Monday, February 28, 2011

Catherine Joy Olson

When our parents told us they were going to have another baby, Mim and I were immediately excited.  We instantly KNEW it would be a girl and just as immediately started fighting over what her name would be.  I imagined it should be "Samantha" because I wanted my new little sister to look like the "Samantha" American Girl doll.
What I dreamed Cat
would look like.

Me (7) and Fat Baby Cat
Meeting her for the first time at the hospital was thrilling and terrifying. I was worried I would drop her because she was so teeny.  I was 7 and in 2nd grade. We brought her home and Mim and I would sneak into the room to look at her when she was asleep. My mom brought her into my class so she could be my "Show and Tell".  While I was presenting her she had a poop explosion and made the room stink.  My classmates thought it was gross and hilarious. Having a baby sister was so much fun.

Our family went camping every summer at Chapman Dam State Park in PA. It was always a highlight.  When Catherine was about 1 year old she was toddling around the fire pit in the early morning. She had a bucket and accidentally dropped it into the ash. When she reached for it she tumbled into the pit. When she dug her little baby arm into the ash to push herself up, she was burned by the hot firewood on the bottom. I'll never forget the site of her arm and the skin that flaked off from the heat. My parents panicked and rushed to the hospital.  She was OK but it was a really scary time for our family and she still has a scar the length of her lower arm. I think it adds character and I believe some of her friends used to call it "The Scar", which I'm not sure she necessarily liked but I thought it was sort of cool. 

Catherine has always been a free spirit. It's what I admire about her most. She likes what she likes. I probably teased her too much about it when she was younger. Even though it was hard sometimes for her growing up in a place where individuality is often considered too intimidating, she's held onto her unique perspective. This is what makes her the beautiful artist she is today.

Back when Beanie Babies were all the rage, Catherine had two that were her favorites. Wormie Lippy, the inchworm, and Wingflap, a fake Beanie Baby that was a bunny with wings. She renamed them herself and they were her constant companions until a crazy beanie baby thief stole them from our back yard. Remember how psycho people were about the estimated future value of those things? On Ebay, a pristine version of Wormie Lippy is worth maybe $5. The only people who made money off of that fad was the Ty company.
Wormie Lippy

Her favorite movie that she watched almost everyday was "Jack", commonly known as the "Nightmare Before Christmas". My mom thought it was a little strange that such a cute little blond girl loved such a goth movie, but she always let her watch it. 
Cat's childhood hero, Jack.

Her favorite pastime was playing outside in the dirt. She would make "worm homes" (balls of mud with a dead worm shoved in the middle). She also liked to string her stuffed animals up in the apple tree with jump ropes. My dad always thought it looked a bit like the gallows. Oh, and she loved frogs and toads, which you'll remember are the bane of my existence. 

I am 8 years ahead of Cat in school and I left home for college when she was just 10 years old. Leaving her was hard because she was my baby sister and I knew I wouldn't see the same small person again.  Sometimes, I've been too over protective as an older sister, but she knows it's just because I love her so much. My grandpa Harold died the summer before my senior year of high school and his death struck me twice as hard because he and Catherine were best friends. I couldn't bare thinking about her life without him in it. These are the types of moments that shape us as people though, and I know that she needed to experience struggle just like me in order to become a full person. 
Cat (8) with her infamous
underwater camera.

She did, of course, grow up. I remember seeing her for the first time since Christmas when my fam came to bring me home for the summer after my Freshman year. The pretty little pre-teen she had become was almost unrecognizable from the cute mud lover she was before. 

This phase of her life was full of boyfriends, girl drama, and multiple trips to the principle's office because of inappropriate school outfits. Our family always thought that was bullshit because she always looked great and NOT inappropriate. This is also when she started to write intensely.

She has filled up dozens of journals. I've never read any of them but I know she was writing poems and making drawings. She's been dedicated to her writing for most of her life. And she is great at it. Her poems are so heartbreaking and dark. It's a relatable outlook but not a comfortable one and that's what makes it so valuable. She started a blog last year and I just love reading her work and looking at the pictures she finds to correspond with the poems. 

This is one my favorites:

Robbery of the Spotless Mind

I offered up my head
he took a look, he reached in
plucked out a flower,
set it in the glass beside his bed,
discovered its wilted petals,
and then named me friend,
but never spoke to me again.

She doesn't have a fear of emotional darkness and I think for a lot of people, myself included, it's hard to face that part of our lives in an honest way. I seem to always try to make everything better in my mind when sometimes, allowing ourselves to feel hurt is more beneficial. A lot of her sentiments are dead on when considering the female experience with love and heartbreak. Often we don't truthfully express our disappointment because we have been told we will look crazy and are to believe vulnerability is unappealing. Cat's art illustrates the beauty in raw, uninhibited feeling and makes an unapologetic case for truth. 

Cat and my parents at her high school graduation.

She brings so much life into our family. She is a freshman in college this year and lives at home with my parents while attending the community college in Jamestown. The three of them are this cool family unit that makes me feel sad to live so far away. Cat is also the reason our family has actual cats. She loves them and when she was 8 we rescued our first kitten, Luke. The two of them were like brother and sister and it was a huge blow to our family when he disappeared last year. We have two new cats now that bring a lot of joy into the house and Catherine loves them so much. 

Cat with one of the new kittens, Jasper.
My sisters mean the world to me. The relationships we have with each other are my most treasured. As we grow up, and become the people that we want to be, it can be easier to move away from sibling relationships and think of them simply as past pieces from our childhood. I'm lucky to have two strong women who want to have a real place in my life. We put the effort in to stay connected and it means a lot to me that they love me enough to relate to me even though we are three different individuals working on our own life goals and dreams. 

Catherine has inspired me to keep working on my writing and to grow as a creative expressionist.  I can't wait to see what she ends up doing with her talents. She has become such a beautiful compassionate woman and I'm so proud to have her as a sister.

Friday, February 25, 2011

African Women Food Farmers

Disclaimer: In no way shape or form did my mother or anyone else mentioned purposefully or cruelly affect my self image.  I have always been uplifted and supported by my loved ones and all insecurities begin and end with my own self doubts.

In 4th grade, I weighed 75 pounds.  
If you follow this blog you know this was the year I became a feminist.  It was also the year I realized I was fat. Nothing happened.  No one said "You're fat." This realization just sort of came over me as if it was naturally supposed to occur.

Goldfish Bikini
Still have it but my friends
won't let me wear it in public.
(it's 11 yrs old and falling apart)
The summer before 5th grade, I had a bikini on at the beach and my mom made a silly joke about how I had a little belly pudge.  I didn't wear a bikini again until I was in 10th grade. I bought it in Florida on Spring break from Ron Jon Surf Shop. I loved it because it had photos of goldfish on a boob and the butt.  I purchased an XL because I thought that would make me feel less fat in it. I weighed 117 pounds and was a size 2.  It fell off me all the time and my younger sister took some x rated pics of me swimming by mistake with her underwater camera. 

In college, I watched girls in my dorm starve themselves everyday in order to dodge the "Freshmen 15".  I ate a whole bulk box of Hostess Cupcakes the first month because I wanted to prove that I wasn't concerned about gaining weight. After being moderately active in sports as a kid, I refused to do any type of working out.  In fact, I think some of my friends will remember a time when I was adamantly against yoga. My reasoning was not wanting to feel as if I needed to do anything to stay thin.  I felt like that was a weakness for some reason.  So I ate and lounged as much as I wanted. I was a size 6 when I started and a size 10 when I graduated.  

During my first year as a "grown up", I whined to my boyfriend that I wanted to lose 20 pounds.  He looked at me and said I would be fine if I lost 10.  That made me want to lose 30. We broke up. I thought it was because I was gross and fat (not the reasons). I wore clothes a size too big for me and jeans and sweaters in the summer. The idea of being looked at by anyone was too overwhelming.

After moving to Denver,  I became pretty active since I had to bike EVERYWHERE which made me feel better.  The Starbucks I worked at was right across the street from Forever 21.  My weekly tip money went to clothes that were cuter and more weather appropriate, but always empire-waists and loose fitting.  I felt better about myself but started to compare my shape to every other girl I was around.  In my mind, they all had littler waists and better bodies than me.

Back in Chicago I had a job at a chocolate factory. I ate truffles everyday.  I still didn't work out.  Paying two rents (my CO apt was flooded with sewage and I was not released from my lease) and making minimum wage created immense stress and I took it out on the way I saw myself in the mirror.  The fat feeling overcame every thought I had about my appearance.

When I was finally hired for my first "real" job, it came with a free gym membership and  cheap workout classes.  I lost 5 pounds and felt awesome. I weighed 150 pounds.  That number still made me feel fat much like 75 did when I was nine.  So I celebrated the weight loss by gaining 9 pounds and blaming fat for all of my life problems. My gyno even told me that I was "just a bit overweight" for my height of 5'6". 

That was 2 years ago.  Today I weigh less than what I did but that doesn't matter.  I'm still fucked up.  I just got a State ID and I put my weight at 155 (more than I weigh right now) because I thought knowing it was wrong would make me feel better when I looked at it.  That doesn't make sense so don't try to understand.  But now I don't want anyone to see it because it says 155 and once they read that they will KNOW I'm fat, right?

The craziest thing about all of this is I actually think I look great!  Anyone who knows me knows I have a substantial ego when it comes to my looks. I think I'm pretty. And I get plenty of positive attention.  I carry myself as though I have all the confidence in the world. However, I've decided thinking I look thin (which in my mind means "good")  is some sort of reverse body dysmorphic disorder. No matter how positive I feel about my body, I know I'm wrong. I am constantly reminding myself I do not, in fact, look good. (With this post, all of my crazy cards are now on the table.)

Is there a way to not feel fat?  

Friends of mine who weigh much less than me struggle with the fat feeling as well.  I was talking about wanting to lose weight with a former coworker once and she looked at me astonished because she said if she were my size she would feel great.  The grass is always greener I suppose.  

Current Details Cover
And it's not just women.  Plenty of my guy friends get down on themselves for their weight and shape as well. Details mag (marketed to men), has a whole issue dedicated to body image and weight loss. There was even some bullshit about rice cakes being more fattening than fries.  I was surprised to see a lot of the same fat shaming rhetoric from the lady mags so it's not solely a one sided gender problem. But the negative focus is usually on us gals. 

At an Oprah taping I went to about 5 years ago, the big O chose several women from the audience to come on stage and line up according to their pant size.  The actual show had nothing to do with body image and this was just something she did after the taping. Oprah stood by the size zero and hugged her and kept repeating "This is the dream. This is the dream." It was one of the weirdest moments of my life.  Here we have one of the most powerful people in the world longing for something that seems so silly considering the success she has achieved. She also has spoken out a lot about how we need to accept our bodies so to see her be so completely enamored with the size 0 was unsettling. But Oprah is a regular woman just like the rest of us so it shouldn't be too surprizing to learn that she wrestles with the same issues. 

Some of the most beautiful women in the world talk about their constant struggles with their body image.  Julianne Moore says she feels hungry ALL THE TIME and suspects most other women in Hollywood do too. I don't want that. But also I don't want to feel like I'm wearing a coat of extra skin. (That's how I'm referring to my fat these days) I'd also like to stop googling the weight of celebrities just to see how much I would have to lose in order to be their size. Objectifying them in order to serve some sick selfish insecurity isn't really what I should to be doing.

Glamour mag just did a study that revealed that 97% of women are seriously negative towards their bodies every day.  I'm not normally a big fan of these types of magazines because they usually just make me want to buy shit that I don't need.  BUT sometimes Glamour comes out with interesting articles.  This is one of them.  

Basically, they had women note every negative thought they had about their bodies for a day.  97% of women had at least one.  I should say that I am always skeptical of these studies, and this one doesn't necessarily seem too scientific since they aren't very specific about their study controls.  But, I for sure would have responded like one of the negative women who participated so the study is beneficial for me. 

Nothing that they state is very revolutionary.  I know that the problem isn't my actual body. Reviewing the timeline of my relationship with body hate clearly suggests I have deeper issues.  The reason why this article is sort of helping me right now though is that I feel like I'm finally really tired of the self hate.  Remember when I said that I think I am generally good looking?  They list tips to help with focusing on the positive so I'm already off to a good start.  These steps seem manageable and I am actually working out right now (tip 3) because it does make me feel better.   


Here's where it cycles back to being really fucked up...if I am more positive about my body, I'll work out more, eat only when I am actually hungry, not because I'm having anxiety, which will then result in looking better/being better.  Boys will like me! Girls will envy me! I'll finally be the best Julia ever! And I guess I should assume that I will like me, right? (a faux positive feeling typical of a post-Glamour article read so maybe the study is bad for me, who knows?)


It will need to be a process.  Posting this now is a big step.  I wanted to wait until I lost like 40 pounds and could be all "Even though I'm super hot now and not jiggly, I still struggle like everyone else". You know, like all those pretentious celebrities who hawk weigh loss shit after they've lost weight. Or I could have said something like Jennifer Hudson about how I was fine with myself before the weight loss.  That wouldn't be true though.  I'm not fine. I'm not the worst ever, and I don't think that I am alone in the struggle but I want to feel better and stop treating myself so terribly. My life is too good to be wasted on such worries. (Easier said than done)

Women's relationship with food and our bodies is not always about weight and shape.  We are the first food source for human beings, from conception to infancy.  We breastfeed and when children are weaned off of our milk, we cook them dinners and pack their lunches.  We do these things because we care about the health of our families and we want them to be nourished.  For most of my community, food isn't hard to come by.  If we don't eat, if we starve ourselves, that's our choice.  We don't choose that for our children and we wouldn't choose it for our other loved ones.  We tend to only mistreat ourselves while simultaneously caring for others around us.

Some women don't have the luxury of choice.  They don't eat because they have no food.  They can't breastfeed because their bodies are undernourished and can't produce milk. Not because they have implants, feel uncomfortable, or see their breasts as purely sexual instruments.  Hunger affects 2 billion people to varying degrees worldwide.  As natural providers of food to our children through our bodies, the burden of starvation is heaviest on women.

As I mentioned in the anniversary post, I've been thinking about what it means to be a feminist and why it matters.  While this post is a lot more personal and not about a particular woman, I did want to tie in African women food farmers because they are an actual example of feminism in action.  Feminism that is about empowering women to push society forward.  I guess I could have tied my fat loathing into a figure who "loves her curves!" But what good does that do? How is that positive feminism or a new take on an old problem?  Sure positive body affirmation is something that benefits women, however, it is still superficial.  
Women Farming

African women who farm food are the key to their entire continent's future viability.  They are responsible for producing 80% of Africa's food.  They grow, harvest, market, and invest. Their gender does not guarantee them land rights to the fields they farm and they are under- represented in their governments. Many believe their misfortune lies in the hands of God or their biological disposition. They don't know that this is a manmade societal restriction that is crippling their efforts to keep their people afloat.  

The Hunger Project has awarded rural female farmers a grant to help subsidize their farming.  The strategy for the project was devised by African women leaders.  These women know of the struggles that their sisters are facing and are working from the inside to establish a system that benefits all Africans.  Many of them are out and proud feminists and gender rights activists.  Real feminism includes feeding people through positive action; not castrating the male masses.

How does this tie into my body image issues? It doesn't really.  But the reality is that there are many more women in the world who are worrying about the survival of their communities than how fat their asses look in skinny jeans. Or in my case, my calves. I hate my calves. It's also good to be reminded that our bodies aren't just objects to be gawked at. We serve a greater purpose and that is often forgotten the further away from nature our western culture moves. 

The logical way of dealing with this is to just get over it and appreciate what I have around me. I'm overfed because I have the luxury of having emotional issues, not survival struggles. I'm not emaciated because I don't have to spend hours a day in a field harvesting my dinner. I'm not obese, but I exhibit the same types of destructive, gluttonous habits of a person who expects life to be handed to them in the easiest way possible. In order for me to become a better feminist and a stronger woman, I need to set my sights on something that isn't so fully fixated on me.

Some idiot once told me women need to accept that they are judged on their appearance first and foremost.  That's just the way it is, he said.  Honestly, I believe a lot of people do accept that way of thought.  If I didn't I wouldn't have all of these complexes.  But because I believe it, I contribute to its choke hold on the way women's bodies are assessed and degraded.  I'd like to be better than that. There are plenty of women who are beyond this mindset. They don't buy it and they live beyond the restrictions by not obsessing over their physical appearances. Someday I'll be there. Good thing I have this blog to hold me accountable while I go through the process.  

Friday, February 4, 2011

Maxine Hong Kingston

In the past two months, I have not been asked to show my ID twice. The first time, I forgot my new state ID and begged for the mercy of the doorman to let me in the bar to celebrate my friend Brian's birthday.  The second time I was buying two bottles of wine at Trader Joe's and the checkout guy didn't even almost ask me to prove my legal status.  Not melt down material, but "why not!??" raced through my mind as I left the store and the only possible conclusion is that I no longer look like I am under 21. 

Now, I shouldn't look like I am under 21.   I am not under 21.  I am over 21.  But still.  I am constantly told that I look younger than I am especially after meeting new people.  However, 2014 is only 3 years away and we all know what happens in 2014.  I turn 30.  

Hopefully, everyone is sufficiently annoyed with this post so far.  It's completely moronic.  Unfortunately, it is also completely honest.  Aging worries me as much as that makes me cringe to admit out loud.  I have tried desperately to rise above this commonplace, anti-intellectual societal phobia.  

I wrote this in my poetry class last year:

I want to feel my skin slowly ripple and crease.
first drop of rain on the mist painted pond
glancing through silver strands of hair
while quiet bones settle into moonlit muscles

first drop of rain on the mist painted pond
when my eardrums sift away all unnecessary sound
while quiet bones settle into moonlit muscles
fingers displayed by lace skinned hands

when my eardrums sift away all unnecessary sound
softening heart pulses ignite distant pasts
fingers displayed by lace skinned hands
finale exhale weaving being with wind

softening heart pulses ignite distant pasts
glancing through silver strands of hair
finale exhale weaving being with wind
i want to feel my skin slowly ripple and crease.

A declaration I thought would keep me from buying into this:

It's that damn skin pinch that makes it so appealing, which should creep me out because it's rather gross.  Idk.  Maybe the fact that it's called "Youth Code" and the bottles are all shiny. (Does anyone else think that the blonde looks a bit like the copy girl that Ross slept with when he and Rachel were on a break?) I want to believe in it.  The purchase has yet to be made, and I probably won't actually go through with it since I know these creams are nothing more than regular moisturizers.  But, to be candid, I have purchased an anti-aging product before.  5 (!) years ago when I went to Armenia I paid $100 (it was my first day, I didn't understand the conversion rate) for this:
Armenian Princess Cream
Oooouuuu! Yes, it looks pretty gross.  I lost the lid and cracked the pot (which was a major selling point).  The goo, in its glory days before it began to dry out and evaporate, made my face puffy and red because I'm pretty sure I'm allergic to it.  But I still use it every now and then.  Sigh.  

Taylor and her husband Russell
So even though I'm actively trying to rise above this vain insecurity, I'm having a lot of trouble and 
I fear it will just get 
worse as I inevitably grow older.  

I haven't concealed the fact that I LOVE trashy TV especially the Real Housewives series on Bravo.  The city profiled right now is Beverly Hills and in the season's beginning I had a lot of trouble stomaching Taylor.  38 years old and overly chopped and shaped from various cosmetic surgeries, she spoke freely about having to keep a young and svelte physique to keep her middle aged, douchey husband interested.  She kept repeating that she feared being traded in for a "newer model".  EWWW!  I just can't understand how this is a valid fear.  Do relationships really end because guys think they deserve to fuck women half their age to retain a sense of youth? Do husbands really throw away wives and mothers of their children to keep themselves from feeling the affects of age? 
Kelsey and Camille

Well, yes according to this show.  Now that the finale has aired, Camille and Kelsey Grammar, another couple on the show, are divorcing rather quickly so he can marry the 29 year old flight attendant he knocked up while living away from his wife and their two young children.  My original feelings of disdain for Taylor are apparently not fair because in her social circle at least, the "newer model" fear seems to be very real.  

Now I know that this is a "reality" show and that I shouldn't read so much into it, but at the same time, this is what we as a people are putting out in the world as an example of modern society.  And I do know of people that have personally experienced these types of things in their real life.  So what am I supposed to take away as a young woman?  Where am I to see my value?  Do I only have a few good years left of being fresh and desirable before I wither away and vanish from site?  I can see the appeal of trying to combat this by simply succumbing to it.  It's technically easier to just find peace with the way things are and to find my place within this structure.  The following is a great convo I had with my friend Renee after my last post: 

reneeschultz77: great new blog post
1:10 PM me: thanks!
  you helped!!
  our chats are great
 reneeschultz77: thanks
  you bring up many good points
  i guess im used to the status quo
  i forget
1:11 PM me: everyone is
  myself included
  its hard to think about this stuff
  its easier to just have things the way they are
  but i think that when you really think about it
  everyone wants things to change even if they dont realize it
 reneeschultz77: agreed
1:13 PM and THAT is why your blog is so good
 me: thanks
  and thanks for reading

Me (26) with Renee.
So ignore the ego prompting praise she gives me that I shamelessly love :)  What's important to think about is the fact that we all forget that the way things are don't actually have to be the way things are.  Acceptance for us is voluntary, meaning we are fortunate to have a system that let's us challenge the way things work.  This is a huge luxury that we often take for granted.  It's dangerous to fore go our right to challenge certain issues.  The best thing I have learned from writing my thoughts about gender in this blog is how overwhelmingly receptive lots of different people are about questioning the state of our society.  When I say that everyone wants change, I really fully believe that.  Even men, who seem to benefit the most from the way things are.  That's just a facade though.  Holding women back is just as damaging for the male population.  And our rules for what make men men are completely degrading.

Some of my guy friends find themselves in situations that value perceived macho-ness over actual integrity.  They have to deal with things that aren't fair or appropriate.  What are you supposed to say to an invitation from your boss to a strip club or listening to coworkers talk about their affairs with young secretaries (two real examples that some of my guy friends have experienced)?  Men who see beyond the petty and small definition of masculinity that is advertised as the status quo are ostracized if they speak against it.  

Just as Taylor and Camille feel the need to look as young as possible in order to retain their value in the eyes of their partners, I assume that their husbands have a bit of pressure to stay financially successful to maintain their power among their peers.  And clearly, there are plenty of young women willing to attach themselves to married, older men.  I read an article by a woman who used to do this and she said that the men loved showing off their young mistresses to their friends.  The wife, husband, and "newer model" are all angling to maintain their grip on a piece of youth's authority.  Sure, it's all horrible and indefensible, but it has to be considered when we try to find a way to approach the idea of change.  

Age needs to be looked at in a new way before we can move from the desire to postpone or contain it.  The conversation needs to change.  A leading figure in this progressive pursuit is Maxine Hong Kingston.  

Maxine at 14.
Kingston is a professor emeritus at UC Berkeley and a noted author and feminist.  She has published several books about asserting herself as a strong Chinese-American woman.  Her latest book "I Love A Broad Margin to My Life" takes on her fears about aging and what it means to get older.  

Feminists are held to an unreasonable set of standards.  Because we are working to break many of the stereotypes that have boxed women in, many believe that we shouldn't struggle with the issues we are trying to erase.  Kingston writes this:

"Am I pretty at 65?
What does old look like?
Sometimes I am wrinkled, sometimes not.
So much depends upon lighting.
A camera crew shot pictures of me — one of
"5 most influential people over 60
in the East Bay." I am homely; I am old.
I look like a tortoise in a curly white wig."

She then explains the shame she has in holding onto such a vain concern.  But it's something we all deal with.  We are told from birth that the value women hold is in their appearance.  We are also told that our value fades as we get older because there isn't beauty in wrinkled skin or gray hair.  Kingston suggests redefining our idea of what “pretty” actually is.  We all have a different definition of what this means to each of us, however, these individual ideas are blanketed under the general belief of acceptable attractiveness.  Time to change the blanket.

Pageant Girls

Gag if you must (Kelly), but I like watching “Toddlers & Tiaras”.  Sorry, but I don’t care.  It’s a world I have never been a part of and I want to understand what makes parents dress their living, breathing children up in outfits that make them look like dolls.  Painting their little faces, spray tanning their skin, pulling and curling their hair. 

Time and time again, episode after episode, in attempts to explain why they think the pageant scene is the best activity for their small daughters, they say that beauty is powerful.  They want their daughters to be considered beautiful so they can marry a rich man, win the Miss America title, and be important in society. 

One mom lamented that “beauty matters.  I was a beauty queen and then I wasn’t.”  Meaning, she grew up and not "beautifully".  Her husband said that if it was a contest between his wife and his daughter, there would be no contest, his daughter would surely win.  I thought that was devastatingly painful to listen to.  What is going to happen to his daughter when she grows up?  Will she struggle with feeling valuable as well?

Before and after the "flipper".
To prepare for an upcoming pageant, a mother enrolled her daughter in a dance class.  The little girls were instructed at the end of the class to repeat the phrase “I love myself the way I am.  There is nothing I need to change.”  On pageant day, this same girl was fitted with her hair piece, given a “flipper” (fake teeth), had eye lashes glued to her lids, caked on make up, and was instructed to “shake it” for the judges so she could take home the big crown.  Her mother said at first it was strange to see her 4 year old dressed like a 17 year old, but that’s what it takes to win.  What lesson stays with her daughter?  The “nothing you need to change” part or the “what it takes to win” part?

And isn’t it interesting that these girls, that can and should only be described as young, are being made to look older?  Inevitably, when they are “older” and on The Real Housewives, they will be trying to look younger.  That’s the cycle of modern femininity.

Personally, I feel that I keep getting better as I get older.  My tastes become more refined.  I know what I want.  I know more of who I am every day that passes.  Because I’m more confident, I feel more beautiful.  When I think of myself as a college student, I sometimes shutter at the lack of experience I had, at how much I took for granted.  Now though, I feel more solid and in control, which makes me feel more valuable.   And why shouldn't this increase as I get older?  Why shouldn't I become better?

Maxine talks about what it means to be an elder.  How our collection of experience over the years can be passed down to the next generation and how we can leave behind knowledge that will last well after we pass on.  She says this is a place that we should strive to achieve and can help us live out our later years in a better more fulfilling way.   Being an elder comes more from experience than from actual age.  She believes that you can become an elder no matter your age, as long as you actively pass along what you learn.  Maxine says this makes you a leader and you can help others find meaning in the everyday life we all face.

Me (17) with my Grandparents.
When I was 16, I caused a terrible car accident that resulted in the loss of a woman's life.  2011 is the 10 year anniversary of this experience and to say that my early adult years were challenging would be a colossal understatement.  The idea of being an elder stands out to me because I feel that I have a relationship with death that most will (thankfully) not experience.  Every year that passes is a year that I can live appreciating my life, the people in it, and the many many luxuries I am privileged to have.  And I can tell others how valuable our lives are because I have gained a unique understanding through my personal tragedy.

Kingston has helped me realize that aging is not simply about losing youth, but about gaining life.  She writes:
                                 "I can accumulate time and lose time?"

At first I thought, "how scary!"  I imagined the hourglass losing sand so quickly.  However, I know that gaining years is something that should never be taken for granted.  It seems like an oxymoron to fear age and also death.  We don't want to die young but we don't want to get old?  When we consider age in the way Kingston challenges us to, it becomes a better use of our mental abilities.  Worrying about wrinkles, while a real concern for most of us, should start to fade once we start appreciating experience as much as youth.   

Maxine at 70.
Kingston is beautiful at 70.    And I feel lucky to live in an era where women are lasting longer in the public eye than ever before.  Betty White has had the best year of her career and she is 89!  40 years ago an actress was considered too old when she turned 30.  Now we have Susan Sarandon, Meryl Streep, Annette Benning, Helen Mirren, and many many other women who just keep getting more roles and exposure.  They are also speaking out against manipulating their looks to fit into the youth standard.  Helena Bonham Carter, who I LOVE, just made a statement against injections and other age "eliminators".

I hope we are on the cusp of a changing tide.  New beauty is all ages.   We are experiencing a change in sentiment about what is expected of women as we grow older.  I know that I'm ready to face my coming years head on and I know that if I make it another day I will simply feel thankful.  Maxine and all the other women who are making sure their voices are heard in their twilight years are going to be my inspiration.