Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Letting go: Musings on Pseu's "Laissez-faire" post

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 unco
nscious 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.

21 comments:

Deja Pseu said...

Bravo, Duchesse!!!

I remember reading an article many years ago by a woman who gave up her complicated grooming routines and said something to the effect of, "yes, I've let myself go...hiking in the Himalayas, reading for the blind, riding a train across Europe..."

Frugal Scholar said...

A masterpiece. You and Pseu should write a book.

I knew someone who was undergoing chemo and (in the early stages, by people who didn't know what was going on) she was admired for her new thin body.

~Tessa~Scoffs said...

Brilliant and lovely.

Nancy (nanflan) said...

I have to admit, I have mixed feelings on this topic. Maybe because I look at it a little differently than you and Pseu. I can certainly understand "letting go" due to illness, family issues or depression. Who hasn't gone through that?

But it's a big step from wanting to simplify one's routine to getting stuck in a time warp because changing is too much bother. Or just dropping all efforts because you don't want to deal with aging.

Maybe I'm seeing all shades of gray again, as I am wont to do. But I seldom see things as all or nothing.

I guess the key is to make the effort, but to please yourself instead of worrying about pleasing others.

Duchesse said...

Nancy: In fact, I agree. The key is looking behind the outward appearance to the reason(s). Just this moment I put something in a closet and saw some dresses that are time warped- but "perfectly good". Out they go.

materfamilias said...

I clicked my way here, ready to say "Bravo," and I see that Pseu has beat me to it. Nonetheless. . . Bravo!
I've had precisely that experience of commenting someone on weight loss and finding she'd discovered her husband's affair. Now I'm more careful, aware of the possibilities.

hostess of the humble bungalow said...

When my husband had cancer, I was so scared that I had to go through through the motions of my normal routine when it came to grooming. I was in a fog and my mind was not very reliable. I felt that I needed to appear to be pulled together so that he could focus on getting well....I went to a specialist appointment dressed up with a fresh new hairstyle and surprised him!
At home alone in private I wept.

Belle de Ville said...

Wonderful follow up to Pseu's post!

Anonymous said...

I agree with Frugal Scholar. You and Pseu should write together. Both of you write so well. I look forward to reading both your posts and envy your fluid writing styles.

LPC said...

After all, there are entire Eastern religions based largely on the concept of "letting go."

LaurieAnn said...

The concept of "letting oneself go" is a powerful one for we women of a certain age and it's fraught with many meanings. Love the idea that it could make a good book!

Duchesse; your quotes from Lenny Bruce made me remember how in my college days I used to say "Un F__ You" when I wanted to let someone have it. Because actually F__ing is (or should be) a good thing.

It can be difficult not to get caught up in all the advertising and peer pressure to look younger via more invasive procedures. Ultimately however, as I age I try to remember that I can't please everyone so I may as well please myself.

Duchesse said...

Frugal and Anon: I'd enjoy doing a book with Pseu, she's so willing to examine our deepest hopes, transparent and honest. But I'd like to contribute because, can you imagine how much fun the book tour would be?

materfamilias: At one point someone said, "Wow you look terrific, how much weight have you lost?" and I said "185 lbs."

hostess: I know that fog and honour you for enduring.

LPC: Think that is the purpose of the shaved head of the Buddhist nun?

LaurieAnn: LOL! My friend Steve says, to this day, "Thank you *very* much" when someone says F- you to him.

metscan said...

A great post following Pseu´s yesterday´s. When I hit 40, I suddenly realized, that the brand for clothes I had been happy with, suddenly felt too young for my age. For a while I felt a bit depressed, being too old to dress how I had before. Well, that was ages ago, and I have had to repeat my goodbyes many times. I am aging, and I can´t do much about that. Luckily, always another door has opened for me, and I am not talking only about hair styles, clothes.. I can concentrate on other things that are important to me too. I can read books, visit art galleries. I can take a different approach to my friends; listen and discuss about things that really matter.

diverchic said...

I remember the day when my beloved friend and hairdresser kindly told me that I "seemed to have given up." He was right! I was too willing to compromise and settle for unbecoming clothes and style just because they were convenient. Making the huge effort at grooming seemed too much to do. So I changed and worked on making the little effort, simpler make up, a bit tidier grooming, a slimmer closet and little by little both my hunger for life and my appearance got better.

lagatta à montréal said...

This is wonderful, and such a complex issue. I do feel sad about a certain friend who has "let go"; she was a caregiver for her husband with Alzheimer's and doesn't seem interested in getting back into life (I don't necessarily mean dating). And I have to fight acute schlumpiness as I usually work at home (Duchesse's fellow Torontonian Heather Mallick has written about this trap).

I'm more a "Do not go gentle into that good night;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light" type than a Buddhist "let go of the world" type, but that doesn't mean trying to look 25.

I guess simplification is one of the keys, but that isn't so easy.

And no, I'm not prepared to go grey just yet. I do like a bit of coquetterie... We all die, but I'm not dead yet.

The verification word is "cologne"!

Anonymous said...

Like Deja Pseu,and Materfamilias, I say Brava!
~ Madeline

greying pixie said...

A wonderful piece yet again. There is only one way for a woman to grow older - with dignity. There is nothing dignified in fighting the incoming tide. So much better to bathe in it and enjoy. And yes, Duchesse, I agree, health is all that matters in the end.

neki desu said...

amen!
ladies, i read you and pseu's blog because they are about the art of aging with grace.thank you.

Shelley said...

Fear of death, that's perhaps that's behind the obsession with looking young and demanding that everyone else try to as well. Seems obvious but I'd not thought of it that way before, only about a culture that values youth. Except that men are allowed to get older, because they become 'distinguished'. One rarely hears anyone say a man has 'let himself go', though it does come up occasionally. Thought provoking post.

lagatta à montréal said...

Shelley, I don't think it is only fear of death, though that certainly plays a part, as that fear would not be gendered.

The only time I've heard that expression about (straight) men is when they have become truly derelict.

Duchesse said...

Shelley and lagatta: To my comment: you may be interested in Ernest Becker's "The Denial of Death" winner of a Pulitzer Prize in 1974.