Letting yourself go

A friend asks ‘When is it ok to let myself go?’ And I respond ‘Whenever the hell you like.’ But thinking about it later, it’s actually a bit more complicated than that.

‘Letting yourself go’ in this context means letting your physical appearance slide – quitting make-up, eschewing hair dye, trading dresses for track suits, ceasing to watch what you eat. And that’s a problem. Our worth as women is measured by our physical attributes. We’re expected to ‘make an effort’. When we don’t, we’re expected to accept a corresponding decrease in our value.

This is linked to the current obsession with youth, and in particular the link between youth and beauty. Young is beautiful. We’re taught that one of the greatest compliments we can be paid is that we look younger than our biological age. Along with that comes the notion that we have a use-by date – after which it’s ok to let ourselves go, because nobody’s paying attention anymore. We’re no longer young,  we’re no longer fuckable, therefore we’re no longer relevant.

One comment I really loathe is ‘She’d be so pretty if she’d only make the effort/use make-up/lose some weight/dress to suit her shape’. Why do I loathe it? One: pretty is not the ultimate goal. Two: women are always being judged against somebody else’s standard of beauty. Three: ‘not making an effort’ does not mean we are failing at being women.

Which brings us back to the idea of letting yourself go. There’s really no such thing. We don’t have use-by dates – because we are people, not commodities. We can dye our hair, wear make-up, do a million squats. Or not. Our choice, whether we’re 24 or 47 or 72. Others’ reactions to our choices are not our concern.

[22 November 2015]

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