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.   

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