My social status has diminished because I know I’m not invited to the A parties anymore. [Laughter] My daughter is. As you grow older, you don’t count anymore. Isabella Rossellini
We live in a society where much attention is lavished on famous and affluent women in the entertainment industry. Here in Vancouver women with specific body features are congratulated daily for their appearances. These women tend to be under 40 years of age and have specific types of physical appearances. Women of all ages read about the beauty regimes of the famous and copy their fashion and beauty standards. I know I must do this too because Yahoo’s news algorithm keeps feeding me junk journalism pieces about women and beauty.
With my stylish parents in Ethiopia.
They did not embrace the hippie clothing trends of the late 60s/early 70s.
My mother sewed most of her outfits.
If you have spent any time living or traveling overseas you will know that there are different attitudes and opinions about women and beauty around the world. The stale and less-than-bold standards served up by the news media in British Columbia and North America are not identical to those found elsewhere. Before I turned 30, I had the opportunity to live in Japan, while working for an international company. During my stay I completed a round the world trip. This was not my first opportunity to travel. While growing up in a foreign service family I had the opportunity to meet women from many different countries in different settings. One of the takeaways I took from this trip was that I dressed, prepared my skin and felt differently about myself depending on where I was at the time. In Japan I tended to focus on having a well polished look that involved top skincare and make-up routines and the best fashion looks that I could access. I once had a Japanese woman tell me that my approach to skincare made me look “neat” – unlike other foreigners – because I took the right amount of care! When I visited Italy, I immediately felt an extra skip in my step. I enjoyed dressing with flair, walking in the beautiful neighbourhoods and seeing how women moved with confidence and self assurance in that society. One evening my female friend and I were walking in the heart of Rome – a city that has a vibrant outdoor life in the daytime and evening. Two young men our age walked by, looked at us and said in Italian “AH! The women!” They made an adoring gesture with their hands and walked on. They weren’t trying to hustle us in any fashion or even mock us. They simply had to express their appreciation. I would argue that my friend and I would never receive that type of attention or be appreciated in that way back in North America.
Visiting a young friend in Tokyo.
A few weeks later I found that in Amsterdam I went out for the day with barely a thought to my makeup application or concern about achieving a specific look. In Denmark I enjoyed the edgy fashion that I saw and learned about new fashion trends and ways of dressing. I still remember a refreshing conversation I had with an Icelandic woman working in a Face Stockholm store. While London is famous for its fashion designers, I didn’t find any inspiration from the way women in the city dressed or carried themselves. While my parents lived in Barbados I enjoyed wearing fitted and short outfits with dazzling shoes. The pop star Rihanna receives a lot of attention in the press because of her appearance. I can confirm that there are countless stylish Bajan women living in Barbados. Rihanna is but one example of the Bajan way of expressing your fashion sense.
In Paris I realized that French women are truly blessed to have access to superb skincare and fashion merchandise. On a different trip I was thrilled to be able to visit and shop at the Darphin headquarters. I concluded that you could, quite literally, go into a department store, close your eyes, grab at some clothes and come out with a fantastic wardrobe. We give French women too much credit for the way that they dress. Here in Canada we have a very limited range of clothing lines that we can access while living on a normal budget. By normal budget I mean a woman living in a household with a combined income of under $70,000 or in a single household with an income of well under $40,000. Many of the everyday clothing lines are drab and depressing. If a woman is dressed well in Vancouver, without spending hundreds of dollars on an outfit, I give her all the credit she deserves.
Similarly I am always interested to see how women age 35 plus are dressed. Since I was a teenager I have had a keen eye for the stylish older women in my midst. The cues in the fashion world and in shops is that women should dress more conservatively and blandly as the years go by. When I meet a woman in her second adulthood (age 40 plus) who dresses and accessorizes with confidence, she receives my full admiration.
Recently I experienced a bit of an unexpected ego smack when someone from a different age cohort let me know indirectly (but oh so directly) that my belief in my ability to dress well and look good was misplaced. Let’s not go into the nasty details. Needless to say I was taken aback and squinted my eyes with an “I’ve got your number” look. At her age I would never have had such a thought about another woman. I appreciated women who had a style I admired and gave other women the latitude to dress as they wished. Their character and interpersonal skills were much more important to me than concerns about whether they sported a look that I admired. Clearly when someone makes such a statement it speaks more about their own self-image but it is also a sad statement about how we can so easily put too much emphasis on surface details such as clothes and material possessions.
Meanwhile I often hear the comment that a female friend, somewhere in the world, looks exactly the same as she did twenty years ago. Really? Is this physically possible? Or I hear that she looks like her daughter or niece’s sister. Is it physically possible to look twenty years younger – even with the best cosmetic procedures? Is this a compliment? Shouldn’t we want to look our age?
Then there are the “40 is the new 30“… statements. Why can’t we just be appreciated for being who we are, right now? If a woman over 40 does rock her closet she’s referred to as a “cougar”. I started hearing jokes about being a cougar when I was in my early 30s – an age when male Hollywood actors are referred to as young men about town. Meanwhile journalists love to sell products by giving advice about how to look years younger. Yet if you wear a hemline a fraction above your knee, you’re not dressing “age appropriately.” A common exclamation on season one of Real Housewives of Vancouver about a woman’s image was “she’s 50, for goodness sake.”
Wearing an ultra soft piece by Italian Gold Goose Deluxe Brand that I adore.
I purchased it second-hand at a York House sale.
That’s right ladies of Real Housewives of Vancouver. It was pre-owned!
My children just celebrated their third birthday and I’ll admit it has been a slow process to get my body and fashion style back to the way it was before their birth. My efforts to use our home gym and use my kick boxing and dance DVDs are infrequent. Other than picking up the odd piece at Costco or on sale at the Bay, I have not expanded my wardrobe. As the washing machine slowly shrinks my clothes, many of my favourite knit tops are too short on my long waisted body. The clothes that still fit are dress shirts and skirts that are more appropriate for an office job – that I currently do not hold – rather than a meal out or evening of socializing. I am desperate for the good people of What Not to Wear to come and visit my closet! Self-nominations are not allowed so I’m out of luck!
As I contemplated this message that was sent to me from the other side of 30 about my appearance, I started to recall observations of how women present and view themselves in healthy ways and how men view them. This competitive attitude towards beauty and the youth obsession we have in Canada (which includes trendy and not particularly flattery fashion) leaves me cold.
In order to sort out my current situation and where I want to take the way that I express myself through fashion and how I look (a creative rather than pleasing-of-others process), I can see that it’s important to look backwards while I carve a path forwards.
Playing with self-portraits & photo finishes post Glam Night.
It’s time for a re-boot. As part of this process I attended a Glam night at Salon Gloss recently that involved a makeup session, hair styling and professional photography. In a future posting I’ll talk about how that went for me and suggest why you might want to head on down to the salon for a future Glam Night event.
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