Friday, May 17, 2019

Short, Round, and Cute: A Distinguished Older Gentlewoman

I've written about women in suits before, so that's not what this post is about. I will say that, in this patriarchal society, I think a lot of us assume that women are taken more seriously when they wear sombre, man-style suits. Our feminine outfits, we think, are seen as frivolous, less serious. This may or may not be true, but, when I looked at these photos of me in a suit, I noticed something different: I think I'm becoming a little old lady, and nobody takes little old ladies seriously, suit or no suit.

This got me to thinking about the difference between the way people perceive ageing men and ageing women. Men become distinguished. Women become doting grandmothers - or irrelevant. Men become powerful. Women lose power. Ageing women are not taken seriously, especially if their ageing naturally.

Ask any middle aged woman, and she'll tell you: mostly, she's invisible.

If ageing women are short, like me, if these ageing women grow plump with age, like me, the best they can hope for is to be... cute. Short, plump, little, old ladies are cute. I'm cute. 

Fine. I don't mind being cute, but, my God, I am so much more than that!

I, dear readers, am a Distinguished Older Gentlewoman.

Vest and trousers: Reitman's; Shoes: Cobb Hill; Blouse: Eloquii; Right hand ring: Birks; Jacket, brooches, and earrings: vintage
When I put this outfit together, I thought I looked smart, well put together, a force to be reckoned with ...

Remington Steele: Stephanie Zimbalist as Laura Holt, Pierce Brosnan as Remington Steele, and Doris Roberts as Mildred Krebs
Like Laura Holt, in Remington Steele...

... like the highly educated, English proffie that I am.

Though the 1980s, Laura Holt was on my mind, I'm a particular fan of 1970s tweedy suits.

I was going for that ...

Louise and Liza, by Alix Dobkin
... and the dapper power of it.

I wish I could get away from the feeling that feminine frills hold no power, and masculine tweeds do, but there it is. I don't think I'm alone in this. No matter how femme they are, over and over, I see women throw back their shoulders and adopt the swagger of power - when they dress "like a man." It's no surprise, given the world in which we live.

But, since the last time I wrote about women in suits, I've changed.

I've grown older, and I've gained weight. The two often go hand in hand, of course, especially when they're both complicated by disability.

In general, I hate that I look older and rounder with each passing year. But, in looking at these particular photos, I wasn't really bothered too much by my physical changes. I think I look less professional in a suit than I did (why I feel that is a disturbing question), but I also think I look kind of cute like this ...

Gordon Jump as Arthur Carlson on WKRP in Cincinnati
... more of a Mr Carlson on WKRP ... 

Stephanie Zimbalist and Pierce Brosnan on Reminington Steele
... than a Laura Holt or a Remington Steele ...
Richard Sanders as Les Nessman on WKRP in Cincinnati
... Les Nessman, if you will ...

... nerdy glasses and all. These are my reading glasses. My distance glasses are the same, but clear. It's really bifocal... excuse me, "graduated lenses" time, but I'm sure I'd puke if I tried them, especially since, as a disabled person, I'm often in positions most people aren't in while wearing their glasses: the lenses are designed for upright people, and I'm often not upright.

Besides, I'm starting to get cataracts, and they may well lead to a swift change in prescriptions. 

Yes, cataracts! Cataracts! Jesus, I feel old. 

Ed Asner as Lou Grant on The Mary Tyler Moore Show
But back to short, round, middle aged people in dapper vests. Lou Grant might have been a character in a comedy, but he was taken seriously. His age, weight gain and all, connoted a wisdom and power that inspired fear and respect. 

But a similarly ageing woman? Not so much. Ed Asner is in his mid-40s in the above photo, about the age when men start being called "distinguished." I'm 48. Don't I get to be distinguished too?

It really doesn't help that I'm short. This short, round, little Jew...

... is never going to be Helen Mirren in a suit.

Charlotte Rampling in the 1970s
Let's face it, most iconic images of women in suits, are images of tall, slim, white women with Anglo features. There's no getting away from that.

Me, about 4 or 5, about 1975
I was never going to be tall, willowy, blond, and blue-eyed. 

I was always called cute. Like super cute. I was far smaller than other girls my age, I was very feminine, and I had those chubby cheeks, and puffed little belly, exaggerated then as it is today by my sway back.

And I talked and talked. I talked like a grown up, about grown up ideas and concepts. I was very serious about these things. The juxtaposition between my cute little face and body, and the words that came out of my mouth? Cute!

Nothing much has changed. 

Me, about 23, about 1994
I mean, they changed for a while, in my 20s, when I got into fitness and became very slim. In fact, I was tiny

Did people take me more seriously when I was thin? Not really. I was young, feminine, pretty ... and, yes, still cute. Everyone knows that cute, pretty women are vapid and vain, with very little to say that's worth hearing. 

That finally started to change when I got my MA in my 30s. Was it because I was in my thirties and already edging in on my "expiry date" (the one imposed on women by sexist men)? Or was it because I had that MA? I'm not sure. 

At any rate, in my 40s, disability and middle age put an end to slender me, and returned my body...

Judging by the candles and the date, this was my 3rd birthday
... to its original, cute, short, roundy state. 

See what I mean? I'm exactly the same now!

I don't mind being short. I don't mind being cute. Most of the time, I actually like it.

There's nothing wrong with being cute.

I don't think anyone has ever found me cuter than Beau does. At 6'1", and of Germanic stock, he exclaims upon my cuteness several times a day. He says I'm "just little" in a way that makes me sound adorable. He calls me a boo, which he defines as "as short, roundy person." It's definitely a compliment.

He also calls me a "little muffin" ...

... and "a cute, little mushroom."

Farrah Fawcett as Jill Munroe on Charlie's Angels
We've all seen and read the "beauty" tips on how to look younger, taller, thinner, whiter, blonder ...

... but, even so, sometimes I can see what Beau sees in me: I can see that being a little boo is a good thing. 

But there's another problem: I think, deep down, part of why it's hard to see myself this way is because, as I gain weight ...

Presumably my 4th birthday, October, 1974
... I am more and more reminded of myself as a very little girl. I was already being horribly sexually abused at this age, my pudgy little body and object of sexual desire for the many pedophiles my smother invited into my life. Look into this little girl's eyes, my eyes, and tell me you can't see it. Tell me you can't see the agony, the bewilderment, the cry for help. Or do you just see a cute kid?

I was just cute. Any time I tried to tell, or even tried to talk about something serious, something that mattered to me, everyone laughed. They just laughed. Aw, how cute that the little girl is telling tall tales. She doesn't know reality from fantasy. How could she? She's too little, too young, too cute. 

My own appearance was the punchline to everything I said, joke or not.

I wish to God someone had taken me seriously. If they had, I wouldn't be here, now, like this, crippled by the brutality of child sex trafficking, struggling every day with the physical pain of disability, and the mental anguish of complex PTSD.

And yet ...

... and yet, I am a formidable force, not despite it all, but because of it all.

This might sound silly, but my cat, Chuti, has made me think about all this in new ways. She is, by far, the tiniest full-grown cat I've ever seen. She's 5.5 pounds. Ironically, the name we picked for her means "cutely tiny" in Sinhalese. And she is cute, so cute it hurts my heart.

But she's also far and away the smartest, most adventurous, most fearless cat I've ever known. She is, without a doubt, the alpha of our home. Nothing phases her.

Underestimate us boos at your own peril. Underestimate me at your own peril. 

Booishness not withstanding.

I'm well-read, some might say very well read. I'm well-educated. I've got a BA in English, Communications, and Women's Studies; a two year, teaching English as a Second Language certificate; and a top notch, MA in English literature and language. I got top grades in all of these. Heck, I even got top grades in my advanced high school program, while being sex trafficked. I graduated with academic honours.

I have several years of teaching experience, first teaching adult, ESL students, and then teaching university English. In work and life, I'm efficient, well-organized, and clever.

I have a good facility with the English language, and always have. I can write well, in many different styles. Despite everything, I was already managing to earn money as a writer and editor at 19.

I have more life experience than anyone should. By five, I'd seen and experienced things most people can't even imagine. By ten, I'd witnessed a gory murder and been warned that I was next if I stepped out of line. By 17, I was on my own, supporting myself in a retail job, in a strange new city, picking through garbage for clothing and furniture.

I know things about the world, and about humanity that many people don't know. I see the connections between evils that most people would rather not even admit exist.

And I write about it all. I speak out. That makes me dangerous. The other day, Rosanna Arquette said I'm "a force to be reckoned with." That really made my day. I am!

And I'm short, and old, and roundy. 

This body, this cute, round, little body into which I was born, is a big part of why I became a force to be reckoned with. To be a female is to live in constant danger of violence, including sexual violence. Same goes for being a child. Same goes for being small. But to be a small, female child? That's a trifecta of danger, cute or not.

No joke.

In a body like this, I had no choice but to become a fighter, a survivor.

I've survived all the way to 48. My growing belly and bosom, my increasing booishness, are a testament to my survival. My God, I've survived long enough to become menopausal! I'll bet my rapists didn't expect that when I was three and they passed me around, when I was four and they dragged me from behind a car, when I was five and they pointed guns at me, when I was nine and they chained me to a wall, when I was twelve and they tied me to a bed. Charlotte, still here in middle age? Nah.

I'm still here!

A quick aside: No, I don't colour my hair. It just hasn't gone grey yet. But I still get to be a distinguished, older gentlewoman, right?
I, gentle readers, am a distinguished older gentlewoman.

Pierce Brosnan
We know what that looks like in men.

Judi Dench as M in a Bond movie
It's about time we gave some thought to what that looks like in a woman. 

Brenda Blethyn as Vera
I'm smarter now ...

Carrie Fisher as General Leia
... more powerful ...

Judi Dench as M
... more skilled. 
Kenny Doughty and Brenda Blethyn on Vera
And like these short...

Pierce Brosnan and Judi Dench

... booish women ... 

Brenda Blethyn as Vera
... I've got the body weight to prove it. Like greying hair, it's a marker of having made it to this age, with this strength, and this experience.

Take me less seriously at your peril.

Judi Dench and Ali Fazal
And I'm cute and little ...

... and booish. No contradiction there. Quite the opposite. You try going through life with this body and tell me I'm weaker because of it. It sure as hell ain't for sissies. 

There! Now that we've got those fundamental truths out of the way, let's spend a few moments on the outfit, because distinguished older gentlewomen get to wear whatever the hell we like.

Anyone who knows me knows I have a pash for all things tweedy. Maybe it comes from having read so much early to mid 20th century literature from the UK. I don't know.

This vest and these trousers aren't actually tweed, but they're a very decent approximation thereof. The thread of green throughout ...

... were the inspiration for my makeup ...

... my vintage earrings, circa 1930s ... 

... and, of course, my blouse. 

I've always been a fan of wearing man-style vests that are well-cut for the female form. When I was younger and lest busty, I liked how they made my breasts look larger. That's no longer a goal, but I'm fine with it.

This jacket doesn't just look like men's clothing, it actually is a man's jacket. As such, it doesn't button up over said ample chest, but that doesn't matter. Despite the bit of unexpected snow still lingering on the ground, I had no need to button it up.

I think the jacket is a really good match with the vest and trousers. I'm not a big fan of pattern mixing, but these two patterns are so small, and so similar, I think it works well here.

Now to the best part: my brooches.

I'm not really sure, but I think this one might be from the 1940s or early 1950s. I feel that, in some, subtle way, it echoes the tweed pattern of the vest.

I added this brooch because I thought the earthy look of the dentritic agate matched the earth tones of the outfit. This brooch was an incredibly exciting find for me. It's Victorian, so 120 years old, or older, and it was less than $10! The stone itself is worth way more than that. Yay me! 

Helpful hint: When trying to determine how old a brooch is, look at the pin mechanism on the back. See how the pin extends past the stone here? That, among other things, marks it as Victorian. (The nice flash of the gold, combined with the fact that it's worn away in places, suggests to me that it's "rolled gold," a Victorian process similar to gold plating.)

Look at this thing! Isn't it magical? And yet also earthy.

To continue with the earth tones, I wore these favourites. What can I say? They were a really great purchase ...

... and they match my hair.

The colour tones of the outfit dictated my choice of location. This is one of the only New York style buildings in my neighbourhood. There are very few such buildings in the whole city, actually. 

And, yeah, I have lived in New York City. That's another thing I've done in this long life of mine.

It sure as hell hasn't been an easy life. It's still not an easy life. My experiences show in my body, my shape, my size, my scars, my disability. But I'm still here and that's one hell of a victory.

And I'm still cute too, despite it all, because of it all. And I'm still loveable, if my kitty, Ketsl, is to believed.

And so, from this distinguished older gentlewoman to another (you!), I bid you adieu.

Till next time, rest well, do your best, and be proud. 

(I'm sharing this post with Not Dead Yet and Not Dressed as Lamb.)