Wednesday, October 19, 2016

You Don't Have To Be Beautiful; or Go To Hell, Trump!

The rain is back. We get so much rain in this city, that we refer to it not as rain, but as The Rain, the same way one would refer to The Sun, or The Moon: an inevitable fact of life, its return as natural as the return of night after day. I don't adore the rain but I don't mind it. I focus on the fact that it won't snow in winter, and on the year round green that comes with the rain, and I am content.

But I do prepare. Very few locals here carry umbrellas but we do like our hats. This is especially true for me, since carrying an umbrella is painful at best, and, when I'm using my mobility scooter, nearly impossible. 

When I put this outfit together, I was mostly thinking of some wonderful, 1970s fashion icons -- Carly Simon, Stevie Nicks, and Faye Dunaway -- and I had fun trying to emulate them. But then a tape of Trump arrogantly bragging about sexually assaulting women was released to the press, and I felt differently. These icons of mine are, like me, older now. To Trump and his ilk, they are used up, spent, valueless -- and so am I. In an environment like that, should I really be emulating women in their youth and not in their age too?

When that tape hit the news, I was in the middle of an extreme pain flare. I was using a wheeled walker just to walk a few feet in my own house, when usually I don't even need a cane at home. I was literally, painfully aware of what happens to the human body -- most often the female body -- when it is used as an object. And make no mistake: Trump was talking about us -- you and me -- as objects, and people, many people, were saying that his doing so was just a-okay.

It's been a long time since I've felt like an object, but I felt like an object that week. And I'm still getting over it.

Beau and I were overcome with helpless, frustrated rage. We talked to Beau's adolescent sons about consent and rape culture. I made my little memes and reshared important messages on social media, but it felt useless.

I just had to get my mind off it. So I started this blog post, just a light, fun emulation of older women in their beautiful youth. And I felt guilty. I comfort myself by reminding myself and you, dear readers, that I do often write posts about the beauty of older women, but that's not the point. The bloody point is that we don't have to be beautiful to matter! We are a hell of a lot more than our appearance, but try telling the world that. Just try. Heck, try telling yourself that and really, truly believing it.

So that's the back story to this post, just so you know. Now I'll try again to write it, with respect, for youth and age, for beauty and its absence -- with respect for women, all women.

So. I bought a new rain hat.

I was particularly excited that the thing actually fit on my massive head and puffy hair. It doesn't even give me a headache. I can even ... wait for it ... have a hairstyle underneath and the hat won't ruin it!

It's wool, which isn't water proof, but I treated it with a waterproof spray and it's served me well so far. Besides, I love wool. It's old-fashioned, classy, beautiful, warm, and a lot closer to being waterproof than you'd think. Trust me I know. I live on the Rain Coast, remember?

As with all my hats, I often add a brooch to it to match my different outfits. This brooch is such a pale pink, it almost glows ...

... as does this dress.

Dress: Jessica Simpson; Boots: Keen; Hat: Brixton; Sunglasses: Aldo; Earrings: bespoke, Etsy; Right hand ring, jacket, and brooch: vintage
... or, at least, it would seem to glow if it weren't so dark ...

... but, you know, you kind of have to expect that with all this rain. It can get me down a bit, but not too much. I hate long, cold winters more than I hate dark, rainy days.

I think it's no coincidence that people in my city seem to be far less afraid of wearing colour than people in other cities. It's our way of brightening up our dark days. I've lived in Montréal, Toronto, and New York, and in all three cities, I was struck by how much black, grey, and navy people wear there. It just seems so dreary!

So, to add to the glowing pink look, I wore the rose quartz, and pink tourmaline earrings that I got for our wedding ...

... and this pink, Lucite, reverse-carved bangle. I got the same one in lavender at a thrift store so, when I saw this one on Etsy, I knew I had to have it. Sometimes I wear them together. I love the 3D effect of the reverse-carving.

But back to the hat. It makes me feel like a cowboy.

I kept wanting to touch it and call people ma'am. You know, like Brad Pitt in Thelma and Louise.

I kept tipping my hat low to be cool. I have it in my head that's what cowboys do.

When I wear it, I'm also prone to singing, "I'm a cowboy. On a steel horse I ride," especially when I'm using my mobility scooter.

Beau kept telling me to lift my head, but I was having too much fun leaning on things ...

... and pretending I was Heath Ledger in Brokeback Mountain.

When I wasn't pretending I was a cowboy, I felt quite sophisticated ...

... like Faye Dunaway.

But the first person I thought of when I got this hat ...

... was Carly Simon, obviously. Her album, No Secrets, was around when I was a kid so the image of her in this hat must have been burned into my vast, internal, fashion rolodex.

Given my primary fashion inspiration, a 70s look was in order, so this brutalist, quintessentially 70s ring was a must. Plus, it picks up the darker reds of my boots and hat.

Faye Dunaway and Peter Wolf
I felt kind of bohemian too, as one often does when going for a 70s look. I'm the absolute last person to go for a hippie look, but I'm perfectly fine with the fact that I am and have always been quite bohemian. I have no problem with the floaty, pink, 70s thing, for example.

As with the fashions of any decade, I pick and choose what works for me, aesthetically, physically, and emotionally.

But, if I were to go for a hippie look, I would go for a Stevie Nicks look. Wouldn't everyone?

She was and still is the queen of gauzy, floaty, mystical fashion. It's not really my thing, but she does it so well, and with such sincerity, I have to respect it.

When such breezy fabrics match one's skin colour, they create an almost intimate feeling, an almost nude effect or, to be honest, an effect of wearing one's underwear in public, but in a good way, if there is such a thing. 

This underwear as fashion look was taken all the way in one of Faye Dunaway's most iconic looks: the one created for her in the wildly popular movie, Bonnie and Clyde. This movie was set in the 1930s so, ostensibly, its fashions were those of the 30s. But don't kid yourself. As with many historical movies, the outfits in Bonnie and Clyde were wildly anachronistic, very much of the time in which the movie was made, and not the time in which the movie was set. In other words, this is a 1970s look, through and through, so I have no problem using it as an inspiration for my 1970s sartorial choices.

Ginger Rogers
You'd have to squint a heck of a lot to see anything particularly 1930s about it.

Of course, I couldn't hope to really duplicate any of the looks that inspired me. I'm too old.

Carly Simon's iconic, fresh-scrubbed look was a look of youth and that elastic, buoyant beauty that comes with it.

Not even Carly Simon could duplicate this look -- anymore.

Still, I did my best, as many of us do, with my high boots and my fitted, pink jacket to accent my waist which is, let's face it, not as defined as it once was, especially not since menopause started.

Carly Simon now
Of course, many of us older women learn and employ various tricks ...

... to try to pretend we still have the same kind of beauty we once had. We learn about certain head tilts and photo angles.

Faye Dunaway now
We learn about using gauzy fabrics ...

... to disguise the crinkly skin of our décolletage ...

Stevie Nicks now
... and sunglasses to mask that tired look around our eyes.

We learn about poses that hide our double chins. Some of us resort to plastic surgery, something I refuse to do; I worry about the message it would send to girls and young women. I want them to know that it's okay to age. I don't want them to fear it.

But you and I know, know in our bones, that our culture is viciously cruel to the ageing woman. Some men, like a certain vile, American, presidential candidate we know, would prefer it if we older women would just disappear altogether.

But that's really not an option for me. Is it for you? I didn't think so. Not only do I continue to exist, I continue to thrive and contribute to society. I refuse to blend in to the background. I even, gasp, draw attention to myself with my fashion choices. 

What is wrong with a culture in which half the population is valued primarily for its beauty? And not any kind of beauty either. No, it's got to be thin, white, youthful beauty or nothing at all.

My God. Screw that!

I was thinking about all this when I posed with this statue at my local café (which, bless its owners, also sports statues of well-built, naked men, much to the amusement of -- well, everyone). When I posed, I was trying to create an image of mutual affection and friendship between my older self and this young, alabaster beauty, with her single, artful bum dimple. I've never been one to have adversarial relationships with other women, no matter how young or beautiful, or old and wise, they may be.

I didn't want to show you this photo because my face looks kind of wan and plain, a bit saggy and, well, middle-aged. But here it is. This is me. The way my face looks does not constitute my value as a human being. This should be so obvious, it is not worth mentioning. But it's not. In our culture, it's not.

Trump's attitudes toward women is so overtly, blatantly offensive, that it has caused me to reassess the importance I place on my own appearance. He divides all women into two categories: those he'd like to fuck (their consent or lack thereof being irrelevant to him), and those he wouldn't. The former have value -- as sexual conquests only. The latter have no value whatsoever. They -- we -- might as well not exist.

I am so deeply disgusted by this objectification of women, that I am noticing all the ways in which I objectify myself every day. In other words, I'm noticing all the ways in which I've taken my culture's sexism into my own heart and learned to value myself by my appearance, and by not all my other admirable and questionable qualities, faults, and quirks.

I didn't want to show you this photo because you can see my middle-aged belly in it. But here it is. That's me, personality, belly, brain, heart, soul, and all.

Many times a day, I catch myself worrying about some aspect of my appearance. This is not because I am vain or shallow. It is because my culture has taught me, in a million big and small ways, that my appearance is of the utmost importance. But now, when I catch myself thinking this way, I stop myself. I explain to myself why I feel this way, and why I'm working to free myself of my own internalized sexism.

Me, at about 27
I know what I'm talking about. I was a quite beautiful young woman, so I know, first hand, all the perks and advantages, as well as the prejudices and harassments that are heaped upon beautiful young women. I was aware of all this, and have so much to say about it, it should be saved for another blog post.

Me, at about 31
But I will say this: I knew that I was beautiful, or at least that a lot of other people thought I was. It's not polite to say this, but it's the truth. As soon as I became aware of this fact about myself, I promised myself that I would not let my looks define me. I would become the best person I could be and not coast on the perks afforded to me because of my appearance. I thought I did just that. I did do just that, I guess. But I did come to care about how I looked. I got used to the perks even as I disdained a culture that valued me more for my looks than for my degrees, my career, my good works, my writing, my courage, and all the other things that defined me far more than my looks did.

When my looks started to fade, I grieved. I wish I could say I didn't, but I did. I still do. And my self-esteem, my sense of self -worth, plummeted. How could it be otherwise, in a culture like ours?

But the events of the last few weeks have made me more aware of the cultural forces that cause me to feel poorly about myself, instead of honouring myself for all my many accomplishments. I have value as a human, no matter how I look. I am far more than my appearance.

So are you, and don't you forget it.

Kisses, darlings!

(I'm sharing this with Fashion Should Be Fun, Adri Lately, Not Dressed as LambTina's Pink Friday, High Latitude Style, Not Dead Yet, Style Crone, and Rachel the Hat.)


  1. Replies
    1. You are most welcome. I think we all kind of needed to remember all this.

  2. 😘😍😉
    You are absolutely right. Thank you.

    1. You are welcome. I've been wanting to write about how unimportant beauty is for a long time. I hope to revisit the topic in a future post.

  3. "When my looks started to fade, I grieved. I wish I could say I didn't, but I did. I still do. And my self-esteem, my sense of self -worth, plummeted. How could it be otherwise, in a culture like ours? "

    This last sentence made me think of the lines in Paul Laurence Dunbar's "We Wear the Mask". I remembered the line as "Why should the world be otherwise/ In counting all our tears and sighs?" In reality, when I went to google it to double check (and make sure I'd spelled his name right), it turns out the word is "over-wise" not "otherwise." But the poem really does have a connection to this idea of the outer image as what we value. Dunbar's poem is very much about race and what it means to be black, but I think it could easily be said that anyone who isn't a straight, white, cis, able-bodied, wealthy man ends up wearing a mask much of the time.

    And that makes me think of the Nathaniel Hawthorne quote from *The Scarlet Letter,* "No man, for any considerable period, can wear one face to himself, and another to the multitude, without finally getting bewildered as to which may be the true." Which brings me back to your post! (I knew I'd get back there in the end!) No matter how much we promise ourselves that we won't let our beauty define us, it can. The face we put on for the rest of the world seeps in and all of a sudden it matters. Of course, it's hard to see this until we lose it. I was adamant that I was "recovered" from my eating disorder and other people's opinions of my body didn't matter... until I gained a lot of weight. And I realized how much it still mattered to me, no matter how much work I'd put into to it.

    1. I'm in a little pain flare right now so I think I'll wait and respond to this more later. For now I'd like to say, though, that the face the world saw as mine was not, in fact the one I "put on for the rest of the world." It was the one they put on me, all their assumptions about who I was based on how I looked. I think the first work that really opened my eyes to this notion was The Invisible Man, by Ralph Ellison.

    2. That's a valid point and a solid distinction. I think what I'm trying to say is that I unconsciously ended up re-putting-on the face they gave me.

  4. Dear Charlotte, thanks vor linking up with tinaspinkfriday. Nobody is an object and you are so right. Thank you Charlotte for this post.
    You look amazing with this hat an pink colour. I hope your pain go away. Sorry about my english. Hope you understand.

  5. Love the burgundy and pink! Stevie Nicks is my angel! Thanks so much for linking up with Fun Fashion Friday!

    Dawn Lucy

  6. Thank you for this. We give beauty so much currency, and we (women especially) can have crises when our 'traditional" beauty fades. It's a hard way to live, and so untrue at the heart. I love all these pics, and the celebration of mid-life. xox

  7. I'm loving your hat and the color palette of this outfit!
    Jeans and a Teacup

  8. I love your hat. I almost bought a similar hat in bright red for winter, but that day the credit card machine at the store wasn't working and I didn't have enough cash with me to buy the red hat. When I returned to the store my red hat was gone.

    I agree with you about color making the winter season more endurable.

    I once read a comment on a blog about being chic, that if a woman wanted to look chic and younger, she should avoid using a "stick", I assume the comment writer meant cane. It occurred to me to question why people think people use canes, for fun perhaps, I don't know why someone would write something like that. On days when I must use my cane due to extreme arthritic pain issues, it is a necessity, not something I do for fun or effect. For a long time I went out without my cane because I felt embarrassed. Then it occurred to me how much more embarrassed I would be if I fell and had to be taken out of there by an ambulance. If I can accept myself using a cane, to heck with anyone who think it looks unattractive, aging, or not chic. I probably wasn't put on this earth to be an example of chic anyway.

    I am disgusted by the constant appearance evaluations being made by Mr. Trump, and by so many other Americans right now. It has become our society norm, it seems. With a Trump Presidency, Heaven forbid, can you imagine how anyone who is not perfectly attractive, or disabled in some way, or is a minority, will be belittled, and demeaned. In his world, appearance seems to be the overriding concern. I see many absolutely normal people at his rallies and wonder how they could consider voting for someone who would completely disregard them as a person and possibly belittle them because of their appearance, once their votes are cast, because they are normal people that would not fall within his narrow view of what is attractive.

    I am very happy to have discovered your blog today.

  9. I am loving all the colors of your outfit,you look stylish in this vintage look

  10. Your red rain hat looks lovely with the pale pink of your dress and jacket plus the darker red of your boots and handbag! Thanks for participating in Hat Attack!