I slept in this morning, and by sleeping in, I mean 7:00. My kids actually beat me out of bed, which almost never happens. The dog had already peed in the family room since no one let her out. So, even though I was losing valuable writing time, I took her for a walk, and then I came home and threw in a load of laundry before finally heading out the door for my usual Sunday “office hours” at Panera.
It occurred to that I should put on make-up, make some effort to look presentable. But did I really want to give up any more of my precious, scant writing time for that? That answer was no.
This is something I’ve been struggling with lately.
About three years ago, I stopped dying my hair. I decided that a woman in her 40s is allowed to have gray hair. That’s normal. When you are a giant Irish/Scandinavian person, your hair tends to go gray early. My husband’s magnificent, legendary hair (aka “The Power”) has yet to sprout even one silver thread, but his beard is going gray. Does he feel a need to hide that? No. No, he does not. He also doesn’t wear make-up. He also doesn’t fret about skin care, or worry about wrinkles much. This is because a middle-aged man is handsome.
A middle-aged woman?
A middle-aged woman receives a constant and unending barrage of messages about how to fight wrinkles, how to do her make-up, how to look younger, how to defy nature and look beautiful. Because young is beautiful when you are a woman.
That is, obviously, a glaring double-standard, and three years ago, I decided I was having none of it. I was going to age gracefully, and by that, I mean that I was going to age, period. I was going to have gray hair and wrinkles, I wasn’t going to suddenly take interest in hair or make-up because I have so little disposable time as it is, so why am I going to waste time on things that do not bring me joy? Why learn how to properly apply eye make-up when I can just put on a pair of wonderfully tacky glasses instead, which, frankly, suits my personality way more than any mascara ever could?
The thing is, my body has changed more than I would have expected in three short years. The wrinkles are coming on fast and furious. My hair is much grayer than it was. I’m borderline silver fox here. And I’m getting age spots on my face. Age spots, dammit. And my very basic skin care regime is no longer responding, as if to say, “Oh honey, it’s going to take A LOT more than this. Seriously.”
And yet, I have been stalwart. I have not given in to the double standard.
Except I’m hopefully going to New York early next year to finally meet all the wonderful people who are bringing THE BIRD AND THE BLADE into the world, and here’s middle-aged Megan from Kansas with her graying hair and age spots and pathetic make-up skills. And I worry. I worry about going to New York and coming across as some rube who has no clue how to wield eyeliner (which it true). Will publishing people take one look at my middle-aged ass and think, “We can’t possibly put her on a panel. Perhaps we should hide her under a big rock and pretend like her book never existed”?
I know, I know. That’s not going to happen. (For reals, my publisher is very, very nice.) But I have to wonder how much the world judges a woman like me who doesn’t try to look young or beautiful. And this New York thing—which should be fun and exciting—makes me worry about my appearance more than I’d care to admit.
And look, I want to be beautiful. It’s just that I want to be beautiful on my own terms. But that is so flipping hard when, from the moment you’re born, you are carefully taught that your self-worth should be inherently linked to your appearance, more than any other factor or accomplishment.
This is why, lately, I find myself getting irritated with people making comments on my appearance, even if it’s a compliment. I work at a public library, and it’s stunning how much the public sees the woman sitting at that reference desk as one more object to check out and discuss. I’ve had men scan me up and down and tell me how nice my outfit makes me look. Yeah, okay, but do I walk into my accountant’s office and tell him how good he looks in that shirt and tie combo? Does anyone think that complimenting a man on his beauty is the highest praise that any man could hope to receive? No, of course not. A man is a professional. Me? I’m a woman, so my appearance is more important than the fact that I had to get a master’s degree to sit at that reference desk. I have three master’s degrees, as a matter of fact, but if I decide to fauxhawk my hair one morning, I get a patron who tells me I look like Tintin. If I happen to put forth a little extra effort with the eyeshadow, I get some skeezy guy who deliberately touches my hand when he takes his computer guest pass and tells me, “You’re beautiful,” like he’s doing me a favor.
I honestly don’t know where I’m going with this. One of these days, I’m probably going to cave and dye my hair again and figure out how to exfoliate. I just wish the world had a little more room for a woman who’s earned her silver hair and wrinkles, who’s okay with herself just as she is.