by Jess Burnquist
There are stark differences in the way I respond to getting ready, then attend and behave at any given event these days compared to when I was young. Sometimes at work my younger female colleagues will talk about new cosmetics and their beauty routines. I nod and listen. I can't say much because mostly what would come out of my mouth would sound rude. This is because I would be very likely to engage in a full throttle, head-back cackle, or possibly blurt out, "Who gives zero fucks?" That's not nice. Just like the women who came before me, I need to allow these beauties to ripen. I love my approach to social interactions now so much more these days. Permit me to illustrate why.
In my younger days, there might be panic over not being able to locate my tube of mascara before being picked up for a night out. Now, I simply glean the mirror. Do my tired lines and circles look like I've been abused? No? Great, whatever. Let's go. Isn't that easy?
Years ago, I might be seen washing and styling my hair anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour before leaving the house. These days, I'm rocking a pixie and giving the middle finger to the advice articles on hairstyles for women of a certain age. I'm of a belief that women of any age can wear their hair however they see fit. One of my colleagues who is in her early 70s wears her hair long, silver, and in braids. She's lovely and clearly gives zero effs too.
I remember standing around at a gathering in my youth, whispering to a friend, "That guy is staring at my boobs." I'd roll my eyes, but secretly feel as though I had somehow succeeded at society's feminine ritualistic expectations. I was too young to understand how steeped in misogynistic culture that shit is and how absolutely inconsequential a man's approval is to my productive and creative existence. I don't think I heard that from any women in my life until I was in my early 30s taking a poetry workshop. Last month, at an event I attended with an open bar, I saw a man staring at my chest but that was just because my martini olive fell into my bra. So I scooped it out and ate it at him. Cheers!
Recently, I supervised the graduation where I teach high school. I was assigned to a room of 18-year-old young women, all of whom were wearing spiky heels or wedges even though they had a long march from the building to the field. My last words before I left my house that night were, "Dafuque are my Crocs?" I wore sandals instead. No heels. Cute straps though. Being of a certain age is liberating. My body belongs to me. It has borne children, softened, changed form, but it is mine. When I was younger, I felt disconnected from my body. If I crossed the street, I felt as though I were on display.
When I go to a local cafe to write these days, I often see a woman significantly older than me sitting in her regular spot. I think I might be the only one who truly does see her. She is beyond society's gaze. She is also my role model. She sits at a booth and unfolds her newspaper completely. She unabashedly eats her bagel and cream cheese not bothering with the crumbs until she's good and ready. She laughs aloud at things she reads and sometimes will talk to herself. "Marjorie, you better get going/Marjorie, don't forget to call Stanley/Marjorie, you need a new bra." I have tried to make eye contact with her, not that I know what I would say, but I believe she is equally done seeking society's gaze. Marjorie gives not a care and I love her for it. She is of herself. She occupies the world without apology.
Last night my teenage daughter attended a party. I love that she opted to wear overalls and combat boots, but I say nothing because the way I feel about her appearance is ultimately irrelevant. She wore her long hair in a half-ponytail and chatted about the music she hoped to hear and to share at the party. When we got in the car, I noticed that she had a tube of mascara in her hand. Upon dropping her off, I realized that she hadn't applied it, and it rolled to the crevice between the seat and the console. I decide not to contort my body to fish it out — to leave it forgotten and rolling around for the duration of this and other journeys. Nobody cares, mascara. Nobody cares.
Jess Burnquist teaches high school English and Creative Writing in Arizona. Because she has a teenage son and daughter, she is literally surrounded by adolescents 24/7. Sit with that for a minute. Her writings and teaching blog can be found at www.jessburnquist.com.