Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Self-Respect, Gold, and Golda

As I put this post together, I thought about the 1970s, and dressed accordingly. I thought about 70s wrap dresses, 70s hair styles, 70s jewelry, and, naturally, 70s smoke. Cigarette smoke to be precise, because it was everywhere. 

To help illustrate the ways in which my outfit was inspired by the 1970s, I gathered many images of women from the time. Naturally, and not much to my liking, all the images were of young, slim, abled, white women. Sometimes I think that women over a certain age or weight simply weren't and aren't photographed - ever. 

So, yeah, I found myself comparing myself to these young, slim, mostly ethnically Anglo women, and I didn't like how it made me feel about myself. 

But I got to ruminating about why I look the way I do - my age, my disability, and my ethnicity - and I started to feel some pride. I hope after you read this, you will too.

Dress: Old Navy; Sandals: Wonders; Thumb ring: Effy; Earrings: bespoke; Sunglasses, ruby ring, necklaces, and pendants: vintage
As I posed for these photos, I felt lovely and sophisticated. 

When I looked at them later ... 

... I felt that I looked tired, old, sad, and fat.

As far as our culture is concerned, sad and tired women can be attractive - as long as they're young, thin, abled, and, preferably, white. As I looked for stock photos of sad women on park benches, they were always tagged as "beautiful sad woman," "sad attractive young woman," etc. 

It was almost as if their sorrow made them more appealing. After all, a sad woman makes it possible for some man to sweep in, tell her to smile, and think he's her knight in shining armor, rescuing her from her sorrow, and, incidentally, seducing her at the same time. Creeps.

(I sometimes think that was half the appeal of Marilyn Monroe: men's desire to rescue her from her sorrow - and then do her.)

Ladies, you know what I'm talking about. How many times have you been sitting in a cafe, waiting for the bus, orwalking down the street, when a man, a stranger, commanded you to smile? Hundreds of times, right? But their solicitude is contingent on your having a thin, youthful, abled body. 

If you're older now, or you're fat, or you're disabled, how many times has a man told you to smile recently, even when you really were sad, and really could have used a little kindness? Never, right? Yeah, I thought so.

We live in a world where this photo is tagged "sad old woman on park bench." Old woman?! What the actual f*ck? What is she? Thirty-five? Would she have been photographed at all were she older, fat, disabled, brown?

Photographed or not, women like us do go on existing, having emotions, and being worthy of real love, not love that's contingent on our appearance.

As I looked at these photos of me ...

Remember this woman. You're going to see her again in a few minutes, and learn something super cool about her.
... I thought a lot about Katherine Mansfield's, 1920 short story, Miss Brill. It's about a middle aged (like me), English teacher (like me), who dresses in her finest (like I often do), and goes to the park to enjoy the world and its inhabitants. She's happy. She's a part of the musical tapestry of life itself. But then a snide, young couple mock her out of date, shabby outfit - and completely ruin her day.

Looking at the photos of myself, I felt that I could be Miss Brill, with a young couple judging me a kind of joke, an outsider, especially since I'm, gasp, a cripple. There are many who think that it's impossible for older people, chubbier people, and disabled people to look good. 

I hate to say it, but I think, in my youth, I was one of those snide nasties. I swore to myself that I would never age, and never gain weight, as if these things are in our control. Through sheer force of will (mostly a lot of exercise), I was going to be beautiful forever. I would never be a Miss Brill. Never never never.


Miss Brill was assigned reading when I was in high school. At the time, I felt angry with the young couple, of course. But mostly, I felt sorry for Miss Brill, sorry for her for not knowing her outfit was out of style, sorry for her for not knowing she could no longer look classy. 

But now, at 48, I wonder why on earth she gave a flying f*ck what a couple of young jerks thought of her. What did they know? Nothing about nothing, that's what!

Young people of any character at all know better. Look at how much these little girls love this old woman, their Bubbe (ie grandma) Golda. She's the same rotund old woman as the one sitting alone on a bench above. She's clearly loved. She's happy. 

She's also my great-grandmother. 

Look at her chin, her bosom, her belly, her face.

Can you tell we're related? I hope you can ...

... even if that means you're looking at my chin, my bosom, my belly, my face. I come by them naturally, from a long line of short, Jewish women like my great-grandmother, Golda, who had the fortitude to leave the Ukraine to escape the pogroms, immigrate to America, and build a new life for her growing family (and her growing body). 

I never knew Golda, but I am honoured to bear at least a passing resemblance to her. 

Character and life experience are far more important than a flat stomach. And beauty does not only come in one type.

Because we all deserve beauty. We deserve to feel beautiful, no matter what. So let's dispense with the prejudices that worm their way into our own hearts. Let's dispense with the self-doubts and self-loathing. And let's talk about this outfit.

This dress is not expensive or fancy. It's just an Old Navy, faux wrap. But it's pretty and I like it a lot, and I decided to style it as 1970s as I possibly could. 

And for that, I just had to have a cigarette. Okay, not an actual cigarette, because I stopped smoking those a very long time ago. Instead, I picked up a little, cigarette sized twig to complete my look.

If you were alive in the 70s, you know what I'm talking about. Cigarettes were everywhere. Cigarette smoke was everywhere, wafting, choking, stale, stinking - and as familiar as air itself. It was in restaurants ... 

... it was in airplanes, it was in your teacher's lounge, it was in your home. 

Cigarettes were so ubiquitous that, even if you didn't smoke, it was considered rude if you didn't have at least one ashtray in your house, for guests. Even my grandmother never thought to ask guests to smoke outside. She just handed them an ashtray, and aired out the drapes after they left.

My mother smoked through her pregnancy with me. Later, she'd grab a cigarette while she nursed me. This was normal. This was not considered bad parenting.

Louisa and Suzanne by Joseph Szabo
Smoking was completely normalized. In school, kids made ashtrays as presents for their parents. We could buy candies that looked like cigarettes, so we could pretend to be grownups. On cold days, we would pretend that the steam coming from our mouths was cigarette smoke: cool!

Many of us were smoking by thirteen. I was. Most high schools set aside a covered, outdoor space in which students were allowed to smoke, but we thought being forced to smoke outside, just because we were teenagers, was totally unfair. So we'd secretly smoke in the washrooms.

(And, by the say, if that girl on the right doesn't look exactly like Jennifer Grey being tickled by Patrick Swayze, who does?)

Jeanne Moreau
Smoking was relaxing or, if it wasn't actually relaxing, it made us look relaxed. It even changed our posture, somehow making us look more laid back and cool than we really were.

Smoking was cool ...

Liza Minnelli
... really really cool ...

Jane Birkin

... in the 70s.

I suppose our altered, now hip posture was actually just an attempt to keep from catching ourselves on fire, but it still looked good.

Me and a friend on New Year's Eve, 1991. I'm 20, very drunk and very stoned. I think that's a cigarillo that I'm smoking. My girlfriend at the time turned the photo into the cover for a mixed tape she made for me. Remember mixed tapes?

And it felt good too. I once heard someone say that smoking was about a choice: have a cigarette or have an emotion. For me, from about 1983 to about 2002, the choice was easy: have a cigarette. 

I was one of the very rare, lucky ones: non-addictive chemistry seems to run in my paternal family. For all those years, I could easily take cigarettes or leave them. I'd have one every now and then. If life was really rough, like when I lived in New York, I'd smoke as many as five cigarettes a day for a few months, and stop smoking entirely for a few months, and it wasn't hard at all. I wouldn't even miss them. My father and uncle were the same. 

In my early 30s, I thought, "This is stupid. I'm obviously not addicted. I should just stop." So I did. Just like that. I had absolutely no withdrawal symptoms. Weird, eh?

So now that we've dispensed with the 70s fashion of smoking, let us move on to the 70s fashion of my outfit, featuring my faux wrap dress.

Anna Maria Gambineri 
You see, wrap dresses were ubiquitous in the 70s. Depending on your feelings about them, you can blame or thank Diane Von Furstenberg, whose wrap dress took the decade by storm. Hers were simple, pared down, but collared and cuffed to give them a tailored look.

Note the flutter sleeves on the dress on the left ...

... like mine.

Flutter sleeves were not just for dresses ... 

... and they could be short or elbow length. 

I like the way they add a touch of femininity to any outfit. They also flatter big arms. My biceps and shoulders have always been strong ...

... but, now that I'm disabled and use canes and walkers, they're disproportionately muscular, and tighter sleeves don't always fit well. This is a nice solution.

Laura Ashley 1975
Is there ever a time when floral prints aren't in style? The flowers may change in type, colour, and size, but I think some sort of floral is always popular.

Lately, there are at least two types of florals that are in vogue: tiny, ditsy florals; and large floral sprays across a solid background, like my dress here. 

I probably own far more wine-coloured dresses than any woman should, but they do so suit my autumn colouring, that I can seldom resist.

To play up the autumnal "theme," I added bronze and gold eye shadow, and a berry stain lipstick that is my new favourite. For me, this is a lot of makeup. I don't try to hide my freckles, for instance. I don't see any reason to do so. Beau loves them. He says my complexion is "browny orangey" and he means it as a compliment.

It's probably this browny-orangey colouring that draws me so much to gold jewelry. It just matches me, so 70s fashion is a good match too, because, when it comes to 70s fashion, there's really no such thing as too much gold.

The name of the game was piling on long chains and strings of beads, often over plunging necklines.

Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis
If you were more modest, you could opt for a higher neckline while still piling on the chains and beads.

I'm not much of a one for beads (they remind me too much of my hippie upbringing), but I am all for piling on the gold! All the better if it's real gold.

Honestly, it makes me feel sexy, and I don't feel sexy very much anymore.

I bought this locket for myself when, after a lot of trials and tribulations, I got tenure at my college teaching gig. It's hanging on a chain that Beau bought for me a few years ago after I lost the chain I'd been using. He actually found that other chain a few months ago, but I like this one much better. It's so delicate and feminine and pretty. 

The other chain, which is gold-fill, belonged to my paternal grandmother. I love it more and more with each passing year, and I love the shadows it casts on my skin, but I know nothing about it. Some have suggested it's from the 60s. Others have said they think it's Edwardian. I've seen Edwardian chains that are very similar but they're always gold, not gold-fill. What do you think?

It would be perfect if it is Edwardian, since this watch fob locket is also Edwardian. 

It even comes with a photo of the original owner's sweetheart in it! Isn't that amazing? Her hairstyle supports my belief that it's Edwardian ...

... as you can see looking at a series of popular Edwardian updos. 

"Okay," I can hear you saying, "but what is a watch fob?"

It's that little gold circle on this gentleman's belly here. These were the days before the invention of wrist watches, so, instead, watches were worn on chains. Gentlemen tucked the watches into their waistcoat (ie, vest) pockets (thus "pocket watch"), and attached the other end of the chain to their buttonholes. That way, if they dropped it, it wouldn't crash onto the ground and break. 

Many men attached a weighted pendant or locket - a watch fob - to the button end of the chain, for decoration and, I think, to keep the chain from slipping out of place. 

Not all men who had pocket watches also wore watch fobs, but they did all need a watch chain. Here, my great-grandfather, Simon, has opted for a chain only. Doesn't he look swell?

Guess what? That's my great-grandmother, Golda, again: young, thin, and painfully corseted. Personally, I prefer her old, fat, and comfortable. I do love this photo though, which I think was taken around 1895.

Back to watch chains. It was just sheer coincidence that, on the day I wore my watch fob, I went to a yard sale ... 

... and found a watch chain!

I got it for about a dollar. I shared it on an antique and vintage jewelry Facebook page, and, with its geometric patterns, people there think it's probably Art Deco. What do you think? 

At the same time, I found a probably Edwardian, honeymoon, bar pin. My assumption is that the moon is supposed to have some sort of stone or seed pearl in those circular indentations. Maybe it did have them and someone took them out. Or maybe, for some reason, this pin was never completed. At any rate, for a dollar, I'm not complaining.

Crescent moons on bar pins were in style in the Edwardian period. So were swirly, organic patterns, over the more geometric, Art Deco patterns that would soon be en vogue.

But another clue to this pin's age is its clasp. This c-clasp reveals that the pin was made in the 1920s or earlier. If it were Victorian, the sharp, pin tip would extend past the brooch itself. If you're wondering how old a brooch is, always turn it over and look at its back for clues.

Sometimes diamonds look best when you blur your eyes and let the light and rainbows play over your eyes.
But back to my own jewelry. 

I added a diamond and gold thumb ring ...

... because thumb rings always make me feel hip and irreverent, and I like feeling that way.

And my ruby, revenge ring was a no-brainer with the dress. It's vintage and may actually be from the 70s. I'm not sure. Do you have any ideas about the time of its make?

What can I say about these earrings? Lots of yellow gold, a strong Edwardian influence, and fantastic diamonds. What's not to love?

With a look like this, you pretty much have to have gold-rimmed, tinted, (almost) aviator style, sunglasses.

Because who doesn't want to look like Gloria Steinem in the 1970s (or in any decade, for that matter)? 

I mean, really ...

... who does't want to emulate a right on woman like her?

Power to the sisters! Women's lib, all the way!

To finish the look: a hair clip to match the dress. I don't know about you, but, at some point in any given day, my hair drives me nuts on my neck and face, so I always pick some kind of clip to bring with me when I leave the house. This one's kind of over the top but I like it.

I think curly hair can look really nice just tossed up casually, with curls falling down. Many wedding hair styles carefully recreate this look, just with less frizz.

But when my hair was down, was it 70s-licious enough?

I think so, yes.

Andy Warhol and Bianca Jagger
It might have been a bit more in style if I'd wrestled with it to make it smooth like, say, Bianca Jagger's in the 70s. 

But I've been doing a lot of genealogical research, and seeing a lot photos of curly haired Jewish people who were murdered in the Holocaust and, for them, I encouraged the heck out of my curls.

That's why it was kind of cool that the painting beside me ...

... reminded me of the work of that well-known, eastern European, Jewish artist, Marc Chagall. His heritage is my heritage, pretty much anyway.

This might be accepting stereotypes about "ethnic" hair, but letting my hair go super curly makes me feel kind of wild and untameable.

I'll take anything that makes me feel fierce.

I need that boost ... 

... in what is and has always been ...

... a less than easy life.

Besides, curly hair was stylish in the 70s. This photo of Jerry Hall might be my favourite example of wild, curly, 70s hair. 

If you've got it, love it, all the way - because it's yours, you, and you're always something to celebrate, just the way you are.

And, on that encouraging note, I shall shall say goodbye for now. Until we meet again, be good to yourself, and don't let the world's judgements get you down.

(I'm sharing this with Style Nudge, Not Dressed as Lamb, Elegantly Dressed and Stylish, and Not Dead Yet Style.)