Monday, May 16, 2011


At my out-of-town hotel this weekend, I witnessed the arrival of high school prom attendees disembarking from their chartered bus on their way into the Big Event. Fantasy princesses and would-be brides, starlets and Americon Idol hopefuls, nervous groups of girls and triumphant tottering halves of couples, these young women and their choices of formal attire shocked me. I admit, I have never attended a high school prom, so I am no expert nor particularly an admirer of the entire scene. But the feeling of sadness and concern I experienced had more to do with my thoughts about these girls’/women’s futures than with their particular bad taste in prom dresses.

Prom is meant to be a celebration of the end of high school and accomplishment, a rite-of-passage into adulthood. The picture and embodiment of prom in dress is often a too-expensive dress and accessories, agonized over for months, a teenage version of little girls’ dress-up. So many of the examples of dress I saw this Saturday night were hardly different from the garish getups my daughter donned as a pre-schooler, complete with jeweled shoes, too-bright makeup, and expectations of Prince Charming’s arrival. So what message is prom and its costume setting? Is it that girls can work hard and grow up to be fluffy princesses? Is it that spending a huge amount of money for just one night of fantasy that you can't build from is worth it? Is it that you can become a grown-up by dressing like one?

I adore ritual and pageantry, and I always love an excuse to dress up creatively. But I hate setting up girls and women with false expectations, and what I could see Saturday night was a mixture of excitement and fantasy, a ritual of one more opportunity to compete in a material way, a celebration of the celebrity culture in our world. Is that the best way to send our girls off into the world? I'm not so sure.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Tender Loving Care

I was exhausted, not much more than a heap of clothes and curls and weary bones, pondering my hectic week past and upcoming travel and feeling overwhelmed. Then a friend offered to come over and cook dinner for me, offered to take decision-making off my plate, take entertaining off my responsibility list, take Saturday night and turn it into something different than a date, providing me with dinner and hugs and TLC.

I try to provide TLC, enjoy caring for people and spoiling those I'm crazy about, and it is hard for me to let someone do this for me. As much as I enjoy the feeling it gives me to provide comfort, particularly unexpected love unrelated to any given holiday or event, it didn't occur to me until later today that letting someone else provide this for me might be giving him that same kind of pleasure. And that perhaps my own zealous care-giving might actually be a shield from allowing/hoping someone else to do the same for me.

Much has been written about random acts of kindness, and having compassion for ourselves and others ("Self-Compassion" by Kristin Neff is one of my current reads), but I think there is something else to be explored: caring and caregiving, taking and giving. In fact, there's probably a lot about the subject which has been written and just not on my radar. Is it common for my generation of women not to be able to accept help and comfort easily? Without a doubt, though I suspect we share this commonality with many many others, men and women both, of all ages. We may have learned that it is OK to pay for spa treatments, but the vulnerability of being cared for, pampered, spoiled - not for payment but simply by a caring person - is brand new.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Behind Every Great Woman

There's a secret that many of us women over 50 are aware of, a secret I was very happy to share with my companions in their 30's and 40's recently (seen in hats), a secret so wonderful that we grin and enjoy it like kids with a secreted stash of Halloween candy. At the risk of writing platitudes, the secret is pretty simple: acceptance and celebration of the reality of who we are. I keep encountering examples of this, and with it, a powerful support by women for each other's individuality.No place is this more evident than at the many art nd craft shows I have the great fortune to attend.

At the "Style at Stern" show in Palo Alto, CA this past weekend, women of all ages (but mostly close to my age) gathered, often in pairs or threes, to view and purchase wearable art, clothing and jewelry designed and made by individual artists. It felt like one giant party, with women trying on pieces, commenting to one another, swapping and sorting, adorning and experimenting, and more than anything else, celebrating the joy of expressing themselves through adornment. We were all there: with wrinkles and sags, stories and histories, some in wheelchairs and some in stilettos, some grey, some blonde, some botoxed, some crunchy, generations and girlfriends. But everyone - everyone!- was there to acknowledge individuality, and it was pretty overwhelming.

I met the designer Chris Triola and immediately fell head over heels with her presence, her clothing, and her ethos. Her clothing is fluid and graceful, comfortable and intriguing, easy to wear yet interesting to look at (very 50/50, yes?). It was no surprise to me to read her artist statement, "The clothes I design are clothes for creative women. They’re ‘doing’ clothes… things to wear when you’re writing, buying, selling, making, driving, thinking… and they don't impose. You shouldn't even know they’re there." Clothes for real women.

At the TEDWomen's conference last year, Madeline Albright stated, "There's a special place in Hell for women who don't help other women", and I was reminded of the statement as I watched women designers and women shoppers experimenting with clothing outside the norm ,as I longed for my long-distance best friend to share the experience with, as I sensed the great comfort so many women had in the presence of others, as the wave of support rolled over the room. Behind every great woman is...another great woman, and at all ages but particularly 50+, we are lucky enough to be aware of that.