How To Face Down Time

matronly stylesI grew up a few doors away from a girl who looked like Grace Kelly. When she was 20, she sat for a formal portrait and I can still see the strapless gown she wore for it: how the light played on those bare shoulders; how the dress billowed at her hips. That June she married and moved away. The next time I saw her she had on a hat and a high-necked blouse, and her whole torso was  encased in the tight rubber hug of a corset. She looked 50. I was 12 at the time, and I have to say: it scared me to death.

Expectations for women may be subtler today, but for sure they’re still out there.

Take hair colo. Women are simply expected to color their hair at a certain point. Now I always had black hair. When some grey began appearing, I thought, Fine.

“But you’ll look …. old!” said the hairdressers, mournful as morticians. So then for a while I had hair the color of somebody’s liver; the color of cow-tongue even. And I hated it.

I mean you care about you appearance; you want to fit in – but not that much, you know? I think of what Secretary of State Albright said once in an interview. Sometimes she dresses up, sure. “But when I work, I really work: I rub my eyes and my makeup comes off and I stick pencils in my hair.” Bravo, Madeleine! I thought, reading that

“Stay attractive!” is the message the world sends women generally. Attractive and slim if at all possible. Buy great scarves if you can’t stay slim, but please: Go easy on our eyes.

I understand these impulses. I want to look nice too. I don’t want to be rendered invisible, which is what this youth-centered culture does to the ‘older’.

At my last college reunion, I met a woman who got a masters degree a few years ago and went to work teaching women in prison. Once, she told us, somebody unpleasantly asked one of the incarcerees what exactly they were doing in this course. ’’Right now we’re reading Maya Angelou,” said the inmate with quiet dignity.

My new friend beamed proudly as she told me this. Oh and did I mention? She herself is 77 and wears her hair in a crewcut tinted a deep burgundy.

Maybe it was she who helped fuel the rebellion I feel building lately inside me.

I’ve always hated slips. I’ve always hated pocketbooks. That hot day just past   I was doing without both, wearing just a sundress and the cellphone I rely to keep in touch with my young people and my editors. I had it hooked tucked into my bra  as I chatted with the proprietor of a shop I go to every day.

It buzzed, causing me to  glance down at the little square bulge it made under the cloth. “Does this look like a pacemaker? “ I asked, suddenly wondering.

“Yup” said my friend the merchant.

I undid a quick button and hooked it on the hip-band of my undies.

“Now it looks like a colostomy bag,” he said dryly.

Pacemakers. Colostomy bags: the language of mortality but what are you gonna do? We’re all bound to age,  sure enough. I guess all I’m saying is I’d like to do it my way.

7 thoughts on “How To Face Down Time

      1. Because your hairdresser runs a business and makes big bucks for coloring, etc…! Mine doesn’t push me….maybe you need a new hairdresser!

  1. I like my gray, too! Cheaper…easier, no touch ups needed.

    The trick for cell phones….buy clothes with pockets! A tiny wallet can then fit, too.
    Guys don’t seem to have this problem. 🙂

    1. my bra worked great – until I started losing weight.. yesterday my Bluetooth escaped and is currently still missing. Truth is, I only trust the OtterBox plus holster with my i-Phone.

  2. You know, I just don’t buy into the moaning about unfair expectations for women. As an executive — and one of the few women who wasn’t taking the meeting notes or bringing around the coffee — I played the game. The hair was colored, the suit was professional, the underwear was torture, and don’t even get me started on the heels. It was the price of admission to the seat at the table. I looked the devil in the eye and paid up. Willingly. I had a terrific family, a magazine house, a Mercedes, and an exciting job. Life was good.

    When I took early retirement, my family and friends were betting I’d never be able to make the transition from work days that extended into evenings, spilled over into weekends, and cancelled vacations. Now, Terry, I’m not losing weight, but I have given up the bra and the slip… and the job. There hasn’t even been a twinge of regret. My mobile and debit card lead a carefree life in the teeny little wallet with the long skinny strap I found while on an actual vacation in a little town in Australia, my hair is showing gray, my shoes are (usually) rubber wellies, and I haven’t put on lipstick in over a year. I have a terrific family, a (used) VW, a (rented) flat (OK, it is in a medieval castle!) and a book coming out in two months. Life is just as good.

    Terry, I apologize that this is so long for a comment, but (obviously) I feel strongly about it. In my years of working and retiring, one thing I’ve learned is that happiness comes from doing what you want to do, and there are always expectations to be met. Sure, I had to pay dues, and sure some of those dues were in the form of unfair sexist expectations of women. And yes, I get that I was one of the lucky ones, with the education and support system to make it possible for me to get that “Executive VP” on my business card. But the point is that I made the decision and paid the dues to get what I wanted. It was good for me in the long run.

    One of my daughters gave me an incredible gift when she wrote,

    “I’m not saying being a working mom isn’t hard. (I wouldn’t know. Maybe they’re all just whiners.) But I feel like the whole discussion focuses so much on what kids of working moms lose, not what they gain… I’m ambitious because I learned vicariously the thrill of creating something awesome and getting paid for it.” [Melinda Taub,

    1. What a wonderful tale this is Barb! I have read it and reread it in the says since you posted it and now I can only wonder: WHAT IS THE BOOK ABOUT?
      I can’t wait to read more of this great prose!

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