin! It's too much work and I have enough to deal with these days that what I eat is my treat and knit plants are fine! Comfort and pleasure are key! I feel good about my choices. You are absolutely right.....we need to stop judging each other! We are all beautiful in our own way!
3/18/2021 11:12:13 am
Me to my dear. I'm ramping up the exercise because I'm trying to get my back stronger and my mobility improved. But... Not dropping even an ounce. Had to order a bigger size and you know what?...it's all about comfort. I'm done trying to live up to the expectations of others. Glad you are there with me.
3/20/2021 02:04:55 pm
I love this blog. I know you will say that I don’t need to worry about my weight and really I don’t only when as you say it is about strength balance and being healthy. I am lucky to have my mom’s genes and haven’t been heavy. I have felt the pressure though over the years to look a certain way. I have felt I dressed for myself for the most part. I have heard the “are you feeling ok” if I didn’t have makeup on, hair done and ‘dressed’ when going even to the store. I don’t do that anymore.
3/22/2021 01:31:58 pm
Doesn’t make me happy when a friend tells me that older women need to keep their hair short and not let it grow long like mine. But they don’t like it when I tell them that they can stay slim like me because I only eat two salmon tacos for dinner every night. Yes, our world has changed and even if they are 69 they want longer hair and a special diet to keep them thin😄
3/24/2021 01:34:46 pm
Longer hair is lovely. I can remember when we were told we shouldn't have long hair after thirty ! Do what makes you happy !
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Lynn Nicholas - AUTHOR oF Dancing Between The Beats
My blog is a window into my world. My slice-of-life narratives are triggered by life's