Monday, March 24, 2014

Searching for a younger me (sort of)

Today's post is in part inspired by this article from the New York Times about Gloria Steinem's 80th birthday.

As a younger woman I fully expected that I would age gracefully.  After all I was the thirteen year old given a copy of Our Bodies Ourselves for her birthday because she had asked for it.  Not only was I a teenage feminist politically but I embraced feminist spiritually and its triple goddess; maiden, mother and crone.  I had a mother who was willing to talk frankly with me about menstruation, answered my questions about sex and provided access to birth control.  I was surrounded by body positive images and knew many women much older than I who I considered beautiful and wise.

Despite all of this over the years I found myself, like nearly every other American woman, looking in the mirror and wondering if I was pretty enough or thin enough? Were my breasts the right size?  Was I too tall (I always felt too tall)?  Do I look my age?  Older?  Younger?  What is that silvery strand popping out of my head?  I started looking at the anti-wrinkle properties of face creams in the skin care aisle while at the same time watching from the corner of my eye to make sure no one I knew was in the grocery store and saw me reading the labels.

I remember a brunch with a younger friend a few years ago where the waiter brought our coffees, set mine in front of me with a "Here you go ma'am," and then proceeded to chat up and flirt with my younger friend.

"Ma'am?  Ma'am?"  Oh gods!  Does he think I'm old?????  I'm only 39…

Today at 42 I often ponder how this happened.  How did I, who 25 years ago was determined to be fiercely self accepting, come to care so much about my appearance and whether or not I looked youthful enough?

I could blame my later angsty teen years spent hunched over trying to hide what I felt was my towering height.  Then there was the extremely unhealthy, self-esteem damaging relationship of my early 20s.  Or there was the year I turned 27.  This was the year that I let my hair grow long, dyed it red and got contact lenses for the first time; that was the year I started to be noticed.  Suddenly, it seemed, I started receiving far more attention than I ever had before.  Not just flirtation, but people actually seemed to be more friendly.  They did things like open the door for me, and offered to carry packages (which I mostly refused).  The clerk at the corner store who never said more than, "Here's your change," suddenly wanted to engage me in conversation.

While the attention might have given me a bit of confidence that others may have picked up on, in my mind the only thing that changed was my appearance.   Here in the United States women are bombarded with images of how we are supposed to look, you can't escape it.  But nothing is quite so affirming of this "ideal" as when for, however long or brief a period of time, you come close to fitting it.  Whether consciously or not the connection was made…appearances matter and appearing attractive matters most of all.

Today, as I struggle with self acceptance, I want to apologize to my younger self, to say that I'm sorry to have let her down, but even more than that I want to find that part of her who didn't care about appearances or what anyone else may think of hers.  The part of her who believed that growing older was something to look forward to. And most of all I want to find that young woman who promised to love herself no matter what.   

Thursday, March 13, 2014

My Not a Vacation

I spent the past two weeks housesitting.  I've been warm from my head to my toes and my belly has been full.  I've had full nights of restful sleep in a bed that is soft, cozy and hard to leave.  I've had space to be alone with my thoughts and to quiet my head.  For these past two weeks I've existed with a rare feeling of security and it has made world of difference in my state of mind.

This is the first time in quite a while that I have not only had a long span of time to be alone in my head but I've not driven my self crazy doing so (in fact I'm not sure I can recall the last time I was able to that).  I find myself sorting thoughts without obsessing over them.   I am writing more, mostly in my journal, making observational notes about  my state of mind, what thoughts are dancing in my head and  at the very beginning of realizing it's okay to let go of some things.

It hasn't all been quiet contemplation.  I've still worked nearly every day and I've still had school and the associated homework including two midterms.  I had several shows with my troupe and one solo performance.  I've still had to keep up with bookings, my dance practice, writing and general life stuff.  I've spent social time with friends.  This has not been a vacation in the traditional sense though.

What it has been is an escape into a world where all of my basic needs have been adequately met.  I can't help but think that if every human being could be assured of having these things every day the world would in general be a much happier place.


Just to be clear, when I am not housesitting I am not starving or living on the streets, however given my current financial circumstances I, like many of us, live paycheck to paycheck with little left for any sort of extras.  The thermostat is kept at the minimum (multiple layers are a way of life), food is very, very basic (and I'm not sure the calories are always adequate), my lungs are often in flare-up (which has not been an issue at all here) and I worry nearly constantly about money (how will I make rent, pay for oil, food and other utilities)   Because of all these things I often don't sleep well which probably contributes greatly to an anxiety prone, non-peaceful state of mind.  

I know I am not the only person who lives this way these days and certainly not the only one amongst my friends.  It is not a frequent topic of discussion as I don't think we want to dwell on our troubles, but it has been mentioned.  Times are tight for so many; when I look at my own circumstances and the impact it has on my state of mind, then expand that to our community at large which includes so many who have even less, is it any wonder that there appears to be so much struggle in the world these days. Such a minor change in circumstance has made such a difference for me and I'm sure would do so for so many others. 

I am grateful for that which I do have but having even a short time where a few of  these basic necessities (warmth, food and breathing clearly) have not been a worry has been rather blissful.  I've only a few days left before someone else takes over for the last couple weeks of the owners vacation…and the truth is I don't want to leave here yet.