“There are so many lovely options for girls your age but there are no nice clothes anywhere for women my age.”
As a young girl I can remember my mother saying this to me frequently when we went shopping. We went shopping a lot. It’s how we bonded. We would go searching through the various shops trying to find bargains, then for a little while we would separate and try to find treasures in stores that were our personal favourites. After, we would meet up for lunch and I would tell her about the many things I saw that I wanted to buy. My mother however, would usually quietly say that she didn’t particularly find anything she liked for herself. I remember not thinking about it too much or sometimes I’d wonder to myself if she was being a little too picky.
My mother’s words surfaced from my memory today as I went on a search for clothes to buy this season.
I walked into shiny shops, flicked through the racks in the hope of finding some outfits and I groaned to myself, “There’s nothing for women my age that I like.” Immediately, I remembered the same words my mother spoke to me as a young girl. I realised for the first time, that she would have said those words as a middle aged woman. Now I, a middle aged female echoed her exasperation. I felt a connection with my mother as I thought about how she would have felt at the time.
I started to reflect on this between the skinny jeans section and the tight-t-shirts section of the store I was in, when an enthusiastic sales girl in her mid twenties interrupted my thoughts. “Can I help you?” “Yes” I say. “I’m looking for a new pair of jeans”. After helping me wade through the piles of jeans on the shelves, our attempts to find something suitable were unsuccessful. She smiled at me and said “You might also like to look on the next floor. We have women’s clothes there too.” I thanked her and walked towards the escalators.
How did middle age happen to me without my consent?
Partly, I think I was wrestling with my identity. If clothes express a little of who we are, then what is an appropriate outfit for a middle aged woman?
Women are perpetually wrestling with their identity. Society makes us do this. Our question is essentially; who am I apart from what society tells me I am? A middle aged woman is especially asking this question. As we find that we no longer captivate the gaze of men as much, certain bodily parts sag, weight shifts and settles in unfortunate places, and we discover creases on our faces that show the years of life we have weathered, we wonder yet again, who am I now?
We can try to resist the inevitable. Injecting our faces with botox to make them plump again and buying clothes that attempt to conceal our age might work. We can despise our middle aged bodies and try to punish them into submission, turn back the clock, exercise more, eat less. Experts authoritatively tell us how to control our bodies’ as they descend into middle age.
Or we can settle into the season and become practical, reasonable, harmless. We can succumb to visiting stores that specialise in making us look respectable but a tad, dare I say, dowdy. We choose to become invisible.
Perhaps we could take advantage of the season by wearing what we want, shaking off the pressures of the controlling male gaze, unfettered now by the stress that comes with objectification. Maybe this is closer to our true identity. I don’t know but I do love these striking and unashamed women who become unique jewels by the time they move into old age.
I wonder if this most cursed and confusing of seasons is in fact a time of freedom for women even though it means turbulence as we try to adapt to our slower moving new selves. Is it a time to reassess what it means to be female yet again? My suspicion is that it can be a time of newly emerging confidence or of shame and invisibility depending on how we progress through the season. I think it will always however, mean grief as we say goodbye to the old and bravely walk into the new.
I’m still trying to figure out my response to middle age. Part of me conceals and settles, another fights and yet another brazenly welcomes my spectacular new self.
I got to the next floor of the department store as advised by the salesgirl. I blinked under the fluorescent lights and realised that the level is clothing for middle aged women. I paused, then I spun the other way, walked to the door and out of the store.