Up Front by Emma Hart


Say When

Let me be frank. Up front, if you will. Next week I turn thirty-nine. Not "thirty-nine", actual thirty nine. The year before forty, which is supposed to be A Really Big Deal if you're a woman, and I am.

For me, this raises an interesting question: when am I supposed to stop dressing like this?

It's complicated, because I've just sorted through my mother's wardrobes (yes, plural, I shit you not) and there was some stuff in there that makes me look, well, quite hot. And she was in her eighties. Partly, her clothes are sluttier on me than they were on her by dint of the two cup-size difference, but still.

Most of my 'slutty' clothing was given to me by mother, so I always figured that when the general flesh-exposure theme stopped, that was her letting me know that it was Time to Desist. Now who will tell me when my style of dress becomes inappropriate for my age?

It was different for my mother, of course. She was tall and lean and graceful, and her elegance was timeless. I am not, so much. She moved like a dancer. I move like a pole-dancer. In the kind of elegant long-line draping that suited her so well, I look like a bunch of puppies fighting in a circus tent.

I have more of an hour-glass figure than she, and the sand is starting to pool in the bottom. I don't mind ageing, or looking my age. It'd be ridiculous to look twenty-five when I have a fifteen year old son. I rather love my wrinkles and gray hairs. But my body doesn't respond like it used to the last couple of years – to exercise, to alcohol, to sleep deprivation and jumping up and down and screaming. I used to look good. Now I look good 'for my age'.

My body has fucked me about a bit over the years, and I've come to regard it with a sort of detached fascination as an alternative to anger and despair. The slowing down of my metabolism is good in a way, because it tempers my hypoglycaemia. The down side is that I have to do an awful lot more crunches to achieve the same result. Or I would, theoretically, if I could be bothered.

At some age, there has to come a point where I am too old to show as much cleavage as I am, say, right now, without looking ridiculous. And it's not that I'd immediately stop, I'd just like to know where it was so I could make my own call. I mean, I've never been sure what an "appropriate" amount of cleavage was anyway, so I'm hardly more likely to grasp the concept of "appropriate for a thirty-nine year old".

There is one thing I do know, though, in my cloud of ignorance of proper girl-stuff. I hid my body for far too long when I was younger, out of shame and insecurity. That was when my choice of clothing was overly-influenced by social expectations, not on Tits Out For Ourselves Day. My confidence to dress as I please is precious, and I think it's feminist, and I'm not going to put it away in a hurry. And apparently, as long as we're still having this argument, exposing boobage is practically activism. (About twenty years ago, I did enter a wet t-shirt competition. I knew exactly what I was doing and why, thanks.)

So, some time between this birthday and my seventieth, there'll come a point where I should start covering my chest, and my arms, and not wearing white near my face, according to my mother. Maybe someone will help me work out when that is. Tell you what, though, it won't be soon.

Emma Hart is the author of the book 'Not Safe For Work'.

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