I Hide My Chocolate

Midlife observations

Tag: Middle Age

Long, Beautiful Hair

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Free Flowing Woman

I cut my hair super short for the first time before entering Intermediate School in 7th Grade.  This was the summer fraught with breasts, bra-buying, and unwanted sexual attention.  I said I wanted to cut my hair because I thought it would make me look older and more sophisticated.  But really, I wanted to stop the clock on puberty.  Since then, my hairstyle has been a barometer of life transitions.

Seventh grade is up there as one of my more miserable years.  When I arrived with my super short hair, I was teased for looking too boyish.  Couldn’t they see my breasts?  I am so definitely a girl.  I spent the next 5 years growing my hair long, twirling it into a ballet bun, only to cut it all off again before college.  And again when entering the work world.  And so on.  Each drastic hair cut a harbinger of some kind of important change.  For me, short hair on a woman is bold and unconventional, two qualities I feel I lack.  Cutting my hair was freeing, allowing me to adopt a braver persona, like when I cut it right before going on a solo cycling adventure.

The last time I went super short was after the birth of my son.  I thought the style suited me.  Super chic for my work world and super easy as a working mom.  I could show off my cheekbones and wear fun earrings.  Strong colored lipstick would emphasize my girl-ness.  My husband thought it added to my aloof allure.   Mainly it was easy.

The man who cut my hair specialized in “precision” haircuts.  Remember those?  Sharp and angular.  I would show up every 6 weeks and sit in the chair and turn over all control to him.  Whatever you think looks good was usually my attitude.  He was the professional.  I trusted him.  He would take out his razor and cut and shape, with precision.  I left, looking like a sharper version of myself, for the day.  And then I would wash my hair and everything was back to the same.

As I got older, sitting in that chair facing the mirror became less and less appealing and more and more of a chore.  I started joking, I don’t care how you cut it, just make me look younger.   Then I kind of stopped looking in the mirror.  It had just become a personal hygiene errand.

Around this time, one of my yoga teachers and mentors gently suggested that my hair was boxy and severe and why not try letting it ease out a bit?  Hmm, but what about my cheekbones?  At midlife, the short hair made my thin face and prominent cheekbones look drawn and stressed, not elegant and regal.  Hmm, but what about looking chic for work?  Doesn’t a trendy male stylist know more about what’s up-to-date than a suburban yogini stylist?  At midlife, maybe chasing after chic no longer meant sharp and angular.  Hmm, but what about easy?  I don’t have time to blow dry my hair every morning.  She reminded me that once it gets long, it would be super easy to pull it back into a chic chignon.   Hmm, but aren’t I too old for longer hair?  Long hair is for young girls and sexy women.  Not for a middle-aged mom.  Hmm, but what about bold and unconventional?  Maybe, I could be bold without needing short hair.  Maybe, I could embrace what is good about what is conventional in me.  Maybe, it was time to be the free-flowing woman I know is inside me, the one who has long, beautiful hair and fabulous scarves and lots of jewelry.  Certainly, she is bold and unconventional.  What an amazing woman!  It was time to let her out.

Since my yoga teacher was a hair stylist by day, I found myself cautiously sitting in her chair about 2 years ago, about the time my mid-life enlightenment was in acute mode.  We looked at me in the mirror together.  Ready to relinquish control over my style, I allowed her to familiarize herself with my hair.  She told me about cowlicks, something I never knew I had!  We discussed the impact of cowlicks on how my hair looks.  My previous male hairdressers simply had cut my hair so short, the cowlicks were cut away.  She laid her hands on my shoulders, drawing attention to how I hold my tension, constantly, and encouraging me to let my shoulders soften.   We talked.

We talked about yoga.  Which means we talked about life.  Everything came up.  Love, death, sex, karma, work, friendship, anxiety, depression, eating, monogamy, reincarnation, trauma, diets, vacation, neurogastroenterology, god.  She is outspoken.  I am reserved.  She has beautiful, long, sometimes wild auburn hair.  (She’s a free-flowing woman.)  I have wavy, still fairly short, dark brown (mixed with an increasing amount of gray) hair.  I admired her ability to express strong opinions with assertiveness and confidence.  Chronically non-confrontational, I was not always sure I agreed, but I would marinate on things she said, taking it in and adding it to my mosaic of understanding.  Gradually, we peeled away more layers to reveal more of what is inside.  I was touched that she shared as much of herself as she did.

I have relied on a stream of professionals to advise me on life.  Therapists, Executive coaches, Personal Shoppers, Makeup and Hair Stylists, Bosses, Trainers, Teachers, Attorneys.  Surrogate parents and teachers who I thought knew better than me about what was best for me.  When I was younger, many of these advisors were men, men I relinquished control to.  As I’ve gotten older, I’ve made a conscious effort to choose women, aware of and uncomfortable with the sexist quality of my deference to male authority and of the way I have felt competitive with other women.  The quality of working on a project with a woman is different.  More collaborative and explorative.  As I grow more sure of myself, asserting my opinion first in writing and next, cautiously, in speaking, I am discovering that disagreeing does not mean I have to avoid the person.  I don’t have to be a good girl and do everything they advise me to do.  Rather, revealing what I think and who I am leads to a more authentic and deeper connection.  The other person has a sense of who I am and does not expect me to be just like them.  How boring would that be?

Instead of going through the motions of a haircut making small talk, I am practicing how to develop a friendship.  As I build this friendship and nurture my lengthening hair, nurture the bold and conventional, sexy and nurturing, chic and free-flowing, maybe I am learning to trust myself.  After all, who knows me better than me?

A free flowing woman laughs and loves easily. She is not constrained by rigid rules in her head. She wears original, unusual, creative jewelry and scarves. She is open, not judgmental. She says yes to adventure and has a spark of spontaneity.

One of my yoga teachers shared this poem with me.  (I did not write it.)  But it has informed my metaphorical desire to be like a free flowing river:

Flow
Be as water is
Without friction
Flow around the edges
Of those within your path
Surround within your ever-moving depths
Those who come to rest there
Enfold them
While never for a moment holding on
Accept whatever distance
Others are moved within your flow
Be with them gently
As far as they allow your strength to take them
And fill with your own being
The remaining space when they are left behind
When dropping down life’s rapids
Froth and bubble into fragments if you must
Know that the one of you now many
Will just as many times be one again
And when you’ve gone as far as you can go
Quietly await your next beginning

Saying No to Botox

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Beauty of a Certain Age

Newsflash!  According to the New York Times, the holy grail for beauty for executive women is “eternal early middle age.”  As if working women everywhere did not have enough to worry about, it is now crucial to achieve the “cosmetic sweet spot:  old enough to command respect, yet fresh enough to remain vital.

Phew, I am on trend.  At 50, I am situated right smack in the middle of the ideal 45-55 age range.  But I am closing in on 51.  Only 4 more years left to remain vital!  Only 4 more years to chase whatever elusive career goal I have been chasing.  I still don’t have a corner office.

Maybe I never will.

Maybe it doesn’t matter.

When I first started working in the business world, I was very proud and eager to succeed.  I worked hard and moved up quickly.  I started managing people well before I was 30 and felt I needed to look older in order to command respect.  At 25, I was sometimes the only woman in the conference room which usually meant there was an expectation that I would clear the coffee cups.  I was determined to look the part of a successful executive woman and not be the one waiting on the older executive men.   Hello shoulder pads!

When I moved to a glamorous company in a senior managerial role, at 35, the first thing I did was makeover my image to be more sophisticated.  Perhaps if I looked the role, I would prove that I belonged in the role.  I bought new clothes with the help of a personal shopper and updated my hairstyle and took care with my makeup.  My anxiety about whether or not I would be successful in this job was fixated on “looking right.”

When I was brave enough to ask for and talented enough to get a 4-day workweek after the birth of my son, I made the mistake of not cutting back on my shopping.  You see, I was still ambitious for the corner office.  Still optimistic that I would get promotions and salary raises, advancing in my career and paying for my shopping crutch.  Still anxious that I needed to look a certain way in order to succeed, I filled up my insecurity with expensive clothes that the saleswoman picked out for me, because I did not trust my own taste to find my own style.  As I spent more money, I became more secretive with my shopping expeditions, hiding the packages in the back of my closet.  Of course this story ended badly.  My husband found my credit card bill and was shocked.  Rightly so.  It was shocking.  I had to take out a loan to pay it off and return to a 5-day workweek.  I jeopardized my marriage and squandered my precious time, precious time with my children, just to “look right.”

When “early middle age” hit (newsflash, it’s not eternal) and I realized that I was not going to achieve the corner office (and didn’t really want to chase after it any more anyway), and that it mattered what I did not what I wore, and that my kids were quickly growing up, I went to the other extreme.  Rather than cover up my gently sagging skin with more makeup and rejuvenating injections, I now wear less makeup than ever, barely managing a swipe of lipstick.  I don’t want to spend money or time on extravagant trendy clothing or weekly manicures.  What little disposable income I have now goes to the college fund.  And my gray hair?  So far, I don’t have a lot so I don’t color it.  I refuse to color it.   I’ve spent my whole life dressing up as someone I thought I should be.  Now I just want to be me.

I feel sad and somewhat dismayed by how much time, money, effort and energy we women spend on our appearance.  When young, we are so afraid we don’t deserve our job.  When middle aged, we are so afraid we will lose our job to a younger, more stylish and up-to-date competitor.  We are so preoccupied with other women and their appearance, judging them on how they look and not always on what they accomplish.

I am not naïve.  I know attractive people tend to be better liked and more successful.  I know that feeling good about how I look can help me feel and behave more confidently.  I know that if I had the money and the time and the corner office, I might gladly be swayed to spend it on rejuvenating treatments.  And who knows what I will do when I hit “late middle age.”  It’s easy to be defiant, even disdainful, when you still feel in your prime.

But surely there is something to be said for a woman of a certain age.  She has lived and loved and learned who she is.  She has experience to share.  She has earned her gray hair, her wider hips, her worry lines and her laugh lines.

I remember when Botox first became accessible for cosmetic use about ten years ago and thinking how strange it will be if no one’s face ages and no one’s face shows emotion.  At that time I decided I did not want to succumb to Botox but wondered if I would be able to stick with that decision as I got older.  My mother had a facelift after surgery left her with an ugly scar on her neck.  I was surprised that my beautiful-to-me mother felt the need to look younger and prettier…more vital.  If my mother couldn’t stand “late middle age,” how was I going to cope with it?

For now, the role models I admire are many.  Annie Lennox baring her face and her soul, when she was 48, on her solo album Bare.  Cyndi Lee embracing her gray hair in May I Be Happy.  Jamie Lee Curtis writing empowering children’s books on self-esteem and discussing body image with More.   Hillary Clinton, whose hair is still making the news and whose accomplishments are truly impressive.  Perhaps the best role models of all are my beautiful middle-aged friends (early, middle, and late) who still dance at the ballet barre or ace their serve on the tennis court or stand on their heads in the yoga studio or rule the executive suite or cherish their families.  My beautiful middle-aged friends awe me every day with their love, courage, resilience, intelligence, humor and grace.  Beautiful because of their wrinkles earned from living life.

When I look in the mirror, I visualize the same face I’ve always seen in my mind.  But when I really look in the mirror, and see, really see my face – I see the dark circles, the loosening skin, the mottled complexion with “age spots.”   I see the jowls (yes, jowls!).  I see the wrinkles.  I also see my clear and hopeful eyes that are no longer too shy to make eye contact with anyone, not even with me.

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