I’m reblogging another illustrated essay because its themes resonated with me. I often think about the ways my 15 year old daughter and I are alike, but also how very different we are. The author of “Cut From the Same Cloth” struggles with her daughter’s outlandish self-expression; I, on the other hand, would be delighted if my daughter had the confidence to express such creativity and individuality. In our situation, the roles are reversed: I am the one who refuses to conform (despite my age), while my teenage daughter generally chooses not to draw attention to herself through her conservative style. I love bright colours and patterns, whereas my daughter prefers plain grey, white and black. I will sometimes suffer discomfort for fashion, while she slouches around in hoodies and leggings no matter the occasion.
The one exception is on disco nights. Just this last weekend she and her girlfriends got ready for the fancy dress Halloween party at our house. As they were ready to leave, she warned me, “Don’t slut shame my friends when you see what they’re wearing.” It was hard enough not to let my jaw drop when I laid eyes on my Dark Angel. My daughter looked stunning in her skimpy black lace costume, with the sparkly, black halo attached above her sleek, brunette head. Fake eyelashes, cleavage, a full face of makeup. I couldn’t help feeling mildly depressed.
“In fact, when regarding my wayward, outrageously dressed girl, I find myself experiencing a peculiar combination of pride and envy.
Both may be a sin, but pride in one’s child is an acceptable part of parenthood.
Envy, while recognized in psychology and culture, most certainly isn’t.
Fine: I’m proud of this fierce individual that appears to have inherited my own peacock inclinations. Not so fine: I find myself envious that she has a period of wild experimentation ahead of her — and a figure that means she fits into pretty much every thrift store find.” -Myfanwy Tristram
Mother and daughter relationships are often complicated. I am so proud of my daughter and possibly a bit envious too. She excels academically and I wish I was as naturally gifted as her. She’s smart, beautiful, and humble. Always a quiet, shy person, she’s often an enigma. I’m fiery, passionate and outspoken, whereas she is calm, logical and unassuming. We are not unlike Austen’s Dashwood sisters in Sense and Sensibility.
In a few months I will officially be “middle aged” if my birth date is anything to go by. Myfanwy Tristram’s essay accurately describes the pressure women face as wrinkles appear and their hair thins, also turning grey. She says:
“Myself? As a woman who came to motherhood relatively late in life, I had already set aside my more outrageous costumery as I navigated the first steps of a career in conservative office workplaces.
I graduated from the backcombed hair. I even spend good money at salons these days. My trousers have no rips. I’ve conformed — and find myself looking for other ways to express myself. Meanwhile, age plays a part. As you enter the second half of life, it’s easy to feel that you’re not supposed to stand out. Just as you’re not supposed to show too much leg, or cleavage, it’s all part of the process of desexualization that the older woman is generally expected, in our society at least, to go through.”
My process is in reverse. In my youth I wasn’t particularly outrageous. I am more likely to wear an animal print jumpsuit these days than I was when it was age appropriate. I attended Catholic schools and wore a uniform until college. In the 90’s I was a bit grungy and scoured thrift shops for my clothes. Then I began working in retail and discovered Contempo Casuals. I opted for looks that showed off my toned legs and belly piercing: think mini skirts, knee high socks, and crop tops. If you can’t flaunt your body when you’re young, when can you? I tried to remind myself of this the night my Dark Angel and her girlfriends paraded by in their provocative SWAT team, Red Riding Hood, and a fluffy bunny outfits. The difference, of course, is that they are still minors, even if they do look like college students. Times really have changed in that regard, and girlhood ends much sooner than I would like.
Expectations are also changing for middle aged women. This I welcome. Not all of us want to embrace a life of boring beige and loafers. Myfanwy Tristram writes:
“So … there’s another option. A whole new subculture to explore. The subculture of the older, expressive, break-all-the-rules women.”
I love the illustrations of the fashionistas depicted in the essay. Over the weekend I watched the Vivienne Westwood documentary and it made me smile so much. Sign me up to this group of wild women who refuse to be subdued!
“For all I say I’m envious of my daughter’s freedoms, perhaps the older woman has more leeway, more agency.
My daughter still has to navigate the competing demands of her parents entreating her not to wear outfits that will show her knickers when she bends over, while learning, and assessing the legitimacy, of the anti slut-shaming movement.”
Yes. Myfanwy Tristram is on to something here. I also agree with her conclusion:
“For all my struggles with expressing myself, it feels like I’ll never be ready to give it up.”
And I ask: Why should we?
I doubt that I’ll follow suit and dye my hair purple, but you never know…
*Please do read the original Longreads post. The illustrations are lovely and it’s a real pleasure to read in its entirety.
Myfanwy Tristram | Longreads | September 2019 | 14 minutes (3,863 words)
A clatter at the door. A small package plops through our letterbox.
It’s come a long way. I can see that by the sticky labels, foreign postmarks, and scrawled scripts of postal workers around the world.
This was never in the parenting manual.
But back to the housework.
I enter my bedroom to find the area around the mirror overrun with her makeup, her dirty laundry in pools on the floor. That girl leaves a trail of destruction.
Admittedly, this is not a remarkable complaint for any mother of a teen. Where mine differs from the grumbles of parents through the ages is that among the detritus to be picked up and put away are:
In fact, when regarding my wayward, outrageously dressed girl, I find myself experiencing a peculiar combination of pride and envy.
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