Beauty and Learning a New Dance

girl dances in rainAccording to a new study published in the Journal of Women and Aging, only 12 percent of women 50 and older feel satisfied with their bodies. 50 is several years away for most of us who read this blog, but I think we can (sadly) relate, even in our 40s. This dissatisfaction with our bodies is an awkward dance we learn as young girls.


We learn it by listening as our mothers lament about weight gain and wrinkles.

We observe our aunts and grandmothers doing this dance as they armor themselves with girdles (Spanx predecessors), and paint on faces before they dare step foot outside of the house.

We get confirmation in television commercials, even those selling cars and hamburgers, that when it comes to being a woman, beauty, is everything. And by definition this beauty standard must be extremely narrow (pun intended), come hell, high water, or eating disorders. This narrow definition of beauty, and the importance of it, fuels a billion dollar industry. An industry that teaches girls that they’re not whole, but parts, and that they’re only as good as their worst part.

The goal is to make girls think that every part of them needs fixing, and then sell them products that will fix them.

If your hair is curly, it should be straight. If it’s fine, it should be thick. You’re either too pale or too dark, too short or too tall. And you can rarely, if ever, be too thin. And to hear them tell it, unwanted body hair is basically responsible for global warming.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not completely against products that do these things. Nor do I think that wanting to change your appearance is inherently wrong. What I am against is the ultimate tie-in to self worth. I’m against a culture that whispers in little girls’ ears that their worth is directly tied to how they look and what they wear. And we start them off young. Over eighty percent of 10-year-olds are afraid of being fat. Not afraid of not being smart, or not being healthy, but afraid of being fat.

When we inundate girls with these conversations, the ones that equate worth with beauty, we give them words they can’t un-hear. I know because I was one of them. That message gets played over and over again and it becomes the only truth. It’s a song and a dance we spend our lives trying to erase. And now, in the digital age, the message of unworthiness is on social media forever. Nowhere is this more exemplified than in the new trend of girls uploading videos on You Tube with the question, “Am I pretty or ugly?”  The girls then subject themselves to the comments and criticisms of respondents. These girls will never un-see this. The internet assures us of that.

The effort it takes to unlearn all of these messages and forget that awkward dance can be a difficult one. For some of us it’s our life’s work. It would be better, far better, to raise young girls, and boys for that matter, to know, intrinsically, that their worth is a birthright, separate and unattached to social status or perceived beauty.

If we don’t teach them this we will continue to raise generations of girls who look to social media for validation, who tie their worth into the flatness of their abs or the straightness of their hair. And these girls will turn into women who are dissatisfied with their bodies at an age when they should be marveling in the miracle of  it. It’s time we start learning new dances and teaching them to our children.  I promise we’re worth it.

Pride and Progressives

pride and progressivesThis is not a post about politics. Nope, it’s about me and how I let my pride get the best of me.

You see, a couple of months ago I had my eyes checked. Thankfully, things were good and I was sent off to wander the wall of shelves full of hipster looking frames to pick one out. I also had a new prescription. A prescription for bifocals.


Nope. Not me. Not. Going. To. Happen. I am too damn young for bifocals. Thing is, obviously I’m not, as evidenced by my constant squinting. But of course that didn’t stop me, or my pride.

Oh yes they call them progressives now because you can no longer see the line that screams, “damn she’s old,” and  there’s no telltale magnifying glass at the bottom of the lens.

But my mind wasn’t ready for it, progressives or not.

I just could not handle it.

So, because I’m a mature 43 year old woman, comfortable in the fact she’s getting older and “hey, things like bifocals happen,” I got two pairs of glasses with two different prescriptions.

Because, you know, that was a better choice for me. And pride.

That was a dumb move. Dumb.

I’m sure I’m developing carpel tunnel flipping back and forth between the two pairs of glasses, all the hipsterness (it’s a word if I say it is) of the cute pairs I selected diminished by my constant squinting, glasses switching and basic fumbling around. Most times I end up doing that thing older folks do that cement their olderness (it’s a word now too) where they look at you over the top of their glasses. I always thought the move was laced with a bit of condescension. I now know that they just can’t see.

Yes, this is me now. Looking at people over the top of my glasses, just like someone who should be wearing bifocals.

Oh the irony.

Image source: You tour like a girl

Louis CK explains cell phones and sadness as only he can

Louis CKLouis CK is a 46 year old, sometimes self-depracating, often foul-mouthed comedian that I inexplicably (or maybe not so inexplicably) have a thing for. Much like my thing with Idris Elba, CK is none the wiser for it, but it makes our bond no less real to me (don’t judge me.) (Photo: Louis CK)

The clip below is from a recent visit to Conan and starts off as a rant about why kids shouldn’t have cell phones. But then it turns into something much deeper. And while I don’t agree with him that “it’s all for nothing and you’re all alone,” I know the sadness he’s talking about.

It’s a feeling of being so overwhelmed that there’s nothing to do but just feel it and let it flow.

It’s those moments when you’re alone, but you don’t want to be, or those times when, like with recent events in Colorado and Kenya, you’re faced with the sometimes cruel brevity of life.

But if your go to move has become flipping through your phone rather than really feeling something, anything, then maybe it is time to step back from the phone. And if you’re a part of the generation that has grown up and not experienced riding in a car without DVD players, satellite radios, tablets, and cell phones, then getting in touch with that place isn’t something you know. I aged out of that demographic twenty years ago, but I have, and do, use my phone as a crutch sometimes – even though it is probably the the dumbest “smart” phone ever made.

So, although I don’t usually take advice from comedians, Louis CK is the exception. From now on when I get the urge to use my phone as a shield, I will leave it in my bag, or even back at my house, for as long as I can. I’ll feel those uncomfortable moments, I’ll be the person sitting by herself and not looking into her lap and I might even talk to a stranger.

Age Aint Nothing But a Number

Diana NyadIronic title for a site created for women in their 40s, I know. And though age is just a number, it’s an important number when it comes to observing milestones, celebrating birthdays, and remembering how far you’ve come.

When does age threaten to be more, and less at the same time? When we use it as a gauge to judge ourselves. We all do it, women at 40 don’t have a moratorium on beating ourselves up about not being at a certain place in life by the time we hit our 40s. But for some of us, the day we turn 40 hits us with the force of that gong they used on The Gong Show, and we often,  and not always consciously, take ourselves out of the running because now we’re just too damn old to [fill in the blank].

I got two words for you. Diana Nyad.

While some have always questioned why (dude, that’s 110 miles!), and others are now questioning how, the fact remains that this world record long distance swimmer, in her fifth attempt, successfully swam from Florida to Cuba. And she’s 64.

Not all of us will break world records when we attempt for the fifth or hundredth time to finish something important to us. Most of us won’t make the news for doing it. But, as long as we’re drawing breath, the possibility still exists that we can and will get ‘er done – whether it’s our fifth attempt or hundredth.

So whatever it is you’ve set your heart to doing, and whether you set it 20 years ago or 20 hours a go, don’t let your age be the thing that stops you.

Image Source: NPR


20 Signs You’re Too Old for 20 Somethings to Get Your Pop-Culture References

Electric Avenue - 15 SignsA lifetime ago I worked for a madman (all of the sexism and alcohol of Madmen but without Jon Hamm) in an office with an eclectic cast of characters.

One of these characters was named Rita Mae. Rita Mae wore big Jersey hair, spoke with a high-pitched New York accent, and on occasion, walked around the office with one hand on her hip and the other positioned as though she was carrying a tray. At least once a day Rita would walk up to us, imaginary tray held high, and ask, in that high-pitched New York accent, “Cigars, cigarettes, Perillos?”

None of us knew what the hell she was talking about.

It was 1994 and the office was rife with 20 somethings who knew everything about nothing, and while we knew Rita Mae was referring to something from her generation, we hadn’t a clue what, and she, in turn, had no clue we were clueless.

Fast forward 20 years, and I have become Rita Mae.

I’m a dozen years younger than she was at the time, and now kids can Google anything they don’t understand, but still, when I say something about answering machines, white out, or Mr. Drummond, the glazed looks I get from the 20-somethings in the office make me realize that I now have more in common with Rita Mae than I do with them. Wanna know if you’re one of us now and not one of them? Here are 20 signs:

  1. You’ve told someone age 16 or older that you remember them when they were “just a baby.”
  2. You’ve started a sentence with, “Back when I was a kid…”
  3. You spot a mouthy teen and think, “If I’d ever said that to my mother…”
  4. You’ve said, or thought, “That’s not real music.” In all fairness, a lot of 20 somethings say this just so they can impress themselves. The difference is, we mean it.
  5. You’ve referred to Twitter as “the Twitter”, Facebook as “the Facebook”, or added “The” in front of any social media site – even if you only called it that when “it first came out.”
  6. You’ve recently used the words cassette tape, vhs, or answering machine in a sentence because you were about to use one of them. That you still own. In your home.
  7. You remember sliding around the back seat of cars, unencumbered by seat belts.
  8. You remember white-out and it had nothing to do with the weather in the northeast.
  9. Growing up, your version of Instagram was taking a Polaroid picture, shaking it, then showing it to your friends.
  10. You remember when Madonna’s decision to keep her baby, while instructing her papa not to preach, was the height of scandal.
  11. You owned a Vic 20 or Commodore 360.
  12. You remember when every sitcom had a “very special episode.”
  13. You’re older than the Internet…
  14. and cell phones…
  15. and the DEA.
  16. Beepers were a thing.
  17. Your kids raid your closet for vintage clothes.
  18. You’re disturbed to learn that some guy you think is really cute, was born the year you graduated from high school.
  19. You remember Neil Patrick Harris when he was Doogie Howser, M.D.
  20. Some part of your body popped, snapped, or cracked when you sat down to read this post.
  21. *Bonus – you get the pop culture reference in the photo above.

Have I missed anything? Add your own signs in the comment section, or head on over to the Women at Forty Facebook page, hit like and add them there. And don’t forget to subscribe to the blog so you’ll never miss another post!