My husband and I walk daily. Our conversations veer wildly, from politics to the current generational denim wars. The other day we landed on, of all things, bras. My husband, all male innocence and curiosity, asked me “Why do you even wear a bra?” I sputtered something about low-hanging fruit and fear of looking my age and of course I know it’s all cosmetic, but…but as I was spouting the breast party lines, my inner monologue was whirring like a tumbling bingo cage, until it stuttered to a stop: I wear a bra (and do a whole bunch of other things) because I don’t want people to think “she’s let herself go.”
She let herself go.
She what? Had the audacity to age? To gain weight? To not color her gray hair? We are a century away from corsets and a few more out from foot binding but we’re still hobbling women, hobbling ourselves, forcing our bodies and mind into some ideal. Maybe the restraints aren’t as physical, but the effects are essentially the same. Psychological girdles.
We declare we want to age gracefully, like a ballet dancer pirouetting around the years. Not for me the fillers and the botulism in a bottle and the clawing to the last vestiges of youth! Of course it’s much easier to say that when you are twenty or thirty or even forty and things are mostly still in their right place and chin hairs haven’t started to sprout and Mother Nature’s idea of a joke hasn’t wrecked havoc on your body and psyche. And then one day you’re downward facing like a dog and you notice the way the skin on the front of your thighs just…sags. Like sad clowns. And you march in place, ever faster, determined not to be one of those women who “let yourself go.”
I won’t let myself go! You declare. Go where though? Go wherever your body is going to take you, into the future? So much time we spend, chasing the past, trying to catch it in the trap of our fists like a sun beam. I do it too, peeking through the net of my fingers to see if there’s a chunk of sunlight there, like somehow I can keep it and use it to soften the fine lines around my mouth.
She let herself go. Have you seen her?
She let herself go. Have you seen her? She’s put on weight. She put it on. Like a suit she can take off and hang carefully in the closet among the just in case dresses. She took it out, bought and paid for and receipt thrown out. Or maybe she just stopped starving herself or grew weary of the money and time and effort it took to try to convince her bones that they needed to bend into a shape they were never meant to be in.
She let herself go. Have you seen her? She’s not even making an effort. Like effort is defined by certain fabrics, ones with spandex or suck em in technical fabrics, restrictive cuts or heel height. Or maybe she just grew tired of the way it felt like the waistband of those skinny jeans was always garroting her waist, leaving marks like bruises.
She let herself go. Have you seen her? She looks tired, haggard even. Like she couldn’t even be bothered to slap a bit of makeup on. Some highlighter and contouring and brightening so that we aren’t confronted with her tired face. Or maybe she isn’t sleeping because she is caught in a hormonal vortex or her kids are growing up but so are her parents and she’s stuck in the middle, spinning her wheels.
She left herself go. Have you seen her? She looks old. How dare she take up space and force us to confront the passage of time? Can’t she buy all the products and the face rollers and drink 100 pints of water a week and not look so, so… on the way to old? On the way to old because real old is acceptable. True old is safe. We squeal and titter over truly old women because we’ve stripped them of their power and their brittle bones pose no threat. But aging on the way to old? Well that is too much. There is too much raw energy, too much bare anger and rage and all the feelings worn on the outside, showing, demanding we look. It’s too confrontational.
I am not immune. I still squeeze myself into a corset of expectation, of wanting to look good for my age. Of not wanting to hear or feel that I let myself go.
Until yesterday I hadn’t stopped to think about where you go when you let yourself go.
What if it’s freedom, like a balloon let loose from a tight, sticky grip, caught on the breeze and tripping over telephone wires into the clouds? What if its on an adventure of self, a journey down memory lane, a nostalgia trip? What if you let yourself go and on the way you become the wise woman, the witch, the crone? What if when let yourself go, you’d actually be going somewhere?
She let herself go. Have you seen her?
She’s flying free.