‘She’s become mannish,’ they used to say. I’ve heard it myself. It was a term given to a woman well into menopause, a woman whose facial features had become ‘coarse,’ more like a man’s. The point was, she was decidedly not feminine. And obviously, the term was derogatory, most often extremely so.
She’s become mannish.
With time, the term mannish has disappeared, and sexist talk has become slightly less overtly offensive. We no longer call women mannish, but we still insinuate that they’re past their ‘prime.’ And critics might comment that certain women have not ‘aged well,’ (it’s like reading a menu at a steak house), or that they should do this or that to make their look softer, more feminine, when what they mean of course is younger.
In short, we want them to make themselves more palatable, to not remind us that the process of aging marches on. The process of aging marches on, though. I recently heard the philosopher of ethics, Heather Widdows, talking about beauty say:
We all sag, wrinkle, and die.
Celebrities like Frances McDormand, who may have once been called mannish, are now heralded for their ‘bad ass’ looks and attitudes. And even though I’m tired of the saying bad ass, especially when applied to older women, I agree with the sentiment. I completely understand why when someone like McDormand, Sarah Jessica Parker, Allie MacDowell or Jessica Lange are seen with little or
no makeup, generally less fluffed up, looking decidedly more mannish than they would have just 10 or 20 years ago, older women like us savor the event. That’s me, we think. We’ve undergone a transformation.
We’re the androgynous old.
The issue of ‘attitude?’ Is it really an attitude to just continue living, aging? And by living, I mean let your hair grow grey, wear less makeup, and show up unapologetically? Sarah Jessica Parker would have none of it, the being called brave for allowing herself to go grey.
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Androgyny is something I’ve been interested in for a long time, and I’ve come to believe that for me anyway, there are deep psychological reasons for this. What about you?
Why do some people cringe when they see Sarah Jessica Parker’s face on the red carpet, or Harry Styles in his playful party dress and pearls, or really any young girl or boy whose gender they can’t immediately tell, while others of us think, cool?
And I have loved androgynous style for as long as I can remember, certainly before I could have told you what androgyny actually was. Now that I’m older, I love it more, because I’ve grown to understand that it really is natural, the natural way of things.
The kind of androgynous style I’m talking about is the kind that seamlessly blends masculine and feminine characteristics. Androgynous style at its best is subtle, you can’t tell where the feminine begins and the masculine ends because that’s who we are as human beings.
Androgyny is a process not a costume.
It starts on the inside and moves out, towards the skin and its covering. Like becoming old: hormonal shifts happening, facial features changing, the differences between masculine and feminine blurred, it’s a process of becoming yourself, again. Gender fluidity is a thing.
Androgynous style is outside of any and all rules but it doesn’t necessarily scream rule breaker! There is no style guide to androgynous style, there can’t be. People who do it well are naturally a bit more comfortable with ambiguity, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have a good sense of self. Just look at them.
Is this just for celebrities? Could we possibly be that comfortable with our own aging androgyny? Well yes, I think we could. As a matter of fact, I think we have to in order to fully appreciate what’s happening to us. Acceptance is not enough. We have to go beyond acceptance to appreciation.
Be like Brad Pitt, who would have none of it, and when asked why the skirt, he said:
‘I don’t know! We’re all going to die, so let’s mess it up.’
Those of us who are past middle age and its need to look more specifically masculine or feminine, past the mandates and customs of our occupations and roles, and hopefully less influenced by societal and peer pressure, we can allow ourselves to move closer to our skin and our dress and closer to our androgyny. Maybe we can even smile at the ‘coarsening’ of our features rather than just keep trying to erase them.
A woman who is obviously trying to ‘soften’ her look, who is wrestling with her age, and denying the undeniable, looks like she’s in despair. And while there are plenty of things to despair about, age should not be one of them.
Despairing about aging makes a mockery of life.
Today especially, when there are those who would have us return to a time ‘when men were men…’, when they would have us go back to ‘she’s become mannish,’ allowing ourselves our aging might just be a small but meaningful act of courage after all.