In a small dress shop in Waianae, Hawaii I browsed through a rack of dresses; and as I did so, a much-younger woman handed me a sun dress that can be worn with or without underpinnings and with a skirt an inch or so above the knee. As I looked surprised the woman said, “I tell my grandmother you don’t have to dress a certain age and not let people put her down because she’s older.”
This quietly honest and open statement about the prejudices surrounding age and how we dress reflects the view of the new youth who put aside age-related stereotypes while others hold onto them, often in fear-filled ways that make change difficult as women age.
Hawaii’s multicultural patterns lend themselves to erasing many of the stereotypes that lock women of a certain age into a certain pattern of dress or demeanor that are only numbers related and not reflective of one’s stature, form or physical ability. At the same time the social customs in business and interaction almost everywhere cast the older woman as beyond the age of sexuality, beauty, brains or talent.
But a youthful Samoan woman, baby in tow, looked beyond what she perceived foolish thinking and simply thought, then said, “If you got it, baby, take over,” and the added remark, “I tell my grandma you aren’t old until you think you are.”By saying this, she reminded me how stereotypes objectify older women as individuals who have lost their beauty and are no longer sexually desirable, so they must hide those signs of aging that women fear and that it is often maintained men abhor. Her advice said to me that she refuses to be led by others about what she should or should not wear and offers to older women the opportunity to see themselves as youthful and still desirable.
Carol Costello on CNN’s Newsroom made a similar statement, of the woman safe in her own skin, enough to share with others her view about women and choices, “I’m 53. I’ll wear short shorts if I want to,” with an examination of how people make judgments about others randomly, therefore reinforcing certain stereotypes or prejudices that are unnecessary and often insulting.
Costello says, “So please, fashion mags, clothing stores and Hollywood, stop with the “how to dress in your 20s, 30s, 40s and beyond” nonsense. J. Crew is the latest to inform me, that at my advanced age, short shorts are not for me. (And I thought legs were the last to go.)
A tip of the baseball cap that covers my blonde-over-graying head (so no one but my hairdresser knows for sure its color) to a bold and caring stranger who reminded me what at age 74 (which I will be in less than two weeks)that I I should know by now: To be truly young is an attitude, and no one can change mine but me.