Monday, July 20, 2015

The Perils of Being a 20-Something Woman

At my bachelorette party - age 29 - with my gorgeous friend Sara. 
Not feeling particularly pretty myself.

There is one thing I'm grateful for every day of my life: that I'm no longer in my twenties.

While commercials and ads constantly try to remind me that my impending 40th birthday is a cause to panic and spend hundreds of dollars in "anti-aging" products, all I ever really feel is gratitude for this age, and for the wrinkles and gray hairs and jiggly skin that accompany it.

This weekend, Dave and I went to a very popular local music festival. As we jockeyed for any sort of spot that would provide the least amount of cigarette smoke for my poor asthmatic lungs, I noticed a group of young women. There were three of them, each in their twenties, each lovely. Two were very, very thin - their long, tan limbs snaking out of tiny shorts and crop tops, bangly bracelets and long necklaces adding the right punctuation. They sported long, lustrous hair that looked salon-fresh, despite the boiling hot temperature and sadistic humidity.

The third woman was lovely, too. She also had beautiful hair and skin that looked like it didn't contain a single pore. Unlike her friends, she was not teeny tiny. She wasn't a large woman at all - probably a size 8 or so - but her upper arms had a bit of flesh, and her thighs looked muscular and strong. She wore more clothes than her friends, and had a habit of pulling at her shorts, as if willing them to cover up more and more of her. The way her head darted around, it was painfully clear to me that she did not feel wonderful about how she looked, and she couldn't stop comparing herself to her friends.

I desperately wanted to pull her aside and give her a pep talk. I wanted to reassure her of her beauty, and remind her that she's not in a competition with her friends. I wanted to tell her I know how tough it is to be her age, to not know where your life is heading and who - if anyone - you'll share it with.

But I just stood back and watched. Her friends danced wildly and sometimes suggestively. She bounced carefully and self-consciously. When everyone needed a beer, she was the one to run off and get them. When her friends talked to guys, she hung back and pretended to listen to the band.

I used to be her. When I look back at pictures of my younger self, I'm struck by how conventionally pretty I was. I had no clue. I felt big and awkward and cumbersome. I felt like I could never compare to my friends' beauty.

I've always loved to dance and frankly, I'm quite good at it. But I can't tell you how many times I went to concerts or similar events and barely moved. I lived in fear that my breasts would bounce too much, that my stomach might peek out of my shirt, that someone would make fun of me.

And these fears were not unfounded. When you're a woman in your late teens and twenties, your appearance is up for public judgment. As men walk past you, many of them either eye you appreciatively, or make grossed-out faces to show how horrible you are, or - worst of all - laugh and poke fun at someone who looks like you daring to have fun. My weight has fluctuated a lot in my life, so I've been at the tail end of every single one of those reactions. And every single one infuriates me.

Going to this event as an almost-40-year-old woman is a very different experience. It's almost like being invisible. Men's eyes glazed right over me on their way to find young women. When I wanted to dance - I danced. People looked, because people always look at you when you dance, but nobody seemed to care once they realized I was not part of the meat market. I was just a goofy older woman shaking her butt to Houndmouth.

I can forget for a moment about the rampant sexism and objectification and sometimes even misogyny that are still just a huge part of our culture.

Until I remember that Stella will have to deal with it one day. And then I get angry all over again.

I'm so grateful not to have to be in that place anymore. To not feel ugly and awkward and unworthy of love. But I also feel motivated to try to change this place enough so that maybe, possibly, hopefully, my daughter can be able to enjoy her 20's more than I ever did.

Being the kooky middle-aged woman who loves to dance and is annoyed by all the smoke.

Monday, July 13, 2015

The Five Minute Snippet

What a good mom! Taking her kids to the zoo on the first sunny day in ages!

If you were to observe me out in public with my kids, you'd think I'm an incredible parent.

Or an indulgent one.

Or an angry one with a terrible attitude.

Or a completely average one.

Because I am all of the above. As well as an emotionally sensitive parent (both in the good and bad way), a tired parent, a hilarious parent, an immature parent (both in the good and bad way), and a frazzled parent.

Today, for example, I had looks from people that gave me the feeling they were summing me up based on whatever five minute snippet they observed.

The woman who smiled kindly at me as I laughed with my kids at the goofy sea lion doing tricks. "What a good mom, taking her kids to the zoo and having so much fun with them."

The other woman who raised an eyebrow a few minutes later as I checked my buggy phone to see if my doula client had called. "Why can't parents today stay off their phones and play with their kids for ten minutes?"

The guy who glared at my kids as they ate ice cream at 10:45am because it was punishingly hot, I was tired of fighting the battle, and I didn't realize the splash park that my kids were dying to enter wouldn't be open to the general public until 11:00am. "Does she WANT her kids to be obese? Ice cream BEFORE lunch?"

The employee who beamed at me as I walked around with Sam, getting drenched with water to make sure that he didn't walk up the water slides or run wildly into the other kids. "Why can't other parents keep an eye on their kids like this woman? Look at those unsupervised brats reeking havoc on everyone else!"

The grandmother who watched me hover over Sam in the water park, picking him up when he cried and pulling him into the shade to get him some water to drink. "All the parents today are helicopter parents! It wouldn't hurt that boy to cry a little bit."

The dad who gave me the side eye as I barked at Sam to stop kicking me as I buckled him in his boiling hot car seat, then later barked at Stella to PLEASE, FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, go ahead and buckle her seat belt so I could get Sam home in time for his much-needed nap. "Geez. Those poor kids. It's the zoo! Why can't she loosen up and have some fun?"

Of course, it's highly possible that some or all of these people thought nothing of me, that they were busy with their own lives and couldn't care less.

But if social media has taught me anything, it's that people are VERY keen to judge parents they see in public based on five minute windows. Friends on Facebook moan about incompetent parents who sit on the subway and do nothing as their kid screams (even though I know it's possible that the parent has tried every trick in the book and is simply hanging on by a thread). Moms on parenting message groups moan about the parents who bark at their kids in public, wondering why those people need to procreate at all (even though I'm fairly certain we all have those moments, though some of us try to contain them behind closed doors). People post pictures of babywearing dads and crafty parents who create intricately staged photographs of their kids during naptimes and moms who take their kids to Comic Con to Twitter or Instagram with the hashtag #ParentingDoneRight (even though we know absolutely nothing else about how those people parent).

What you see in public is but a drop in an enormous Pointillist painting. Of course, if a kid is being hurt physically or emotionally by a parent, we as a tribe should intervene to help. But otherwise, you should take that five minute snippet of parenting you see with a grain of salt. That wonderful/mediocre/terrible parent is probably a little bit of all of the above.

What a terrible mom! Leaving her toddler unsupervised for a moment on that horse so she can fiddle with her phone!