SUMMER PRESENTS a unique dilemma for women of a certain age. All year, we are urged by style mavens to spare others the sight our age-afflicted, imperfect body parts: Unless your arms are Michelle-quality, sleeves at least elbow length, please. Skirts and pants, knee length or lower. Higher necklines to cover crepe-y décolletage, closed-toe and –heel shoes unless feet are freshly pedicured, etc. etc. Nothing too tight, of course, but not dowdily baggy. A layer of Spanx, always, bustline to bottom or beyond, to still jiggles, squeeze in lumps and bumps. And for the beach, there are swim skirts, camouflaging cover-ups, and, if all else fails, the cabana to hide in. Well, this summer I am telling them to take their advice and shove it where the sun don’t shine.
As an average-looking 50-something—I exercise … some, I like to eat food, I reassure myself that my doctor considers my weight “healthy”—I have no particular desire to expose areas of my body that have been (several times) around the block. So despite Washington’s typical 90+-degree days and 90+-percent humidity I have spent the last few springs trying to find affordable summer clothes that accommodate those requirements—looking for longish sleeves on Ts, “shorts” that are really pedal-pushers, airy fabrics that won’t reveal too much. And I have found them. By carefully rejecting the 99 percent of clothes that are too girlish, too sheer, too short, too bare, too tight, too clingy, too-low-cut, I have a decent core of conservative, classy pieces—most of which make me sweat just thinking about wearing them out into the scorching sunshine, let alone if I’m shrink-wrapped underneath in a layer of elastic.
How is it that the generation of women who burned bras, broke molds, busted through professional and sexual barriers with bravado has allowed itself to be cowed into feeling so ashamed of our utterly natural bodies? I am all admiration for women who work themselves like stevedores to keep their figures fit, but even they are scolded about showing skin that has seen action. And I resent the notion that unless I am willing to dedicate my life to the ever-more-challenging battle of staying in shape and rejuvenating, even surgerizing and dermal-filling, every inch of visible flesh—that if I am, in short, willing to look more or less my age—I must shroud my disgusting self. No, we don’t look like models anymore (if we ever did), and why should we? I’m not embarrassed that I’ve been alive for several decades, but I’m supposed to be embarrassed if it shows?
Believe me, the older I get, the more grateful I am for the existence of clothes, and I have no desire to be a public eyesore. I further recognize that men and women must both stay under wraps to some extent for professional purposes, no matter the weather. But come play time, come on! It’s hot out there!!
So, with strength in numbers, I call out to all my sisters: Own it! Shake off the shackles of smothering spandex! Free yourself from full-length pants and sleeves! Together, through passive resistance and open rebellion, we will overcome the oppression of heat-stroke-inducing style rules. Join me! Come on out where it’s comfortable! You’ll recognize me by my cellulitic-thigh- and crinkly-knee-revealing shorts. I’ll wave to you in my bat-wing-exposing tank top. I’ll encourage air currents in my baggy linens, and wiggle my unpolished toes in my flip-flops. I will feel breezes, I will allow sweat to dissipate, and I will be cool! And anyone who doesn’t like it can lump it until sweater weather.