I am feeling very inadequate. While I have recently, at the age of 55, moved to a new city and a house, completed a new novel, and said good-bye to my last child as she heads off to college; while I have, in the past six years ended two marriages and started a new relationship, I have not, for example: climbed a mountain, alone, started a cupcake business, left my job and devoted myself to volunteer work. Nor have I overcome a huge and debilitating illness. I have not moved to a foreign country, gone back for another degree or begun a clothing line.
I used to like More magazine. It had models over 40 on the cover (even if they were, still, airbrushed) and it had a good amount of decent reading for those of us not permanently in our twenties or early thirties. But lately I sigh every time I pick up that magazine. It is constantly exhorting me to re-invent myself and, frankly, I am rather exhausted.
I know women’s magazines have no real relationship to life as most of us live it, while I am aware that those tomes often give the most bizarre sex advice (Nerve magazine does a superb job of skewering the sex advice in both women’s and men’s magazines)—all the while showcasing sex on the cover, because sex sells. I realize quite well that the editorial tries hard to take something ordinary and, well, turn it into a service piece (one recent article was on how to take a relaxing bath: apparently you dim the lights and use soothing bubble bath. Well, what a shock!) I am more than aware that everything that can be photo-shopped is photo-shopped. I am not quite sure what even draws me to those magazines, aside from the fact that, yes, I am an admitted addict to even the idea of anything that can make my skin look “younger” (this side of surgery). BUT….
I am really really weary of the constant push for us women to re-invent ourselves.
I am simply sick of the word itself.
We are supposed to re-invent our home décor, our relationships, our marriages, our work lives. We are supposed to re-think our hairstyles and makeup and even our purchases—combining inexpensive trendy pieces with the expensive long-term purchase so that our wardrobe can be re-invented. We are pushed to re-examine everything, all the time, each month, with new examples of women who have gone out on a very thin limb and survived to tell the tale.
Those women, while admirable, are as foreign to most of us as an alien landing would be. There is simply no way possible for most women I know to jettison their old lives and embark on a completely new one—not that most of us would really even want to.
I have a good friend struggling to live with Stage 4 cancer. I have another who has recently married and inherited an instant family of two young children; still another woman I know left her marriage and her town and started a new job in a big city. Other friends are struggling with long-term marriages and kids leaving home and unemployment and, especially for so many of us, aging parents who need our care. I can’t think of a woman I know in her forties, fifties or sixties who isn’t overloaded with the stuff of ordinary life and, despite that, doing a bang-up job of coping and even thriving.
Women are amazingly flexible. We can take a licking and keep on ticking, as the old Timex commercial had it. We can bob and weave with every blow and still land a punch or two ourselves. And, most importantly, remain on our feet, as shaky as they may be sometimes. But this push to make us feel that what we are doing is never enough makes me nuts. For years we were not thin enough, not pretty enough, not pliable enough. For the past twenty years we have seen women of our generation remake themselves physically with implants and liposuction and injections. It seems like each day a new face cream or serum promises us eternal youth. And then, as we grow ever older we are beset by examples of women who have chucked everything and gone for the gold.
I think that most women spend a lot of their lives re-inventing themselves every day: each new challenge, each new trauma, each new joy, they all mean that we have to re-think are values, our coping mechanisms, our reactions. Feminism is still evolving, we are still being pitted against each other for the decisions we make, the way we choose to live. So is it any wonder that we must confront our own selves on a regular basis? But is that any less transforming than the complete life reinventions profiled in magazines?
Just today I got an email that tells me how to transform my body. I don’t think so: at 56 my body is beyond transformation, unless I go under the knife. Yes, I exercise and watch what I eat, but I am not deluded that I can have the body of a thirty year old, or even, without two-hour-a-day workouts, one resembling 65-year-old role model Helen Mirren.
None of the women I know are lazy in any description of the word but the constant call to re-invent ourselves from top to bottom and inside and out can make us feel that no matter what we do it is never enough. What is enough, however, is the siren call to transform. I call for a moratorium on the word re-invention, especially for women. We are doing more than enough as it is.