I stumbled upon this column I wrote five years ago. Sadly, it feels timeless. I’m curious … what do you think?
A recent email began with this: “I’m writing to you because I thought I might embarrass you if I approached you in the grocery store the other day.” With an opening sentence like that you have to know this woman had my attention.
Describing herself as a “long time loyal fan,” (thank you very much) she wrote that over the weekend, she saw me shopping for groceries. From her perspective, I “looked a mess.” I was wearing “old jeans, a tired sweatshirt, and obviously not much makeup.”
She went on to say that over the years she has attended some of my workshops and classes noting that I always “looked so professional.” For a minute that fateful day in the grocery store she wondered if I was sick but then said I seemed fine.
Finally, she made her point. She felt I owed it “to those of us of a certain age to always look” my best when I went out because “people judge older women so harshly.” She concluded by saying that if I didn’t look my best it was “a reflection on all of us.”
You might think this email pushed my buttons. Honestly, not so much. I feel pretty secure about who I am and what I do. This means that when I’m off-duty, I’m going to be comfortable and practical. Yes, on any given weekend, you’ll find me in jeans because I may have just been working in the garden, taking the dog for a walk, or coming off of another wonderful boating excursion on the bay. (No, I don’t own a pair of nautical white pants. To me, that would be a laundry nightmare waiting to happen!) Or maybe I just felt like being super relaxed. It happens.
As for make-up? I never have been a real fan and the older I get, the less interested I am. Hours messing with my hair? Not going to happen. I am who I am.
No, what truly saddened me about this email was that this woman was making a very valid point. We older women are judged harshly for our appearance. In this youth driven culture of ours, we aren’t supposed to show our age. (Men can but we can’t. Huh?) The expectation is that we cover the gray, Botox those wrinkles, surgically tuck up the sags, and paint on the face of a younger version of ourselves.
Of course, this is a problem women of all ages battle. The pressure has always been on how we look rather than what we do or say.
While the value of the vast contributions women make to our society, to the world, has certainly transcended many barriers during the last forty years, it’s unsettling that we continue to be judged so frequently for our physical appearance.
And the saddest thing of all? Women are often the very first to criticize each other. I understand that this is usually a reflection of the woman doing the criticizing rather than the target of her criticism. However if we continue to play into this very misguided definition of our worth, how is anything going to ever change?
For the record, there are things I feel I ‘owe’ my readers, students, and clients. You can count on me for well researched information, respect, support, and a commitment to be open and understanding. Why do I owe you these things? Because of the strong work ethic I learned from my hard working single mother.
But will you be seeing me in a sporty outfit and perfectly coiffed as I grab a few things for dinner? Probably isn’t going to happen. Instead, here’s a suggestion. The next time you head out to the grocery store … go for total comfort. You just may like it!