It all started because I was doing research. I needed to know what today’s teenagers were thinking, reading, hearing, and experiencing, so I dove headfirst into the world of CW programming, YA fiction, “Seventeen” magazine and fascinating conversations with my son’s friends. I didn’t feel old before I started, and after a couple of months of watching “Gossip Girl” and reading about teen vampires and witches I felt downright young. It was okay, I rationalized, because I acted old when I actually was a teenager, and the universe owed me an adolescence. My skin is clear now, I have learned to pluck my unibrow, smooth my frizz, and flirt with boys. I would be an awesome teenage girl at this point in my life (notwithstanding the fact that I am 49 and the mother of an actual teenager).
I allowed myself to slip into fantasies of my cute self sitting cross-legged on my bed wearing adorable jammies, texting my friends, watching “The Vampire Diaries” on my pink laptop and painting my nails with a sparkly aqua. I wore piles of mismatched bracelets, blue nail polish and Chuck Taylors. I. Had. Fun.
You will no doubt be reassured to know that despite my Teen Angel fantasies, I continued to go to work, take care of my family, and pay the mortgage. I dressed appropriately for work, although I did buy a pair of 5 inch cork wedges for summer, and a skull ring. I continued to read Serious Things like theology and food-related public policy, but I always had a copy of something with a picture of Taylor Lautner in it. I was not interested in teenage boys (who are, with the exception of my own son, largely a waste of oxygen and real estate), I was not sneaking drinks from my flask at the movies, and I was not texting during dinner. I was, as I mentioned earlier, having fun. I was cruising towards the Big 5-0 feeling like I had gotten back some of the groove that was lost during decades of self-conscious, hypersensitive, out of place, hypercritical misery.
Today, in a random trip through the interworld, I came upon this article entitled “Top Ten Items You’re Too Old To Wear.” Curious, I read it. It was soul crushing. Banned by the author are message T-shirts (presumably including those from concerts), “costume shoes” (my cork platforms, biker boots and Chuck Taylors), hair gadgets, big hobo bags, and “loud accessories.” There are other banned items that hold no appeal for me, like excessive cleavage and ripped jeans. Nothing says “yuck” like a woman wearing a pushup bra that creates thousands of crepey wrinkles. It was clear, though, that 50% of my sartorial choices were Wrong, and that they should be replaced by more tasteful selections including a smooth clutch purse, tailored trousers and perhaps a gold signet ring and a string of pearls.
The gold standard was Muffy fucking Talbot.
It makes me sad, terribly, terribly sad, to think that there is an age barrier which, once crossed, leaves a woman with limited choices and a proscribed style. It reminds me of school uniforms, prison uniforms, some institutional program developed top efface personal expression and create the semblance of modest and banal equality. A Woman of a Certain Age may properly express sensuality and vitality through the use of beige eye shadow, silkily expensive blouses and a neatly cuffed trouser, but is not permitted a jangle of mismatched bracelets, a boot with corset lacing up the back, or a bobby pin with a rhinestone. After spending years convincing myself that I could be anything, do anything, cut loose and soar, I flew into the invisible glass that separates the real lambs from those of us who are merely ridiculous mutton. There are rules, there are judges, and there are limits.
Tonight I may finish up the current issue of “Seventeen,” but I fear my aged lips will not curve into a smile at the idea of electric blue eyeliner, or pumpkin orange high tops. I won’t soon forget that I am Old Enough To Be Their Mother, and that if I am sitting cross legged on my bed I’ll be wearing a frayed and ancient sleep shirt, texting my husband to ask him to bring my reading glasses upstairs when he comes, using my laptop to answer work e-mails and deciding not to paint my nails because it’s just too much damned work. I will not be cute, and I will not be young
I may recover, find a balance, and get back into my groove. I might develop a devil-may-care crone persona with cascading white hair and a wise word for the young and clueless. If I’m lucky, and I work at it, I may come to believe that The Rules are made by people terrified of aging, desperate to avoid anything that calls attention to the inevitable loss of brightness, firmness and juice. I may, then, set a jaunty neon bow atop my grizzled head and sally forth again into a world of open doors.