Women, Age And Self Worth

I’ve been thinking about this topic for quite a while.

I watched my mother go from a woman who seemed self confident and generally satisfied with life, to a woman who—in my opinion—has crawled inside of herself, has lost her self esteem and looks at the world through gray-tinted glasses. This is a view from the outside, so I can only think my impression of her when she was younger was exaggerated, because how can a person do a 180 quite like that?

My perception is that her self confidence was not based on a sense of value that came from within, but from others’ reactions to her and feelings about her.

Let me ‘splain.

She was very attractive when she was younger. She loved male attention; thrived on it, I think. And she always looked young for her age and loved it when people told her she didn’t look old enough to have a daughter my age (of course, she also became a mother at nineteen, so when I was nineteen, she was only thirty-eight).

One day I was talking with her on the phone—this was probably ten years ago now—and she was upset about something that had happened in the little health food store she clerked at. A man came in—I think she said he was fiftyish—anyway, she asked if she could help him and he ignored her, turning instead to her younger female counterpart. Then the guy proceeded to flirt with “the other woman.”

My mother has brought this up in conversation several times, and I mark it one of the incidents that precipitated her “slide.”

The store episode happened not long after her partner of at least ten years left her for his previous wife. So it was like a body slam and then a kick.

I have watched my mother’s fall with a lot of sadness and a bit of apprehension. There go I?

My daughter and I saw a new dentist yesterday. We walked in and the dentist and his wife were standing at the counter and asked if people often mistook the two of us for sisters. It’s nice, I’m not saying it isn’t, but I think of my mother and I know I’ve got to wean myself from this stuff because it will end.

Our sense of value has got to come from within, not from others. For a female, appearance-approval is touted as the greatest thing we could ever hope for. Women pay a lot of money for this.

You are the princess. The beautiful princess.

I want to be a worthy example for my daughter; I want her to feel good about herself, not because of her looks, but because of who she is inside. She is an absolutely gorgeous young woman, both inside and out. Thankfully, she isn’t all that smitten with male attention, but our society hammers away at women: This is what’s important about you—your hair, your cheekbones, your body. I heard over and over and over when she was a teenager: She could be a model. Other parents couldn’t understand why I wasn’t trying to get her into modeling. I was watching my mother, I was noticing other middle aged and older women who seemed uncomfortable with themselves, I was watching myself. I was well aware of society’s over-emphasis on girls’ and women’s looks. Why in hell would I want to lead my daughter down that path? She could be a model. So?

I watch women. Of course I do, because I naturally watch people. But lately, I especially watch women. I watch younger women who are in love with being noticed. I watch middle aged women trying to hold on to that notice. I love to see women who look like they’re over fifty and feel good about themselves.

I think a woman’s mother’s attitude to appearance and admiration has a lot to do with how that woman sees herself and where she seeks approval—from within or without. But I also think that, if necessary, we can consciously work at over-riding her example and become whole from inside.

What do you think about this subject?

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What do you think of this theme? I like it, but I’m concerned that the font is too small and I can’t edit the css. Let me know. . . .

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20 Comments

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20 responses to “Women, Age And Self Worth

  1. People always used to ask if my mom and I were sisters, and I think it was more fun for her than for me. I wouldn’t say her self-worth is tied up with her looks per se, but with being perceived as younger than she is, if that makes any sense. Pe

    I like the theme — the text is small, but that’s what Command+ is for 😉

  2. YM, I also get the sense that your mom has a certain amount of confidence based on her role in the world, her career. I could be wrong, though. 😉

    I think the danger is when too much of our self worth comes from our looks. Ideally, we would feel good about ourselves because of what’s inside us, not what we look like.

  3. you know, I’ll never forget what my mom said to me after I complained about getting honked and gestured at while walking in nyc–she said, ‘the worst thing is when all that stops’. I get it now. This is a big topic; so involved. i think it’s part of why I keep up the yoga–so that I can have this ‘young’ body. My mom was and still is totally into her appearance. She’s almost 70 but still dyes her hair this weird purple/red. I stopped wearing make up 15 years ago and don’t do hair dye. But, hey, my neck is getting slack and my face is different and my hormones are getting all whacking. The times, they are a-changin’!

  4. Laksmi, welcome! Yeah, you get it. I don’t wear makeup but I do dye my hair. Although I don’t want to do it forever–I find myself noticing confident-looking gray haired women.

  5. as I have noted before, women have been judged in the past mostly on their appearance…

    by the way, good idea.

    hmmm. maybe I should get another blog (or two)…but then, when would I find the time?

  6. Diane, you’re right of course, I’m just trying to keep myself out of that swamp, and rooting for other women trying to do the same. I think I’m more aware of the trap than ever these days.

    I know you have plenty of spare time to devote to the writing of multiple blogs. I won’t wait with bated breath. . . . 😉

  7. Been thinking about this post since I read you yesterday, WB.

    There’s a lot here. It’s hard to know how to talk about the contempt toward older women–and towards motherhood–that’s secretly under the surface in our culture. That’s one thing.

    And then there’s this need that we have to practice seeing mature, and OLD, women as gorgeous. Sheesh, my grandmas are gorgeous. Those are people whose eyes I want to gaze into and whose skin I want to touch. For me, I thing that focusing on the beauty of older women is starting to help me re-set my values away from the totally creepy Lolita-love of western culture in general.

    I dunno. But I did stop wearing makeup long ago. It was a way to look older when I was young, but I’m not going to try to use it to look younger now that I’m over 30.

  8. Wow, you guys are more enlightened than I! I still wear makeup, and have since I was 13. Dye my hair. Had my eyes done a few months ago. Interestingly, I can look back on my life and see how MUCH of it was about male attention. Necessarily bad? I can’t say that it was. I loved men. That would definitely be an accurate epitaph. It is fun and exciting and delightful. And it got better as I got older, because I loved them without caring so much about the construction that I think of as “me.” Less self-consciousness. More plain old love. Or lust. Whichever. All that said, I guess it’s not an either/or in my mind. Love of men/makeup/self-consciousness OR older/free/self-respecting. Maybe this is easy for me to say because I am in shape from practice and I also sit in poses and gaze at skin that is not young anymore, perhaps that combination makes me an oddball. Much as a pose can elude you, so does youth. Part of the practice is deciding how much you can effort before it is self-defeating. And then you bow to What Is and practice being gracious. Somehow, this all makes me think about the writing of Colette. 🙂

  9. Owl, yeah my 97 year old grandma was beautiful, too. I wish I had spent more time with her, of course, now that she’s gone. I wish I could gaze into her eyes now.

    DZM, no it doesn’t have to be an either/or, but if most of your good feelings about yourself come from getting male attention, then when that’s gone, what’s left?

    I love how you said that about bowing to what is and practicing being gracious. That is the key. Colette! Yeah.

    Thanks, you two, for popping in.

  10. My pleasure. Nice blog you’ve got here. 🙂

  11. Jan

    Interesting. As I age now, I start to wonder if I’ll stay “pretty.” I like older older women (as I’m approaching young older) who have sweet expressions on their faces. My mother used to say that you have the face you inherited until you’re about 40, and after that it’s the face you made. I notice natural expressions of women especially. It doesn’t matter if they have make up or not to me, but it matters what their expression is–grim or pleasant. As people age, you can tell how they’ve lived their lives by their faces, especially their mouths.

    Interesting. Glad you have another blog.

    But I’d like the font a little bit larger.

  12. Jan, Yes–I look for those sweet faces, too. I love your mom’s point because, of course, it’s true. (I wish we could get together!)

    To make the type bigger, try Yogamum’s suggestion to use Command+

    I may end up changing the theme later; or I’ll check into how much it costs to purchase the edit css capability so I can make the text bigger.

  13. Command+ is your friend!

    Yes, my mom has a great deal of confidence because of her career as well. So it’s definitely not all about looks being a source of self-worth for her.

  14. I think women go through a second adolescence around age 48–it’s when you start to look kind of weird and awkward again. then after a couple of years, you look normal again.

  15. Oh Laksmi, what an interesting comment! Something to look forward to. 😉

  16. Vanessa

    Hmmmm….both my grandmother and my mom were incredibly beautiful women that struggled with getting older. I grew up being ALWAYS negatively compared to my mom, so I guess I’m not so attached to beauty. But on the same breath, I’ll admit to not liking the signs of aging I’m starting to see!

  17. Vanessa, It must’ve sucked always being compared like that. It seems like you’re probably more balanced than some of us, at least. I remember as a teenager wishing with all my heart that I could be pretty (I don’t think I wished for beauty–that would have been a bit much, since I thought I was really homely).

    I suspect it’s best to either be unattached to the attention or to be average and satisfied with that (bowing to what is, as DZM said).

  18. Vanessa

    Trust me, I’m in no way more balance than any other woman. I guess I just resigned myself to being “almost” pretty – the measure of what makes it “almost” being my mom.

  19. I’m deathly afraid of aging–not because of male approval or whatnot (couldn’t care less about that), but because I don’t want to be labelled “old” aka outdated, lost its shelf-life, etc., in the job market. In the high tech industry, the cult of youth reigns supreme (so does the cult of thin and blonde if you’re a white woman), and you’re more often judged based on appearance than on skills. So, in order to remain “attractive” to my working world, I have to try to be in the most youthful shape possible. Sometime down the road, this will raise the question of plastic surgery to be able to sell my soul–a question I’m not looking forward to.

  20. Charlotte, This is really sad. And what can you do about it? Is it the same everywhere, or worse in California? (The whole appearance thing seems exaggerated in California.)

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