Part one of a two-part essay
From guest Gero-Punk
May 01, 2014 was my thirty-third birthday. It didn’t feel different from any other day. Of course, I was a little bit happier that day than on most mornings. It was probably the warmest May 1st I could recall, and it was the warmest day of the year so far. I woke up earlier than usual to call my honorary granddaughter and wish her a happy eleventh birthday on her new phone. She returned the happy birthday wishes.
Thirty-three isn’t a “milestone,” like getting to drive a car, or entering a bar for the first time. Just a new number I have to get used to saying should anyone ask me how old I am. Should it mean something more? What does turning thirty-three really mean to me? Should I be concerned? Society puts so much stock in chronological age. Already I have had well-intentioned people say to me things like “happy 25th birthday,” “33? Oh you are just a baby still,” “you don’t look that old!,” “so do you feel older and wiser today?” I feel older and wiser than I did when I was 25, not necessarily more so than yesterday, though. I surely don’t feel like a “baby,” and I find such a statement more or less insulting. How old does thirty-three look, exactly? Is there a common look of thirty-three? These are all just very strange statements. Yet, they are so common because in our culture the thing to do is to emphasize chronological age, while trying to flatter people by telling them they still fit right in with a youthful ideal.
I look like me––at thirty-three.
I don’t think I want to be “young.” Were I to focus on the chronological aspect of my birthday, I would simply want to celebrate the many experiences I have had the pleasure and pain of knowing that got me to this day. I don’t want to go back in time. I surely don’t want to be twenty-five years-old again! So, I don’t want to be young, but I don’t think I want to be old either. I think I will start responding with “I’m thirty-three-years-knowing.”
In honor of my thirty-third birthday, I am going to embrace the fluidity of the symbolic maiden-mother-crone goddesses, and I will savor each transition. Rather than celebrate chronological age, I will celebrate my awareness of and ability to evoke my potential cronehood. According to Ruth Ray (2004), “the word crone derives from crown in matriarchal cultures. The figure of the crone thus represents a queenly status, a position of coming-into-one’s-own-authority. This status is acquired only through time and experience, after moving through previous phases in which one’s authority is attributed to sources outside the self” (112). This was me on my thirty-third birthday. And this has probably been me a time or two in the past. Though being thirty-three doesn’t give me any more crone-like authority than I had the day before my birthday, it does feels like an appropriate time to consciously call upon my cronehood. A time to honor the experiences I have that afford me crone status.
I am in the “mother” phase of my life right now. Most of what I do is reflected outward and focused on relationships––maintaining them, protecting them, lifting others up while often sacrificing my own needs to do so. I do greatly enjoy this phase of my life most of the time; as I am in the mothering phase both theoretically and physically. I have two sons. My world revolves around them. When my choices are not entirely based on my sons, they can be motivated romantically.
Ray (2004) states:
The mother is motivated by the desire to give and receive attention, approval, affiliation, and love. This archetype supplies physical, psychological, and spiritual support to others and achieves identity and well-being from assuming the care-giving role. While the mother creates and supports other people and their projects, she may neglect her own interests. This is why it is developmentally necessary to move into the crone phase. (5)
Yes, this is me in a nutshell––right now. And because I do have a tendency to neglect my own needs, it is a necessary and useful exercise to begin to enter into the crone phase now. While I enjoy this mother phase of my life as a necessary and often beautifully choreographed part of my development, I feel it is important to step out of the place where my “authority is attributed to sources outside the self” and be sure to base my worth and my decisions on that which is best for me and not just for the relationships I nurture. I believe this because one cannot pass into a phase of cronehood and a functional keeper/watcher of the crossroads if one does not know how to be good to one’s self. There is a saying I have heard throughout my life––you cannot love another until you love yourself.
Other than being a mother and in the mother phase of my life, which I do feel is at the core of my identity at this point in time, is my identity as a woman. I have been contemplating what that may or may not mean to me. Does being a woman mean trying to live up to the societal ideal? What is the societal ideal? If we are considering bodily ideals, I do to some extent try to live up to unattainable standards. I’m too tall, I have graying hair and wrinkles, I am covered in scars from baring children, my breasts should never be liberated from a bra in public, I’m overweight and unfit, I’m covered in acne. Seriously, if only my body could choose one––graying hair and wrinkles or the complexion of a pubescent teen? Instead I get both. And all of these ways in which I violate the ideals of femininity combine to make me feel less than the ideal woman. Some days I feel pretty, but most of the time I feel insecure, inadequate, and undesirable.
I was wandering through a nearby store looking for something to wear for my college graduation. I was feeling much like I usually do about clothes shopping––ambivalent, sure that once I get in the dressing room nothing will fit right, dreading those fun house mirrors tacked up to the walls of the all-too-small dressing space, wishing I was thin so anything in “my size” would look perfect––when it occurred to me that I was also experiencing an aging woman’s epiphany.
Nothing in the “women’s section” seemed right, everything was either “too old and sensible looking” or trying too hard to be “hip.” So, I wandered over to the flashy junior section only to stand there, feeling bad about the options available for today’s youths. Thinking things like “Who would wear this?” “That skirt isn’t long enough for anyone, especially a teen!” “I feel sorry for the teens out there struggling to fit the culturally prescribed body ideal… even this XL wouldn’t fit a girl with large breasts or wide hips!” The next section within eyesight was the “plus sizes,” in which I found a couple of cute dresses I would have liked, and even though I was feeling like a plus size at that moment, I had to move on. My final hope was the “Misses” section, where I did find a few items I liked: jean skirts, flowing tank top, dresses, and jeans with an elaborate rhinestone display on each back pocket. The dresses didn’t fit (of course), the skirts did (yea!) and the pants looked good, but made me feel like I was drawing too much attention to an area of my body that I am highly self-conscious of.
This moment took me back to a paper I wrote in a Women’s Studies course a few years ago (2011):
I walk through the isles of the clothing stores and I find myself longing to wear clothing that was designed with an entirely different body type in mind. Sometimes I may even reluctantly take these items of clothing into the department store dressing room, stand underneath glaring fluorescent lights, and avoid glancing in the mirror while I struggle into clothing that was originally formed around a petite mannequin. I do this only to look into the mirror and find my chest is too large, my hips are too wide, or my legs are too long. I often spend the rest of the day fighting a relentless mood of self-loathing and hunger, vowing to exercise extra hard the next morning. But why do I feel this way? Exercising more isn’t going to make my legs any shorter, nor will it greatly impact my bust size. The answer lies in the fact that, although I have the right to a closet full of blue jeans, mass media has reverted us back to a society of women, and men, with a warped sense of ideal beauty. As Hooks notes, “while we are fortunate that some stores carry beautiful clothing for women of all sizes and shapes, often this clothing is far more pricey than the cheaper clothing the fashion industry markets towards the general public (35).” Thus, my right to choose does not coincide with my choices at the stores in which I can afford to shop. Yes, I have a closet full of blue jeans, tank tops, sweatshirts, and sadly––very little otherwise.
But now my focus, which previously was on feminism alone, has shifted to aging when walking through a department store. Not only is the clothing difficult to fit to my body, but now I am struggling to figure out which articles of clothing are “age appropriate.” Not necessarily in the sense that I am concerned about whether others are looking at me and judging whether I am young enough to where certain articles, but that these clothes are designed to fit differently shaped bodies. The high-waisted “mom jeans” I dreaded from my youth, I now desire over the low-rise, muffin-top forming jeans one finds in the juniors section.
Hooks, B. (2000). Feminism is for everybody: passionate politics. Cambridge, MA: South End Press.
Ray, R.E. (2004). Toward the croning of feminist gerontology. Journal of Aging Studies 18, 109-121. doi: 10.1016/j.jaging.2003.09.008.
Glenna Morris is a recent 2014 graduate from Marylhurst University with a BA in Psychology. Born in Fairbanks, AK, she has resided throughout Oregon, Washington, and California over the last twenty-eight years, the last eleven of those years in Estacada, OR, where she currently lives. She has two young sons, three horses, two dogs, and a cat. She is looking forward to attending graduate school for an MBA in the fall and aspires to found a youth recreation and counseling center for the rural children in her community someday. When she isn’t busy with school work, you can find her on a nearby lake with a fishing pole in her hand, enjoying the simple pleasures of time outdoors with good friends and family.