Wednesday, March 27, 2013
Suffering to be beautiful
I don't know whether I have mentioned it before, but I love Pinterest. I've pinned thousands of images, and find it much easier to remember things for which I have a visual reminder, rather than a bookmark. I love it... it feeds the collector in me, the hoarder, the window shopper and the child.
This morning I found that someone had started to follow my board on Bohemian clothing. I don't have a firm policy about what I include on that board - anything that takes my fancy goes into it, and it is an eclectic collection. There are a lot of Boho collectors on Pinterest, and I have an idea that many of them are harking back to their lost youth in the 60s and 70s, when they were young enough to wear the clothing.
I find that women go through a number of clothing ages through their lives. There's the stage in childhood and teens when you want to look a lot older than you are, but some things are too severe or shapeless and middle-aged to work on a young body. It must be admitted that the young can get away with almost anything, but too much bling or sophisticated detail detracts, rather than enhancing the way that they look.
Then there is a period in your twenties to forties when most women can get away with wearing most things. Almost any colour or style is suitable - well at least appropriate, even if not particularly flattering.
Unfortunately there comes a time, and I have reached it, when certain styles no longer seem right on a middle-aged woman, even if she isn't overweight and looking like a sack of potatoes like me. Puff sleeves, frilly hems, string straps, backless dresses, pale pastels tend to make you look as though you haven't realised you've grown older. There are some women who can carry them off, even at 55, but they are few and far between. The rest of us look ridiculous.
Then a strange thing happens. I'm not sure exactly what age it is, but around 70-75, suddenly you can wear the pastel frilly stuff again. There's never going to be a time again when backless or strapless is going to look good on you, but you can go back to the pastels and frilly and on an old lady they can look good. I don't know whether it is something about grey or lighter hair etc... it just starts to look ok. I suppose once you are past 70, unless you are a very unusual woman, or have spent a fortune on facelifts, there is little chance that anyone will think you are trying to look like a young woman again.
I've veered completely away from my point. In the mornings, I tend to flip through the emails I've received from Pinterest telling me that people have repinned the things I have pinned, and I look at their boards in turn. The board I visited this morning was for someone who had a board "Shoes I can actually wear". I reconized a kindred spirit, unable to wear anything but flat shoes, and looking for more interesting choices for those. I moseyed around her boards to see what else she had, which is very like being able to search through some stranger's junk drawer or photo album, and reward enough in itself for the time spent... something very few men will understand... and found she had another board..."Shoes I couldn't possibly wear, but would love to".
The board was covered in the high heels that every actress seems to wear on the red carpet nowadays. And it occurred to me that in years to come, people may regard these as inhumane as the tightly-laced corset or binding the feet of children. Don't get me wrong... I love high heels, and used to wear them. But my idea of a high heel is a three inch heel that I used to wear on high days and holidays, not the five or seven or nine inch monstrosities that are common nowadays.
It made me wonder once again whose standard of beautiful we are adopting, and why. And what message we are sending to the girls who are growing up now, who see actresses and models walking around in these things, mostly designed by men, and want to be like them. The foot is held in an unnatural position, the balance and structure of the skeleton is undermined by these things. Women will say that they dress for themselves and to please themselves, but even if my bad back didn't prevent me from ever wearing these shoes, I don't think I would wear them. I am too used to being able to move freely, being able to run when required, being able to balance my body and walk as far as I want to without feeling that someone has set the balls of my feet on fire. The thin models of the catwalk are not the way most women are, nor yet the ideal of most men. Most of them prefer real women with curves... indeed we are evolved to prefer that to the other. I do not understand why we have given our power away to mostly elderly men, certainly often homosexual men who seem to prefer androgynous models that look like adolescent boys rather than grown women. Why have we allowed the magazine editors and fashion pundits to tell us what is beautiful? I don't really agree with their vision of beauty... Nigella Lawson, Marilyn Monroe, Sophia Loren, Sophie Dahl before she got really thin... those are my ideals of beauty. And none of them could be mistaken for a boy.
I see people around me suffering to try to stagger around in impossible shoes, to diet into impossible clothes, and to balance their ideal of stick thinness with the reality of their bodies. I want a different, diverse, standard of beauty and fashion which includes us all - the naturally thin, slim, fat and obese. That recognizes us as people who want to look the best we can. Even the ugliest person wants to be able to look good, to be admired and liked ... why shouldn't every one of us be included in that? why should we be excluded because of our age or size? We want fashion that takes account of our anatomy and doesn't expect that we will learn a whole new way of walking to accommodate the highest of red-soled heels.
I think that's also what is going on with women who pin to Pinterest. They want a world in which they can find clothes and shoes they like, and which like them and their bodies - not the pristine skinny ideal which is presented in magazines the world over. I want a world in which people feel comfortable being themselves, whatever shape that is, and which tries to make the best of that.
And ANOTHER thing. I've already blogged the unavailability of stripey woollen tights for plus size women. It seems to me that there is something awry with supply and demand if there is a proven demand for something that isn't being produced. It undermines my faith in the idea that this mechanism works within our system at all. I've talked to any number of women who feel that the clothing shops cater for young women and don't stock anything that they like or want to wear.
I find this is a particular problem for plus size women of that certain age between 50 and 70 when they have to be careful not to look odd. Look in the shops for summer dresses - nearly all of them are in man-made fabrics, and nearly all of them are sleeveless. Even women who have kept themselves in shape may begin to get a bit self conscious about having their bare arms on display, and it is a pain to have to wear a cardigan or shrug on a hot day in summer. Sleeves would solve this problem, but very few of the summer dresses have them.
I have a dream of finding a cotton lawn summer dress all floaty and beautiful, which reaches down to my feet, and has sleeves. Of finding that the tops and blouses in the shops reach down to cover my bottom, and are in natural fabrics in plain colours, and not in manmade fabrics with complex patterns. Of finding someone making affordable shoes in beautiful leathers, with flat heels, feminine and comfortable.
I don't think I'm alone. I don't think it is too much to ask. I'd like to understand why it isn't happening.