What to say when being asked ‘Are you having a midlife crisis?’
A girlfriend called me the other day, annoyed. When I asked why, I was dumbfounded to hear that a female colleague told her: ‘ Wow, you are having your hair dyed in lavender? It is very bold for your age. Is it a midlife crisis?’ .
My girlfriend is 42. It is always hard to know whether such types of remarks are filled with dismay or with awe.
Whatever it is, one thing for sure is that it is yet another infuriating reminder that we are supposed to look a certain way after we hit the big 4-0. And by ‘a certain way’ I mean ‘toned down,’’demure,’’authoritative,’ ‘sensible’ ...So many elaborate words to probably mean BORING.
Despite many ‘Age is NOT a variable’ bloggers and influencers refreshingly gracing our mobile screens and social media feeds like Lyn Slater (Accidental Icon), Alyson Walsh (That’s Not My Age) or Susan B. (Une Femme d'un Certain Age), the myth of ‘How to dress when you are in your 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s and so on’ still persists in fashion spreads and style blogs and, more worryingly, in the psyche of many. With advances in and enthusiasm for otherworldly diet and fitness routines as well as homogenous cross-generational cultural references- moms and daughters often follow similar instagram influencers- our ages, these days, seem to be less about being a certain way and more just a mere number. A number which, as it is getting greater, is rather implied and no longer said, like a dirty little secret.
Therefore, why do we still buy into the myth about “dressing our age”?
Over the last few years, I have had the privilege of talking to and working with hundreds of women who refuse to fit into a mold. And the depressing consensus is that when you want to feel like yourself and not like wearing someone else’s uniform, well, ‘getting dressed is getting stressed.’
Explicit and implicit rules not only create headaches worse than tequila-induced hangovers, but also prevent us from taking any risks. It gets worse. It creates embarrassment. Brilliant, confident and strong women have apologized for sharing their anxiety with me: ‘I am sorry. It is so silly; I shouldn’t care so much.’
There is no shame in caring. Many of us care, a lot. And thus things should feel more simple...
That’s why I want to tackle a few misconceptions head on.
1. Women always want to look younger. BS. We want to feel great and look good as a result, not young. How many of us have been yucked out looking at old pictures of our younger selves. Why on Earth would we want to look like that again?
2· Women always want to hide their post 40 curves to look skinnier. BS. We mostly cannot find great cuts and silhouettes to show off our bodies in ways that we feel confident about. Why on Earth would we settle for trousers that literally squeeze our hips and force us to tuck the tummy for fear of exploding the snap closure?
3. It is not a mid-life ‘crisis’ because it is not a mid-life issue only. It is not only we, the ‘I have lived’ ladies, who have to endure the constant scrutiny over our wardrobe. Yep, the entire female species gets dress shamed from a very young age on. My 7 yo daughter was recently told that she was dressing like a grown up woman. For the life of me, I could not understand what people meant by that. She was wearing a casual denim boys shirt, skinny jeans and ankle boots and the Andree cap (link). I finally understood that the sheer lack of bows, flowers and sequins in her outfit was the confusing element here. In short, there is no ‘crisis’ when we finally push back but a much sought after release from the constant pressure to ‘fit in,’ ‘step up,’ ‘tone it down’ and more.
4. Women dress for men. BS. WE MOSTLY DON'T. And that is why it hurts bad. Yep. It is very often other women who come up with snarky stuff that literally obliterate all your takeaways from the last ten motivational articles by Arianna Huffington you read. That’s a real dagger. A sharp and deep one. SISTERS, WHY? Why on Earth would we hurt each other with offhanded comments. I never truly understood the extent of how bad it can get- I am lucky to have extraordinarily supportive and woke girlfriends- until we, at Another Garde, ran a focus group on our positioning statement. We wanted to add ‘girlfriends’ to define ourselves to our customers. But we learned that girlfriends are often the last people who will encourage you to break the rules: ‘they will judge based on their own fears and insecurities.’ So ‘mean girls’ and ‘catfights’ are a reality. It is a hard one to swallow. We, women have achieved so much together. Why do we let little every day petty words hurt so much?
These misconceptions create a confusing and abrasive fog slowly wearing our female armor down. And it sucks. Really sucks.
So what are we freaking going to do about it?
I, personally, will do these three things.
ONE: Before I offer any advice or comments to a woman who tweaked something, I am going to ask myself: ‘am I really saying this for her or am I saying this for me and my personal issues?’ If the latter, I will shut the F*** up. If I need to vent to her about my own mess, there will be another time for this. I will wait for my turn.
TWO: I will stop thinking that I am the problem. I am NOT the problem. The problem is that I make people uncomfortable because they cannot figure me out. And I am going to be OK that they cannot figure me out from the get go. My physical appearance is not a one-page resume; I don’t have to spell ‘me’ out with words every second of my busy day.
THREE: I am not the problem but part of the solution and I will call my girlfriend to tell her that she is too part of it. I will tell her: ‘every lavender hair strand of yours is changing the narrative for yourself, but also for women before you and women after you. SO dye it away, girl, dye it away!’
Who is with me?