One of my guilty secrets is watching TLC’s What Not to Wear. I’ve seen a disturbing trend on the show. One of the things women do over and over again is shop in the junior department shown by their clothing sizes being odd numbers. Women’s clothing sizes are even numbers. When hosts Stacy London and Clinton Kelly point this out to women, the main reason women give for buying clothing for teenagers is that they don’t want to look “old.” These are not women in the mid-late 20s. These are women in the mid-late 30s. The main reason this show is one of the my guilty pleasures is their view on women: it’s okay to be a mature woman with curves. It’s okay to dress and act our age. It does not make us “old.” It just means we’re dressing and being the women we are instead of the teenager our culture idolizes and tells us that this is how we should look (and by inference act). Our culture has a sick fascination with keeping women in perpetual adolescence.
Last year I wrote a post about a Total commercial that nauseates me (they still run it). In the commercial, upon learning that her teenage daughter doesn’t believe she fit into little, itty-biity hip huggers, the mother is shown eating Total cereal. At the end of the commercial the mother tells her daughter, “I want those back.” My slightly sarcastic observation was: “Because every woman should be the same size she was when she was 15.” Our culture believes “that fitting into the jeans one wore as a teenager is a worthy goal to go after and attain. To be perfectly honest I have no desire to starve myself back into the size 5 jeans I wore over 20 years ago. I like being healthy and being at a healthy weight (not to mention my size 12 jeans are much more comfortable, thank you very much Total).”
I like being a woman. I like my curves. The older I get, the more confident I am, and the happier I am. I like dressing like a woman. I walk by the junior department and think no way! I’m a woman–I’m a size 12–that’s Marilyn Monroe sexy baby. (Depending on what you read Marilyn was a size 12 or 14.) Look at the picture: Marylin had curves: she had hips! I have no desire to be a stick like Lindsey Lohan or Paris Hilton or the whole hosts of young female celebrities who are starving themselves. I just don’t think malnutrition looks good on a woman. I love it when I see a woman on TV who has meat on her bones. I’ll never forget when Law and Order: Special Victims Unit came out, and I saw Mariska Hargitay. The woman had curves: she looked like a woman, not a stick. I started watching the show for that reason alone.
This obsession with adolescent thinness leaves the impression that women aren’t supposed to take up room. In Holy Listening: The Art of Spiritual Direction, Margaret Guenther makes the observation, “rarely addressed, in spiritual terms, is womenâ€™s own deep dislike of their bodies, their dissatisfaction with certain features, and their pervasive sense that they need to lose weightâ€“literally to diminish themselves.” To diminish ourselves, to believe we should not take up room, to believe we were meant to be small. This is what our culture tells us by insisting we do not grow up. Don’t take up any more space. There isn’t room.
But culture is wrong. There is plenty of room. Room for women to be mature, intelligent, and curvy adults. All grown up. Knowing what we want and going after it. Dreaming and making those dreams come true. Taking up space, making ourselves bigger, not apologizing for our even sized clothing. Admitting that being 30-something is not “old.” Telling the truth: your 30s are when you start living. And for that reason I toast Stacy, Clinton, and What Not to Wear. They tell women the truth: you don’t have to be a perpetual teenager. You can grow up. You can be mature. You can take up all the space you want.
The picture is from Ellen’s Place.