Tuesday, August 2, 2016

What to Wear and Do: should anyone but me care or have a say??

A few days ago I read about a woman somewhere in America who was thrown out of a public swimming pool after 'several' people complained about her being too fat and thus spoiling their swimming experience. I can't even begin to express my disgust, not only for the people who complained, but for the management which acted on their complaints.

The next article which got my blood boiling was this one on a site aimed at older people, Sixty and Me, which criticised women for 'showing too much skin', and spoke in derogatory terms of women who exposed cleavage, wore sleeveless tops, or showed their legs. And most of the comments were vicious. Most comments, even some of the 'dress to please yourself' ones, appeared to assume that a woman's dress choice was completely aimed at expressing sexuality, attracting potential sexual partners, or pleasing a current sexual partner. A very few comments spoke of dressing to please oneself and for comfort.

Then today I read an article about a study that suggests women may be at increased risk of "non-malignant breast fibrocystic disease as well as malignant breast cancer," because of restriction of the lymph drainage system. It all got me thinking and fuming.

There seems to be a gradual and grudging increased recognition that, in theory, women should be able to present themselves how they want: to wear what they want without fear of being raped, to not wear a bra, to not shave their armpits or legs or 'have' to wax their pubic hair, etc etc. - it is certainly more acceptable than in 1969 when I stopped being controlled by draconian school uniform rules and started university. However, and maybe this is just my perception as an older woman, it seems to me that the progress made (however small) is only with respect to young women. When I read the comments in the articles above, the negative ones are from women, and and the harshest of all are from older women, many of whom 'asked my husband' what he thought.

I am feeling angry. I am angry with the men who think women should modify their appearance to please men. I am angry with the women who back them up (but who are probably just as savage towards women who succeed in being beautiful and sexy in the way their men like.) I am angry at this world that constantly judges women by their appearance in ways that men are never or rarely judged.

And having vented my anger over the past few days, I have finally come to the realisation that I am also angry with myself and other women like me who don't live what we believe, and thus continue the problem.

I hate wearing a bra, and for a few years when I was in my 20s I didn't wear one - out of work hours. It never occurred to me not to wear one to work, not in those days. Why not? And why do I still wear one? I find them incredibly uncomfortable, they make my back ache (yes, I always get them properly fitted) and in summer, when I sweat, I get a rash from them. At home I don't wear one, but I also make sure I have a baggy shirt close by all the time, in case someone comes to visit unexpectedly. Because how could I subject people to any more evidence of my old, ugly body, right? How stupid.

Except for a very few years in my late teens / early twenties, I have never worn the clothes I liked for fear of drawing attention to myself, of criticism. Now I'm getting old, I am trying to do that, but I constantly see criticism of older women wearing flamboyant clothing, or jeans and t-shirts, or sleeveless tops, or leggings, or short skirts, or long clingy dresses, or long hair or or.....

Then there are the items, not really articles, and memes about wearing what you like: they will often start out saying 'when I get old I will.....' or 'these amazing older women wear......' But the pictures that accompany these are almost invariably of incredibly beautiful older women, and very often very rich women in designer clothes, dripping gold and diamonds, and very often cosmetic surgery - not of ordinary, plain, wrinkly old women of limited means.

As a woman, especially one who has been an unwaged mother / grower of food / maker of stuff / home educator of four sons, I have found myself dismissed as irrelevant by most men, and by most women who have been in paid employment. As an old woman, I find myself even more irrelevant and dismissed by people - invisible even. I am angry with myself, but I still don't have the courage to dress as a crazy cat lady in public, to discard my bra, to dance alone with no one watching without closing the curtains first, to be me and say, 'fuck you world, I don't care if you find me offensive, I'm not getting out of the swimming pool just because you don't like my hairy legs or my stretch marked, saggy skin.'

Actually, I don't even know who 'I' am. I think the only way to find out is to try things on (activities, ideas, and more as well as clothes) and find what fits. But I still care too much what 'they' will say and think. How pathetic is that? How do I get past that?


jane cook said...

Hello Cally, I've so enjoyed getting to know a bit about you through your wonderful stories and stunning photography, and just wanted to thank you for the experience, and also, if I might, make a small personal response to your questions...I think that as we search for, reclaim, and reassemble the fragments of our original or true self, and the more we allow and dare ourself to become and be and express her (minus the negativity that others imposed), then the more alive, whole, energised, at ease and free we feel, and the less & less we worry about what others think. And to find, recognise and unearth that true self, I look to my child self for guidance in relearning to think, feel and act from the heart, however painful that may initially be, it's allowed the once strong, centred child self to finally grow into the adult... thanks again, I look forward t reading more of your thoughts and reflections, jane

Cally said...

Thank you, Jane. To recognise and unearth the true self is indeed painful work, but ultimately must be the most important work we do. It's lovely to get a comment from someone I don't know, and to hear that you have found pleasure in my ramblings.