I’m in an awkward stage of life right now. Not the terrible twos or the transitional tweens but the dirty 30s. At this age, it can be challenging to know what to wear. I recently decided to chuck the halter dress with comic book script I bought in my 20s, but I’m hardly ready to do all of my shopping in the women’s section of a department store chain. I’m not the only one who feels this way. Fashion pioneer and actress Chloë Sevigny recently told The Cut that she felt confused about styling herself at age 38.
“I’m kind of in that window where I’m not sure if I can still dress like I used to, if I should be dressing more like a lady. I don’t know,” she said. “When do you let go of your childish ways, as far as fashion is concerned? I’m not sure. I see older women dressing like kids and I’m like, do I look like that? I don’t know.”
What’s a girl, I mean, woman, in her thirties to do? At this age a woman is neither young nor old and everyone has an opinion about how she should look. Well, this is true for women at any age due to the nature of our misogynistic culture, but in the fourth decade of life the scrutiny intensifies in some ways. For example, I’ve even been told that since I’m in my 30s, there’s no harm in packing on a few pounds because I’ve pretty much reached my sell-by date and no one cares if I’m thin anymore anyway. Ouch. I guess I should ditch my workout routine and embrace my inner fat Elvis one scoop of Ben & Jerry’s at a time.
The problem is women are judged for maintaining their looks or letting them go. It’s a lose-lose situation. If a woman manages to make it to 50 and remain lithe, lean and stylish á la Demi Moore, she risks being told to stop holding onto her youth and start acting her age. After all, how many times has Moore been told to stop dressing like one of her daughters? On the other hand, if a woman allows herself to fill out and go gray like Holly Petraeus, the wife of disgraced Gen. David Petraeus, she’s told not to blame her husband for cheating on her with the Paula Broadwells of the world. Holly Petraeus was 59 last year when her husband’s affair with Broadwell led him to step down from the CIA. The betrayed wife wound up the subject of articles such as the cringe inducing “Is Holly Petraeus Just Not Pretty Enough?”
In that opinion piece writer Paloma Corredor blasts our sexist culture for valuing women for their physical appearance alone yet criticizes Holly Petraeus for looking “much older” than her age. “Holly Petraeus has obviously not made her appearance a priority, and after 38 years of marriage, perhaps it’s understandable that her husband would feel attracted to his biographer and friend, the attractive and much younger Paula Broadwell,” Corredor writes. Corredor goes on to mention that attractive women such as Jennifer Aniston and Sandra Bullock have been the victims of infidelity also, but somehow that point fails to mute her harsh take on Holly Petraeus’ looks.
So what gives? When is it acceptable for women, or men, to let themselves go? Should we throw in the towel in our 30s? How about our 50s or our 70s? My answer to that question is never. As long as I’m still kicking, I plan on being as healthy as I can for my particular age group and hope my physical appearance reflects that. Since turning 30, I’ve become fitter and more stylish in many ways. What’s more, tying the knot a couple of years ago didn’t give me carte blanche to enter a slovenly Jim Morrison stage because I’d landed a man and he’d have to accept me no matter what. And if I ever become a mother, I certainly won’t be one of the parents who wear Louboutins (as if I could afford them) just to drop my kids off at school, but you’ll be hard pressed to find me rocking a pair of Mom jeans.
Style and personal upkeep don’t go out of the window simply because someone enters a particular life stage. The idea that a woman is trying too hard if she’s a certain age and still invested in her appearance is as ridiculous as the idea that a woman who neglects her looks has given her husband a green light to cheat.