I was imprinted on grandmothers that looked like Eleanor Roosevelt, Kate Smith and my own, talented women of ample frame.
Perhaps they were pretty when they were young, but that was long ago. Their adult lives were filled with family, song and service. A pretty face then was just a pretty face – not in itself an entree to a UN council or elected office (nor did their photos come with price tags for the clothes and jewelry being worn.)
Then a change happened. I first noticed it when I was mother-of-the-groom. I was home recovering from hip surgery so shopped for an appropriate dress online. Yikes! These were not dresses for the Future Grandmothers of America, not simple frocks to keep the attention on the young couple. They shouted, “Look at me!” like the Real Housewives of New Jersey. I was hoping, with my bad hip, I might be able to dance one slow dance with my son. I had no plans for seducing anyone at the reception or afterwards. It took me days to find a simple long-skirted suit in blue silk.
What created this tremendous change in feminine expectations between generations? We have moved from the women referenced above to women like Jane Fonda, Helen Mirren and Rita Moreno.
Good and talented women all. As you may recall, Rita Moreno wore her 1962 Oscars dress to the 2018 Oscars. God bless her! The average dress size for a woman in America is 16 to 18. (It changed from a size 14 in prior years.) Yet we continue to idolize thinness. I wonder how many intelligent, creative women wake up each morning hating themselves? I have for years but I regret those earlier, thinner years that I failed to enjoy. We are only here once.
My family was big on thinness. The story is that my mother weighed 99 lb. when she got married. I rocketed past that ideal in sixth grade. My parents put on weight as they aged– like many of us do. Brash young woman that I was, when they insisted I move my wedding from the old chapel into the main church, I insisted in return that they lose weight before the wedding. (How could I?)
There are many health reasons for staying thin. Covid is a case-in-point although I have lost ground during the epidemic. (I have a terrible time resisting ice cream.) My ancient back would love a lighter me as would my other arthritic parts. About once a week, I decide to go on the anti-inflammation diet but, as Mark Twain said about smoking, “Giving up smoking is the easiest thing in the world. I know because I’ve done it thousands of times.”
I’ve a hunch that womens’ shape changes at menopause because the natural world is organized around reproduction. A male can look at a female and know if she is fertile by her shape – pre-puberty and post-menapausal females are ruled out.
My favorite octogenarian is Judi Dench. She is a proper grandmother; one you could snuggle up to on a rainy afternoon. A talented woman, a Quaker, she loves to laugh, is a brilliant actress and continues to work despite macular degeneration. She doesn’t apologize for herself. Nor should we.
I can imagine Dame Dench saying “Grab a book, come sit by me, let’s read.”