Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Appearance (when you're a WOF)

Forty lets me reduce my exposure to Sexualization, a welcome release, but it does not loosen the grip of Appearance.

Forty is like a magic number, past expected fertility. An age when men's natural survival-of-the-fittest procreative-based libidos check me out and tell their brains, Not An Option. An age when people who find me attractive may actually like my smile or how passionately I speak, rather than more superficial observations.

I am not capitulating beauty. I feel more beautiful today than I ever felt at 29, and I was pretty beautiful judging from my wedding photos (see left). I just didn't FEEL it.

But now, as I age and I see where the crinkles are settling in and the softness around my eyes, I see myself with a beauty all my own.*see note at the end

And, at the same time, I don’t look like some girl who would catch the eye of a stranger wanting sex. Which means:

1) I can be taken more seriously by men

I’ve noticed over the years that I build trust more easily with men who aren’t attracted to my type. I like working with men who are into blonds or tall skinny girls, or guys just out of school who see women as "young" and "old." They treat me like a comrade and we get stuff done. They don’t think I’m flirting with them when we laugh together.

Men who are into my type are a tightrope on a team. It’s nice to notice being noticed and there’s a certain immediate, biological kinship that erupts when those pheromones are in the air. Within that bubble, we can do really creative work, brainstorm and think together. But.

But I’m always dancing, not wanting to give the wrong impression, not wanting my friendliness to look like flirting (I discovered early, to my chagrin, that my natural friendliness looks a lot like flirting).

Now that I’m a WOF (Woman Over Forty) and a MWTK (Mom With Two Kids), the number of men whose natural libidos assign me to a type they want to have sex with must, of course, significantly decrease. I’ll miss the camaraderie that comes with interacting with MANI Men (Mutual Attraction No Intentions), but I won’t miss the awkwardness or the constant throttling that is my responsibility as the female (right, wrong, indifferent).

2) I’m less of a threat to women

Women don’t dislike me all the time. Just…some of the time. And some of that time is if their men are around. They can’t help it – their natural nesting chemicals alert them to any potential threats to keeping their mates. They may feel no threat from me whatsoever on a conscious or even subconscious level, but their chemistry says otherwise, and they likely don’t even know why they feel so cool to me all of a sudden. It's not just me, it's any woman their submerged chemical reactions tell them is at least as attractive as they are. It's almost inevitable that they will find my passion shrill, my emphaticness grating. I’m sure it is.

In any case, I am hardly a threat now (WOF, MWTK). So more women can stop wondering if my friendliness is flirting (easily mistaken, remember) and hopefully we can connect more. I do long for more trusting relationships with women in my life.

So, Sexualization is reducing as a factor in my interactions. I'm very pleased. But that doesn't mean that Appearance has let go her grip. Oh no, not at all.

Now that I’m a WOF, I am questioning the time and irritatingly boring effort I expend on my Beauty Regime. It’s navel gazing in the worst way, but I’m increasingly fascinated by all the effort and products to yield the PRODUCT of Me as an AOW (Attractive Older Woman).

Being an AOW takes more effort and just as many tools and cosmetics as being a beautiful young girl. But it serves a different purpose – the purpose of looking Put Together. Where in the past, I might have focused on my appearance to feel pretty, or to look attractive on my husband’s arm so the other men will know he’s a stud (at some primal level...), now I undergo the constant, thankless effort of Appearance Upkeep so I can signal other humans that I am an AOW to be taken seriously, and not a SAHM (you know that one, right?) to be patronized. Or worse, a woman who Let Herself Go.

I want to age well for the enjoyment of my own eyes and my husband’s, of course. But most of my effort is directed at signalling the right signals to the people around me so they know where I’m coming from. Embodying a particular spirit into my appearance. It’s effort. It’s demanding. I often think it would be so nice to be a bald man, so no one thinks I’m a radical for shaving my head. I often think it would be so nice to be a man in general, and not have to wear a bra or a tampon ever again. I so envy the Dali Lama his robes. I even envy some women their Niqabs.

But in my culture, I don’t dare be a woman who Lets Herself Go. That’s not the right Appearance at all.

*Note:  Finding myself beautiful is not without a critical eye, embedded with gouging accuracy by Mad Men through my childhood and teen years. I can see every flaw the way frat boys would see me standing naked under a spotlight on YouTube (that is the meanest group I can think of as an example). I can hear their jeering attention to my flaws in my very own mind – but that is another post. Hearing that does not mean I agree. I'm aware that the interpretation exists and that to some extent, I internalize it. And, I see that I am beautiful.