[EDITORIAL NOTE: The folks at the Elder Abuse blog have honored Time Goes By with their Blogger of the Year Award. In doing so, they have linked to each chapter of my "mom series" - A Mother's Last Best Lesson - which recounts the time I spent caring for my mother during the last months of her life and is the story I am most proud of writing. I'm proud of this award too. Please do stop by their site.]
Not infrequently over the years, people have described me as “one tough broad” implying that I express some of what are usually considered masculine traits. (If only those folks knew how squishy I am inside.)
On the other hand, many years ago, after I had made the morning transition from just-awakened horror hag to fully coifed and war-painted working woman, the man of the moment in my life said, in all seriousness and as a compliment, “I’ve never known another woman as feminine as you.”
It is always interesting to learn how we are perceived by others and that moment stuck with me. I pondered what he might have meant for a long time eventually deciding it was not the externals he was commenting upon (although they were part of it), but my inherent, inborn female-ness that is as immutable as the rising sun. It is what I am.
I have never questioned my female-ness and more, relish the biological manifestations of being a woman with fascination and even, sometimes, awe: the breathtaking beauty in the roundness and curves of women’s bodies; the sense of primal connection to the natural order of the universe in menstruation. The sudden swings in body temperature and other phenomena of menopause amazed and amused me.
In recent years, it has been interesting to watch my body’s transition to an outwardly more neuter appearance while my internal femininity remains steadfastly intact.
This came to mind recently when Lia of Yum Yum Cafe, told me that a friend wondered what I would say about "combating the menopausal body changes women experience, the loss of femininity.”
“I told her that I didn’t really know what you would say on the matter," wrote Lia, "but I believed you wouldn’t give any bloody tips along the line of be proud [to] wear make-up; titillating tummy tucks with 50; botox, the wrinkle eraser; sex toys for the adventurous at heart and weak of bladder. Instead, I thought you might discuss how it is possible to still feel like a woman even though we are losing/have lost our sense of femininity.”
She was so right in her answer that I hardly need to say more except that I heartily endorse sex toys at any age if that is your pleasure.
In all the personal observations I make here at Time Goes By, I operate on the assumption that I am not unique. That is, if I experience something, so do many others, maybe even a majority, but perhaps it hasn’t been pointed out and that may apply to Lia's friend's question.
While I was still working full time, up until mid-2004, I didn’t notice any body neutering. New little jowls had developed, my mid-section had thickened and although I had stopped trying to force my body back into its age 25 form, I looked, to myself, as feminine as any woman, even occasionally sexy when I made the effort.
The change in my appearance since then has been swift. (That far-right photo in the banner is nearly five years old and needs updating.) Some of the change is due to allowing my hair to go gray and refusing to spend another moment ever in a hair salon. But most of it results from subtle shifts in my face that become apparent in all of us, I suspect, when we stop listening to the incessant marketing messages to be young, young, young forever.
In addition, a flat belly, slim hips and upturned, perky tits are long behind me and without knowing how the feeling came to be, I don’t care. As my mother once said (in the more frightening context of cancer), “What do I need breasts for. I’m 74, not 24.”
Attaining a more androgynous appearance as we get older allows us to move on to the new role nature intends for us in late life – that of elders with more concern for the world outside ourselves than the more ego-driven mid-years.
We don’t lose our femininity with menopause - that is, if we do not define femininity as sexual allure. In fact, I would argue, that our new position in life is super-feminine, the nurturing, instruction and, sometimes, wisdom we can pass on to those coming up behind us while being an example for their old age when it arrives.
We don’t need to “combat menopausal body changes.” We need to accept them as a signal that it is time to begin moving into a new stage of life. Now I’ll admit the culture we live in doesn’t give elders a lot of room to do that, but we can embrace it individually for the good of world around us and for our personal self-realization. The concerns of late life should be and are different from youth and midlife.
That doesn’t mean, in our private moments alone or with whomever we choose, we can’t still indulge in the pleasures of the flesh – with or without sex toys. And what’s more feminine than that?
[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Alice Pasupathi muses on the similarities between humans and bugs in
Ode to a Cockroach Killed While Trying to Get From Here to There.]