Deja Pseu wrote a terrific post about the notion of "she's let herself go", that mean-spirited censure of a woman who does not look as perfectly-put-together as she did at one time or another. If you haven't read Pseu's post, it's here.
She got me to thinking, what if "She's let herself go" was a compliment? I was inspired by Lenny Bruce's famous bit, his notion that f--- you should be a sincere best wish, as in "I love you, Mom, f---- you! And f--- Dad, too!"
In this parallel universe, a woman would be lauded for looking her age, feeling satisfied rather than starving, being comfortable in a somewhat more ample body, displaying wrinkles or grey hair. "Have you seen Meredith? Wow! Let herself go!"
What if a woman let herself go... on? On to wisdom, grace, service to her community and loved ones. On to owning the beauty of her age rather than grasping at decades past. On to choosing the clothes she likes, rather than what a magazine tells her she must buy to look younger.
Pseu said that if a woman's grooming is minimal, it likely signals a crisis in her life. It astounded me, during my divorce, that I received endless compliments on my whippet figure. I had lost over 30 lbs from stress and sadness, yet I was envied. Skinny and morose was better? I didn't think so. Only one friend's elderly mother thought to say, "Oh my dear, are you all right?"
Criticism about "letting herself go" is an unconscious expression of our culture's fear of the ultimate letting go, of the end of life itself. Physical aging terrifies some with its reminder that time is limited and passes quickly. But will looking 50 at 58 via fillers and this season's me-too bag extend one's years?
While I dutifully do the cardio, book the mammos, try to restrict empty-calorie treats– unceasing, sensible compliance– I'm not willing to buy ridiculously expensive cream just to delude myself that my skin "glows, refreshed and tightened".
If a woman's appearance is noticeably different from her usual due to a difficult life situation, what can we do?
Hug her, take her to lunch, or, as a friend did for a woman whose husband is gravely ill, treat her to an afternoon's salon visit while you keep watch.
She likely knows how she looks. Who hasn't caught a glimpse in the mirror during a hard year, and though, "I look like hell"? The last thing that helps is censure; this is time for caring, generosity and seeing past the ragged nails or lank hair, to the person inside the package.