This post has been dedicated to the late great Vivienne Westwood, an admirably difficult woman who inspired and defined Aging GraceF.U.lly for me. May her spirit rest in Power!
I am a 52 year old, menopausal, Gen X feminist, and single mom trying my best to raise my gender fluid teen to become an emotionally, and financially healthy adult. Whatever that means for them. I am post punk-rebellion age, pre geriatric-#tinyhouse #vanlife. And with each decade that passes, I look back, and I am more grateful for who I am today, stronger, wiser, more at ease in my own body, and mind with each passing year.
I never subscribed to the beauty standards I saw on primetime tv, or in the fashion magazines of my youth. Ever since five year old me tried debating my feminist mother on the virtues of owning a Barbie, having lost painfully, only to end up trading all my marbles for one, just to whack all her hair off, to make her look more like me, I have questioned what it means to be beautiful. I have been ridiculed for looking like a boy after cutting my hair short like Dorothy Hamill(8), later Annie Lennox(15), leading me to question what being a “girl” looked like, and meant to me.
The women I looked up to in my formative years were the feminist artists, teachers, and activist friends that inhabited my mother’s world. They were the bra burners, and war protesters, abortion and birth control advocates of the 60’s and 70’s. I adored and respected them, make up free, babies hanging off their breasts, conspiring around bonfires in rural places, and selling their artisanal wares at art fairs and festivals.
Music has been a huge influence on me since the beginning, My mom and pops were audiophiles, they traded candles for the Electric Fetus to sell, in exchange for vinyl. We listen to everything from Motown to Willie Nelson, War to Journey, Taj Mahal to Laura Nero. The turn table was always spinning, and the collection kept growing. (My pops still has them all!)
I remember two pivatal moments that would change me forever. The first was in 1979, I was 9, we were watching SNL together as a family, and the musical guest was David Bowie. Klaus Nomi, and another backup singer had to carry him to front stage, he was dressed in a plastic tuxedo, and later a shirt suit. He was weird and beautiful, and I loved him instantly. The second in 1980, my pops called me in to watch American Bandstand, because this local dude Prince was going to be on. 19 year old Prince came out with the tightest gold pants I have ever seen, and his hair all long and flippy, I was instantly enamored. I loved these men because they made me question what being a “man” was supposed to look like.
My adolescence coincided with the painful loss of my mother in 1981, a move to the suburbs, into a yuppie boomer (whom I love dearly) aunt’s family home. I watched my aunt, who is a force of nature, earn her PHD in two years (!) while getting a divorce, running a school district, raising three girls, one of whom has brain damage, and is blind, all still while finding time to have fun. Yet still struggling with not feeling pretty, or looking young enough. I think she is adorable, she looks like Sally Fields to me. I watched the women in the suburbs running to aerobics classes and getting a little secret liposuction here, or a lift there. While my “peers” partied in the cornfields.
Miserable in the suburbs, I was the Ally Sheedy character from Breakfast Club, all in black, drawing, or writing, quietly judging, and just waiting to get out. I was incredibly intentional in my all black wardrobe, trying to be invisible in a sea of preppy pink and green, only standing out more. I spent my teen years hanging out in Uptown Minneapolis, and at First Ave, with the Punks, Goths, and Mods, and then later with my dancer friends who were into House Music. I knew already I wanted to be in NYC, and I was going to be an artist.
1980’s punks, were all about fighting the establishment, screaming for social, and economic justice, as well as trying to end the American war machine. We were living through the Cold War, and constantly worried about a nuclear war. South Africa was still in the throes of apartheid, Ethiopians were starving, DC embroiled in scandals, things were scary, and messy.
The status quo wasn’t working. 80’s greed, consumerism, and financial exhibitionism wasn’t jiving with my values. I saw it for what it was then, wasteful, distasteful, sexist, racist, and anti-poor. The way I see it, things went really went to crap when Reagan pulled Carter’s solar panels off the White House.
I am trying to build a more sustainable future for my child, and part of that is modeling that the “beauty standards” they are being inundated with are not healthy, or sustainable. Just like we talk about policing women’s bodies as unsustainable.
Recently I went in for my annual skin cancer screening with the dermatologist. I asked about treating some brown spots on my face, they’re from sun exposure, and I was concerned about them becoming cancerous. She responded by saying, “Well, given your age, and that you ARE in the Beauty Business, I recommend x,y,z.” Essentially a package of laser treatments and peels, to the tune of 5K. I took the pamphlet, stuffed into my bag, as a scene from the movie Brazil popped into my head.
Meanwhile the brown spots are fine, nothing to worry about, so I won’t, a little concealer works for me.
I’d long ago decided I would likely not do any surgeries or fillers. To each their own, and I mean that, choose your own adventure. However, I am running on emotional, and financial fumes, and I prefer to not be upsold in a medical setting. It felt gross for a medical Dr to prey on women’s insecurities for profit, that’s a boundary issue for me.
Also I was thinking “F.U. lady Dr, this broad doesn’t really give a shit”, I earned these years, and ageism can suck it. Then I started looking for inspiration, women who I felt were slaying in their menopausal years. We are EVERYWHERE. And it’s time we were recognized.
Aging GraceF.U.lly to me means fully embracing my age, and flipping the bird, to the shame around lines, spots, sags, and numbers.
I’ve gathered strength behind my years, I owned them, I’ve earned them, I’ve deserved them, I have a right to have them.Sally Field
I’m right here right now and I want now to be the Golden Age …if only each generation would realize that the time for greatness is right now when they’re alive … the time to flower is now.Patti Smith
We tried not to age, but time had its rage.Patti Smith
I’d like to hear from you. Share your stories about ageism, and what Aging GraceF.U.lly means to you.
*I will not feature any story without prior consent. All stories will remain anonymous, unless you’d like a credit.
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