Monthly Archives

November 2015

Muffin top, middle age spread and meltdowns.

The other day, I was out with my 30-something friend. Julie. and lamented that I have middle-age spread.

“You have what?”, she asked.

“Middle-age spread”, I answered.

“What’s that?”, she asked.

“Middle-age spread”, I answered.

“What’s that?”, she asked again.

“Middle. Age. Spread.” I said at greater volume, slower speed and just the right amount of sarcasm.

“I. Heard. You. “, she said right back, “I just don’t know what it is”.


Once  I described it, she redeemed herself briefly by saying, “Well, at least I know what muffin top is”. Then she added, “Because I remember you freaking out at yours”.

(Seriously I need new friends)

Case of the muffin top meltdown

It’s true. I did freak out and it was memorable. I was on my way to meet her that day when, passing a mirror on my way out, I noticed “something” hanging over the top of my pants. Obviously the pants were the problem. So I changed. As it happened, the pants I changed into were problematic as well. Three more pairs of pants and untold numbers of tops later, I realized my clothes were fine. The problem was that my muscles had fallen and couldn’t get up…ever.

I remember reading that aging was liberating. You became stronger, more sure. You swore more and said what was on your mind. You became more radical, less insecure and more vibrant. Firm skin was replaced by solid self-belief. You were mature and free.


Having had a lithe, athletic body my whole life, I didn’t feel liberated in the least. I felt pressured. I felt fat. I felt not ready. I was determined to get rid of that muffin top. Perhaps all those older liberated women had given up. Perhaps, in the words of Janis Joplin, they had “nothing left to lose”.

Me? I still had a youthful body to maintain. I was going exercise more, eat less and forego the wine.

It didn’t work. I’ve always been fairly disciplined with regard to exercise. I don’t eat meat. I hardly know how to cook. I’m not a huge fan of desserts. Nor do I drink a lot of wine (okay fine, but not enough to get fat on).

quote-people-often-say-that-beauty-is-in-the-eye-of-the-beholder-and-i-say-that-the-most-liberating-salma-hayek-81491To add restrictions on an already pretty modest lifestyle in terms of indulgences was not the answer.

Instead, I gave up, but in a good way.

I began to accept. I began to look at myself, my lifestyle and my choices as a whole.

Rather than fuss over my wrinkles, softening skin, extra weight and my tiresome vanity, I took complete stock of myself. I looked at my heart, my talents, my spirit, my courage and my intellect, and then began to measure myself by my standards. I realized that I’m kinda “all that”, you know?

It also occurred to me that I’d never, but ever, include anyone in my circle if they critiqued me over signs of aging.

Somewhere between my muffin top meltdown and expanding waistline, I realized I didn’t have to fight to maintain my youth. In fact, there was nothing I had to fight for. It’s not that freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose. Freedom’s another word for realizing you have everything you need.

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When did Mom become a four letter word?

Every morning I used to walk by the second cutest cat ever (mine was the first, but you probably guessed that). I’d stop, speak gently to her and send loving blinks. She was a skittish cat. Still, though she initially ran away, she began to sit sweetly and blink back at me.

One day, a man who lived in the area, saw this exchange and was floored, “She never does that. She always runs away”, he said, “you must have a mother-like quality”.

The second he said that, his face registered panic, his eyes grew big with fear, and he quickly blurted,  “I don’t mean that in a bad way”.

Bad way? When did having a nurturing quality become bad? When did calling someone mother-like become offensive – so offensive, in fact, that some poor schlep would fear retribution?

I’ve been called many things. “Mother-like” is not one of them. Those who know me might say it was inaccurate…okay, fine, many who know me would say it was inaccurate, but still, it was a great compliment.

How could it be anything but?

Moms are our first love.

My grandfather used to say,”The hand that rocks the cradle is the hand that rules the world.” It was a quote taken from a poem written in 1865 by William Ross Wallace that praises the role of mothers and the power they wield in shaping our world.

What happened to that celebration? What happened to that regard? When did soccer mom, mom jeans, stage mothers and mom mini vans – become parodies of women’s noble qualities and contributions.

When researching this blog I also discovered Tiger Moms (too strict) and Snowplow Moms (they ensure that nothing stands in the way of their child’s success). Even Super Moms, once defined as Moms with thriving careers, perfect children and positive attitudes, are now being shamed as harried failures.

And don’t get me started on the stereotypes of mothers-in-law and stepmothers. Not to mention the fact that a Daddy’s Girl is awesome, but a Momma’s Boy?

Oh come on, give Moms a break. Moms loved us first and gave us our first home, our first sanctuary.

The persecuted Mom.

I’m not entirely sure how society has come to this. To my mind (this is all opinion based), there was a time when we didn’t have media to pick up on differences and tendencies, then create trends from them that and, in their predominance, create a skewed perception of norms.

Instead, men and women had roles of equal importance. Men brought home the money and women brought up the children. Actually, women’s roles were more important.

Fast forward (admittedly a lot and simplifying a sociologically complex subject)  to a time when media went from print to radio to TV and had wider and wider reach.

What’s more, media was run primarily by men. This isn’t an anti-male jab, by the way. Given their years in business, men naturally held the biggest positions in media and owned businesses that fuelled ad dollars. This, I feel, resulted in shows and advertising that were heavily male influenced, as were the depictions of women in these shows.

Moms in particular.

For the longest time, Moms were chipper, stay-at-home ladies in heels. They moved into a working Mom phase where they (inexplicably) kept it all together while maintaining that “Mom” safety and wisdom. Moms were never especially young (most were around 40 years old), nor were they sexy.

However, most were very likeable.

I loved every TV Mom from Carol Brady to Claire Huxtable to Shirley Partridge to my very favorite ever, Lorelai Gilmore.

Now, however, we’re exposed to everything from Allison Janney’s self-centred recovering coke addict to Julia Bowen’s  basket case who’s entire body looks like it’s in a constant state of electrocution.Worse yet, we also have women like Mama June and Kris Jenner taking up a lot of TV time – thank you pop culture.

Curious about the causes, but serious about the solution.

Somewhere along the line I suspect a few things happened somewhat simultaneously (again I’m simplifying):

  1. Women began having a greater voice in, and to, the media. This resulted in a less sanitized version of mothers, but sadly, a more exaggerated one.
  2. Whether chipper or anxious and troubled, mothers have rarely been portrayed as sexual. They were the ones looking after children, after all.
  3. Women have been having children later in life so not only aren’t they sexy, they’re also not young, nor do they tend to be carefree and submissive.
  4. Youth and sexuality grew remarkably in value, and if you look at the expressions of young models, submission is hot.

So, over the years, young, sexy women have been celebrated, which in turn has set standards of appeal that Moms can rarely attain (not that they should!) – especially today’s Moms.

There are now more and more frazzled working women over 40 with children and teens in tow who have inordinate responsibilities.  It’s not sexy. It’s also not fair to expect that it would be.

Again, I’m not sure how Moms have become  fair game for disrespect and potshots. Is it because of a male dominated culture that celebrates youth and sexiness? Is it that women now have earning power and we’re  a threat to the power structure? Could it have absolutely nothing to do with men and we can’t use them as scapegoats for our lack of self-esteem?

Does it even matter how we’ve arrived here when what matters is making it stop?

I think we need to be aware of the unfair portrayals and take a more critical approach to how we perceive them and ourselves. For instance, is the Mom being portrayed on a sitcom actually a mess or is she justifiably having difficulty keeping it together?

The more aware we are, the better we’ll be at reframing the message these negative portrayals deliver, and the better we’ll be at preventing their destructive effect on our psyches. It’ll be better for men too. The next time a positive, well-meaning guy says “you’re Mom-like”, he might not fear the wrath of womankind.

Over 40 and undermined.

I spent my early life living in a French Canadian city. It was a wonderful place, but it had strict language laws. Billboards, posters, signs – all were in French. When there was English, the words were given significantly less prominence than their French equivalent.

When entering stores, restaurants, coffee shops and offices  – every greeting began with “Bonjour”, not “Hello”.This was the norm. It was all I knew. It had no negative impact on me  – that I was aware.

Then I moved and everything changed.

Suddenly I was in an environment where bus boards, billboards, store signs, traffic signs, posters, flyers, brochures, people from government workers to gelato servers  – all “spoke” me  and it felt good!

Actually, it felt great – I mattered!

Until then I hadn’t realized how damaging  “not being addressed” (or rather, being neglected) was to my self-esteem and spirit. It’s just not a healthy way to treat another human being.

Yoo hoo!

And yet…here we are.

Women over 40 face some degree of being overlooked every single day. By the time they’re in their 50’s, they  face it to a much larger degree and begin to feel its negative impact. Women over 60 start getting used to it, however dispiriting. Women over 70 and 80 don’t even notice anymore. Why would they? Years of neglect becomes their norm.

I was in line at Gap the other day. Four tills were open. There was a young couple at one. At each of the other tills, three middle aged women stood with purchases in hand.

And yet…

Behind each of these tills were four posters: a white girl, an Asian girl, a white boy and an African American boy – all in their 20’s.

So much for diversity. So much for connecting with your customers.

Gap isn’t the only culprit (to be fair, they used 63-year old Anjelica Huston in one of their ad campaigns, I just wished it had carried through to the store where I spend money, but alas). Even Lululemon, which brilliantly turned “hippy yoga” into a trend, ignores older women even though they make up a large portion of yoga enthusiasts.

I picked up “the” fall Vogue and saw one older model – Jessica Lang, perfectly photoshopped.

As usual, none of the ads catered to me. However, this year, I put the magazine right back down, turned on my runners, and left the store with my head high with defiant dignity (that’s right Vogue, you can charge over $100,000 for an page, but you’re not getting my $10…you’ve been soooo dissed)

All to say that a major demographic is overlooked on a daily basis in North America and by the very brands that take our money.

Dear brands: You pay attention, we pay money. Deal?

And yet…

According to an article Business Insider, women 45 years old spend $750 billion annually on clothes. If you look at this screen shot I took from the article, even though women in their 20’s figure most prominently on fashion ads, they actually don’t spend any more on clothes than women in their 70’s.

screen shot 2013-11-19 at 3.34.22 pm

What’s more, a recent article in Adweek says, “Worldwide, consumers over 50 spent more than $8 trillion in 2010; in 2020, that is projected to rise to $15 trillion.”

Read the uplifting article here.

So why aren’t over 40’s showing up in more ads? Why are so many brands happy to be paid by us even though they don’t pay us the slightest attention?

The good news is that some brands are beginning to recognize our worth – and they’re being rewarded for it.

When Celine used 80-year old author, Joan Didion, in its print campaigns, they went viral.

Other luxury brands like St. Laurent, Louis Vuitton and Kate Spade have followed suit. Even mid-income brands have joined in – from L’Oreal using Helen Mirren and Twiggy – to American Apparel featuring then-unknown 62-year old Jacky O’Shaughnessey in their campaigns.

We have a long way to go before using older models goes from “maverick” to mainstream. So, for my part, I’ll support those brands that represent me more often than those that don’t.

I’ll also keep noticing the inequity and pointing it out in this blog so that we can catch the neglect and hopefully become a bigger, stronger and more powerful voice in stopping it. Like the blog? Then like the Facebook page!

Connie Briton. Older, wise asser and that’s why we love her.

connieConnie Britton is an accomplished actress. At present, she’s a main character on Nashville. She’s also known for her roles in Friday Night Lights and American Horror Story.

She’s been nominated for several Emmies, a Golden Globe, as well as Critic’s Choice awards.

Besides her artistic achievements, she’s devoted her time to charity and humanitarian work both in the US and internationally. Last year, she was appointed as a Good Will Ambassador to United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).  She’s also a passionate supporter of women’s empowerment and health issues.

But do you know what she gets asked about most often? Her hair. There’s even a Twitter fan account dedicated to it because, well, that’s not crazy at all.

Hair tips over talent.

Due to my own odd mix of insecurity and defiance, I admit that I kind of like the fact that reporters and audiences still find something attractive about this 48-year old female (and why shouldn’t they!).

What I don’t like, however, is how focused they are on that one shallow and diminishing attribute when there are so many more substantial ones on which they can concentrate.

Clearly, she’s not happy with it either.

Britton’s goal with this video was to destigmatize feminism and pay tribute to the true value women  offer. She did so in collaboration with the Representation Project for its #AskHerMore campaign.

The campaign encourages red carpet reporters to celebrate artistic achievements and not send the message that a woman’s value lies only in her youth and beauty.

I’m thrilled with Britton’s video. I think it’s so positive. I love that she’s an older, successful actor who’s taking a risk (after all, feminism can be polarizing) and speaking out.

While I love the fashion we see at award shows, surely there’s a negative impact on our society, and women’s place in it, when accomplishments are overwhelmingly ignored in favour of sartorial choices  – and in front of a huge national television audience. I think that’s what concerns me the most. There’s astounding reach.

Do you have any older female sheroes you’d like to see featured here? In my previous post I came up with Annie Lennox and Wanda Jackson. Someone on my Facebook page suggest Bette Midler (who’s as amazing as always).

Please be sure to send me your suggestions and feedback. Also feel free to post them on the Aging Gracefully I Am Facebook page so that others can join in the discussion.