Up Front by Emma Hart

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Up Front: Say When

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  • Jackie Clark, in reply to Bart Janssen,

    I beg to differ. The older I get, the more I realise how little I actually give a shit what anyone else thinks. Because people really aren't thinking about us as much as we would think/like. I do give a shit, however, about what people may think when my husband insists on wearing his slippers out.

    Mt Eden, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 3136 posts Report

  • Megan Wegan, in reply to Emma Hart,

    fuck yes we should.

    also bart, not even these?

    Welly • Since Jul 2008 • 1275 posts Report

  • Deborah,

    In some book I read once, the author has a character who is an older woman "who no longer took the trouble to dress out of fashion." The description has stayed with me, 'though for the life of me I cannot recall book or author now.

    New Lynn • Since Nov 2006 • 1447 posts Report

  • Rob Hosking,

    Ok but when I'm shopping with my wife and standing outside the changing rooms...


    Having a catheter moment.

    If there is a Hell, for me it will involve shopping, and clothing stores, and the whole long suffering sigh of changing rooms. For eternity.

    At least Sisyphus got a workout.

    South Roseneath • Since Nov 2006 • 830 posts Report

  • Bart Janssen, in reply to Megan Wegan,

    not even these?

    dahling those aren't high! You can probably walk in them, high is when the only place they can reasonably be worn without breaking ankles is in bed!

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 4461 posts Report

  • Jackie Clark, in reply to Deborah,

    I like that. Very much. I must admit that if I look in my wardrobe, there is a vast amount of black, and everything is totally functional. Which is as it should be, because, quite frankly, if I wore anything other than functional, my zest and panache would freak everyone else out.

    Mt Eden, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 3136 posts Report

  • sally jones,

    the amount of slut-shaming I’ve copped over the years.

    Enjoyed the laughs in your post, Emma, but not sure about this.

    As one who generally prefers trousers, short hair, top buttons - on account of the whole, it's less of a fuss, more comfortable, don't like being leered at, thing - I've more often been 'shamed' as a butch prude than a slut (except on the dance floor where I let the slutty black swan loose). It seems to me that women who dress as you say you do (curves and cleavage) are more likely to be admired, if not idolised, than shamed. At least amongst the mainstream.

    But...my views are probably a bit screwed up on the whole body image shame thing on account of the post-ballet years that saw me gain kilos!! and a pair of marvellous melons, where once there was bony crepe. Two years of counselling didn't much help. Also my mother has bought me a frilly top or long skirt every birthday/Christmas since I converted from conventional White Swan femininity to radical feminist, which naturally serves to reinforce my conversion.

    That said, today my hair is long enough to be tied up, my skirt short enough and my top low enough to keep my top and bottom bits cool. I think feminism had quite a bit to do with western women gaining the freedom to choose what and how much, or how little, to wear, as well as the freedom to take off the corset (bra) and flaunt female flab. But I think the pressure placed on girls and women today to pump up their boobs, and wear as little as possible, is part of a backlash against feminism that is not about women's self-expression and esteem at all and is concerning.

    You can keep this thing simple - wear what you like - or you can make it a whole lot more complicated: body shape, fat and fashion are feminist issues. I think both approaches have merit.

    Auckland • Since Sep 2010 • 179 posts Report

  • Emma Hart,

    the amount of slut-shaming I’ve copped over the years.

    Enjoyed the laughs in your post, Emma, but not sure about this.

    Sally, that's a description of my own experience, and my reaction to it. I don't think you mean to say you're unsure of it, surely? Because that would be implying that it didn't happen. I'm not saying it happens to everyone, or that the opposite - criticism for dressing too conservatively - doesn't happen. But yes, women criticising other women for dressing too sluttily does happen. It may never have happened to you, but that doesn't mean it doesn't happen.

    You can keep this thing simple - wear what you like - or you can make it a whole lot more complicated: body shape, fat and fashion are feminist issues. I think both approaches have merit.

    The TOFO approach is, "Body shape, fat and fashion are feminist issues, THEREFORE, wear what you like, and respect the rights of other people to do the same." The theory is very, very simple. The practise takes a bit of work.

    Christchurch • Since Nov 2006 • 4651 posts Report

  • dyan campbell,

    If there is a Hell, for me it will involve shopping, and clothing stores,

    Me too, I hate clothes shopping… I buy nearly everything online. Before that I used to buy through mail-order catalogues. I like clothes, though not nearly as much as when I was young. I don’t care that much about my hairstyle, though once when a hairdresser mistakenly heard me say “I’d like to look like a cross between Marilyn Waring and Hitler” I did feel like a haircut victim for a couple months.

    The concept of “happy with their bodies” for most women refers to their appearance – particularly their size – and I somehow was fortunate enough to have missed the social programming that makes a person respond to these particular cues from society. I care about my body in terms of avoiding pain and having boundless energy, strength and speed. At 53 (54 next month) I still like snowboarding, swimming, running, though the days of 3.5 minute kilometres over distance are a distant memory, and that loss of speed frustrates and upsets me much more than the appearance of my body ever does.

    There was a conversation (here on PAS) a while back about how fashion magazines made women feel insecure… fashion magazines never had that effect on me. The tacky magazines like Cosmo used to make me howl with laughter, with their tips ranging from the daft (“if you have a pimple, colour it in with an eyebrow pencil an pretend it’s a mole!”) to the potentially fatal (“when soaking your feet for a pedicure, save time by conditioning your hair – and conditioner always works better if you wrap your hair and put on the hairdryer!”).

    On the subject of just what “mutton dressed as lamb” – this unfortunate contrast between old face and young style is beautifully delineated in Gabrielle Colette’s short story The Kepi which describes a tryst between an older woman and a young soldier– the woman was very pretty the night before when it was dark and the soldier was a bit drunk – and she’s still attactive enough the next morning, until she starts being cute and pops the soldier’s kepi on her head, simpering kittenishly,. The soldier suddenly he notices she is not cute at all but a bit grotesque under his hat and way, way too old for him. He flees. She would have looked fine if only she’d stayed away from the kepi. Or she’d have looked adorable under the kepi if she’d been young. But middle aged and kittenish under a kepi… not good.

    auckland • Since Dec 2006 • 595 posts Report

  • webweaver,

    About 10 years ago when I was 30-something an older friend of mine advised me to get my long-ish hippy-ish hair cut shorter as it would be more age-appropriate. I of course immediately switched to rebellious-teenager mode and vowed to do nothing of the sort.

    Fast forward to a year ago when I saw a photo of myself in the Dom Post and thought “Oh. Deary me. Something Must Be Done about that hair!” I scooted off to Buoy as fast as possible and took the plunge after oooh maybe 15 years of pretty much the exact same hairstyle. And it looks brilliant! (IMNSHO).

    For me, the problem was twofold. Firstly my natural curls had been getting pulled kinda straight on top of my head due to the sheer weight of hair, which made it look very flat and thin on top (no volume). This is what I saw when I looked at my photo. Secondly, as Trinny and Susanna regularly opine, when your face starts to sag a bit and you have long hair, on some people (including me) the length of the hair can seem to pull your face down even more.

    I came out of Buoy with much shorter, curlier, bouncier, funkier hair – and a new colour. Up until that point I had been curious about (and open to) the going grey thing, but on reflection decided I was over it, and that a nice rich shade of brown would do me the world of good. And I’m entirely prepared to keep on colouring it in more and more radical colours (as the grey increases underneath and it looks less and less “natural”) until I pop me clogs at the age of 100.

    I love my new hair not because my friend would think it more age-appropriate (because actually, it isn’t really - and I would never dream of doing anything for that reason anyway), but because I think I look way better for it, and it’s given me more self-confidence about my appearance than I’d had for a while. I reckon it’s taken 10 years off me, which is completely fab.

    As for showing my cleavage, well – it’s never been something I’m comfortable doing, although I secretly think I have a pretty good chestal region, but I have FINALLY recovered from my going-on-10-years of drab grey T-shirts over drab grey long-sleeved T-shirts and gone back to a much more colourful and slightly more revealing wardrobe. Hooray! I can thank a holiday in the UK and my sister’s encouragement to GO SHOPPING (something I almost never do here) for that.

    And finally… my biggest age-appropriate wardrobe question would probably be “at what age should I really start thinking about taking out the nose-ring?” and my answer to myself is “sometime after your 90th birthday, possibly?”

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 332 posts Report

  • Islander,

    Megan W, I've always had similarly wild curls. Long time ago, I made an agreement with 'em - you dont burrow into my skull, I wont shave my head.

    So: I have an untameable varying-length set of irongrey curls - bit of a come down from my 60years with darkbrown-with-red highlights lot, but hey...

    and I havent cut the back length off since 1985, so the whole thing is technically a mullet. Cool.

    Big O, Mahitahi, Te Wahi … • Since Feb 2007 • 5643 posts Report

  • Jackie Clark,

    And all of this without talking about how as you age, the less visible you are. It's stunning how ignored women are after a certain age. I'm not sure what that age is, but I passed it a while ago. You can be right in front of someone, and they just won't see you. The number of times I have stood in shops, waiting to be served, or be queuing in a very polite way so as to give space to the person in front of me, and people just cut right in there. Older women very rarely do it to each other, and I find it's usually younger men. (Although women in their 60's can be incredibly rude.) And again, when out socially, younger people just have no idea you are there. Or barely acknowledge you. How do other women over 40 find this?

    Mt Eden, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 3136 posts Report

  • Hilary Stace,

    That's exactly right Jackie. Older women are particularly invisible in places where there are a lot of young people around. I don't mind as I quite like the idea of being invisible. I also agree there are some even older women who are not so much rude as incredibly assertive in their effort to be noticed, as if they are fed up with being invisible and ignored.

    Wgtn • Since Jun 2008 • 3229 posts Report

  • Jackie Clark, in reply to Hilary Stace,

    Actually, you're right. I bet that's what it is!

    Mt Eden, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 3136 posts Report

  • Tamsin6,

    You know Jackie, I started noticing this after around 28 or so. Mind you, I was fatter then. So maybe it isn't just an age thing, it is a size thing too?

    London • Since Dec 2007 • 133 posts Report

  • Tamsin6,

    Before my life-raft sinks, I would like to point out than men and women alike are to happy to refer to Helen Mirren as the poster-girl for good-looking older women. How much does Mirren's longer locks play a part in this impression (subconciously). If she had a Judi Dench cut, would the impression of Mirren still be the same?

    I just happened to be reading the Evening Standard magazine on my way home on the tube this evening and saw a little 2 minute interview snippet with Helen Mirren, attending a Premiere of Brighton Rock I believe, and looking quite stunning in Bruce Oldfield frock. Her hair is shortish. Not to say actually quite short. Not long. In fact, if I knew how to insert a link properly I'd add the one to the article about her recent gamine style change which has made it even shorter...ooooh look - here....(apologies, it is from the Daily Mail...)


    Anyway....she had this to say (the questions after these are about Russell Brand's undies, so I have excised because after all, yuck:
    What's the key to being so sensational in your sixties?
    Lots of help.
    Do women get sexier with age?
    Not necessarily, no. I think there is nothing quite so wonderful as youth.

    London • Since Dec 2007 • 133 posts Report

  • Jackie Clark, in reply to Tamsin6,

    Oh honey, it ain’t a size thing with me. I always think that self image is a huge problem with a lot of people of all sizes and shapes – the way we think about ourselves, and consequently carry ourselves, impacts so greatly on how everyone else views us. I’ve never had that problem, and I want to slap young women (mostly lovely, curvaceous young things) who hang their heads, either literally or metaphorically, and generally act as if they don’t deserve to be seen in the world. Having a bit of extra fat hanging around your person doesn’t 1) make you a bad person 2) decrease your attractiveness to other people. Your demeanour determines your attractiveness. Christ, if I could just bang young womens’ heads together and make them understand that the way you look has fuck all to do with anything, and the people who are going to love and know you,the best, see you in a way that you would never come near to imagining. So stop worrying about how others see you, because you will never know, and you never need to know. The reflection of yourself you see in others’ eyes is really just their reflection of themselves. < End of that particular rant .>
    I complain about being ignored but I have found that the older I get, the less I care to make the effort if I can’t see the payoff – that payoff, of course, being to make acquaintance with people that interest me, and who I want to spend time with. Because that’s the other thing, I think. Many women of my age and older really aren’t about caring about being attractive sexually, necessarily, or at least not in isolation. We just want to be acknowledged as powerful beings who offer value and experience. I know I certainly do.

    Mt Eden, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 3136 posts Report

  • Tamsin6,

    It certainly wasn't a self-image thing with me - but there are certainly a section of people, maybe even a large section of people, to whom you are completely invisible when you are fat. I wasn't even THAT fat. But I certainly noticed the difference in attitude towards me at different sizes. I'm not saying it is fair, but I'm completely sure it wasn't a neurosis. Being weighed up (as it were) and dismissed is not a nice feeling. I had enough self-posession in public to dismiss the opinions of these idiots, but it seems churlish to then also blame the fat person for being ignored not because the person doing the ignoring is a COMPLETE arse, but because the fattie has the wrong "demeanour". I didn't act as if I didn't deserve to be in the world - I was (and some of my friends might beg to differ) completely normal: chatty, happy, well-dressed, took care of my hair, my whatevers that you do when you are in your 20's - but inescapably, my weight/size/whatever rendered me invisible - to some people. Some idiots, you may say. But don't make it my fault. I absolutely know that the people who care about me are the ones that matter - but I maintain that the fat=invisible example is just as valid as your old=invisible example above. Younger men are often the worst offenders there too, funnily enough.

    London • Since Dec 2007 • 133 posts Report

  • Jackie Clark, in reply to Tamsin6,

    I’m not at all saying that society is not fattist, because it is. Incredibly fattist. Let me explain a bit more about where I come from, Tamsin, in this particular debate. I am fat. (I’m going to use that word because it’s a bit like the word, c**t for me. I like it. I claim it). I have a body of size. I am not sylphlike, nor am I slim, nor am I ever destined to be. I spend a great deal of time thinking about the issue of “size” in this society, how it impacts and damages women, in particular, I think about the language we use when we speak of body size or shape, and I especially think alot about how I, as a fat woman, can change that. I harangue people about fat, about self image, about self/body acceptance. And I do all this because I don’t like it when women don’t like themselves. (Unless they’re really bad people, and then all bets are off. ) I also come from a family that are what I call “fat fascists”. Health obsessed they are, and to them, fat means ill health. And I come from a big family, where I am the only person who is fat. Should society change their attitudes about fat? Absolutely, they must.( And here is where I may diverge from your own experience, and all of this is based on my own observations of not all young women of size, but certainly a great number.) But they is we. If we, who are fat, do not get to that place, deep deep down (and I am not talking about you here, at all. I am not assuming anything about you. ) where there is even a tiny weeny molecule of not liking ourselves, then I would suggest our power to change society becomes diminished. All of us have insecurities, of course we do. About all sorts of things. But to buy into society’s views of us is absolutely not okay. I’m talking about taking responsibility for ourselves. All of life is interactive, dynamic. Give and take. And this goes for self image. If we percieve others to be judging us, often, not always, it transpires that we are judging ourselves. This is all alot of words just to say one thing, essentially. Society needs to be kinder to young women, but it is young women themselves that have to take charge of that. We all affect change. We do. Is it our fault if others’ judge us summarily? No, of course not. Is it up to us, if we don’t agree with that summary judgement or it makes us feel like shit or if we can be bothered, to change that? Absobloodylutely. My father had a saying – Here’s to confusion to our enemies. To me, that means one thing. Give it to the bastards.

    Mt Eden, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 3136 posts Report

  • Megan Wegan, in reply to Emma Hart,

    The TOFO approach is, “Body shape, fat and fashion are feminist issues, THEREFORE, wear what you like, and respect the rights of other people to do the same.” The theory is very, very simple. The practise takes a bit of work

    Oh, and "don't like it? We don't much care".

    Welly • Since Jul 2008 • 1275 posts Report

  • Jackie Clark, in reply to Megan Wegan,

    Yes, my darling, that would be part of the "confusion to your enemies" strategy!

    Mt Eden, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 3136 posts Report

  • sally jones, in reply to dyan campbell,

    “if you have a pimple, colour it in with an eyebrow pencil and pretend it’s a mole!”

    Hah! I don't often read women's mags; perhaps this explains my failure to keep abreast of the modern woman. Call me old-fashioned, but I prefer to get my personal grooming and general lady care advice from Lillie and Arthur Horth's 1939 classic: 101 Things for the Housewife to do , which naturally includes an entire chapter on the 'Care of complexion and hair'. Besides explaining "the correct way to hold a nail file" (which I think is aimed at discouraging the renegade housewife from using her fingers for other, less edifying activities than filing), and the importance of remembering that "a continually happy face will retain its pleasing contours far longer than one which shows discontent", there is an illuminating section on "pressing out blackheads" complete with a charming photo of a woman earnestly engaged in the act of pressing, all the while maintaining her pleasing contours. Her impressive calm no doubt provided much needed reassurance to pimply housewives around the world (otherwise gearing up for war). But today it's all cover up and pretend. Where's the reassurance in that? Small wonder we're losing the war.

    Auckland • Since Sep 2010 • 179 posts Report

  • Hilary Stace,

    Thanks for that fat-affirmation Jackie.
    I've noticed the occasional older woman lately on TV. When Cher and Dawn French were on a chat show together, 90% of the attention and questions were to the skinny, plasticised and ever youthful Cher, even though Dawn is much wittier. Last night on Glee, Carol Burnett, as Sue Sylvester's mother, showed she could still command an audience and sing. But her face was so pinched and tightened it just looked painful. Message - women must not age naturally.

    Wgtn • Since Jun 2008 • 3229 posts Report

  • giovanni tiso, in reply to Hilary Stace,

    Message - women must not age naturally.

    I was talking about this the other day with a friend who has just been to Italy and was commenting on the general fabulousness of middle-aged women there. When it's surgically enhanced (the case of old Fellini actress Sandra Milo is perhaps the one that springs more readily to mind) you pay for it some time in your sixties, when you go from looking an attractive forty to a Madam Tussaud exhibit, a-la Cher. It seems to me that these days the demand on women is two-fold: do whatever you need to do to look impossibly young for as long as possible, and then age naturally. Which is of course impossible. The alternative, for women whose looks dictate their career, is to drop out at ages when they don't conform. So you go from forty and employed to fifty and unemployed and then you start getting parts as a beautiful old woman. Or you still get parts as an attractive forty year old at fifty but then can't be employed as an old woman because you don't look old, you look like an alien pod person.

    Wellington • Since Jun 2007 • 7473 posts Report

  • Jackie Clark, in reply to giovanni tiso,

    Oh, I look forward to aging naturally. My mum went white when she was in her early thirties, so I've been waiting a long time to get my own grey hairs. Which are coming through in a very attractively sprinkled manner, kind of like highlighting. But free.

    Mt Eden, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 3136 posts Report

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