Saturday, September 21, 2013

"You're Not From Omaha, Are You?"

I am not from Omaha. I get the "Where are you from?" question all the time, but typically only after I open my mouth and the accent gives me away. Today I got it before I spoke, which was kind of satisfying knowing my manner of dress stands out from the crowd.

I'm enjoying growing older. Sure, there's the usual aging stuff I could do without (Three flights of stairs in this house...what was I thinking?!) but it is liberating to do as I please without worry. I'm not interested in recapturing my youth, or hiding my age. If I want to wear a silly hat, or outrageous shoes, I do it.

Just around the corner from where I live, there's a cosmetic surgery office with the most awful electronic billboard. Stuck at a light on Dodge Street, I can be treated to a flashing sign offering a, "Mommy Makeover", and then see the image of an anime-style cartoon woman in a bikini that is little more than boobs and a tiny waist. "Your bikini is ready...are you?" it asks. It isn't even a real woman, it is a grotesque distortion of a woman's features. If I want to wear a bikini I will, and anyone that doesn't want to look can turn away. Trust me, no one is looking at anyone our age, so go ahead and wear the bikini sans plastic surgery-buy yourself something you want instead.

I suppose that's why I stand out, I don't give a shit about perfecting myself. Maybe, if the dress really requires it for era authenticity, I will give in and wear a girdle. But to look thinner? Good god no. When I was younger I worked in the foundations department at Filene's in Boston. It was the saddest job I ever held. Skinny, bony, women in their middle age would come in and buy these horrible contraptions (This was the era before Spanx) spanning from bustline to thighs, complaining they were getting fat. You couldn't reason with them, so I sold the torturous  undergarments and went home each evening feeling terrible. Boobs sag, waistlines spread. Even the most athletic will see changes in their bodies because they are aging. A boob lift and liposuction isn't going to change reality-at least not my reality.

I was at the thrift store trying on a pair of thigh high leopard print boots (!) when a woman my age caught my eye.
"Hey, that's the privilege of getting older, you can wear the crazy boots without trying to look sexy." I said. I bought the boots. A few aisles over she ran into me again as I was checking out a leather skirt. We both laughed. I bought that skirt as well, because I can wear it in my own kooky way.

No, I'm not from Omaha, but I've been in Nebraska long enough to know there's more than a bit of social pressure on women to look a certain way. The height of this was when everyone got the same haircut that looked all chopped in layers at the back. It is a terrible haircut, made worse by foil streaking, but everywhere I went, I noticed it. I don't know about you, but I don't really want to look like everyone else. If that sets me aside as an outsider, that's fine and dandy. There's enough conformity in the world already where you don't have a choice. Putting on a crazy hat and some fancy shoes is an easy call. I mean, Thigh high leopard print boots people-if I hadn't bought them some drag queen would have. The queens get all the great shoes in large sizes at the thrift store. For once, my big fat feet got there first.

I'm only sorry I didn't have this sense and confidence when I was younger. Could have saved quite a bit of unhappiness along the way.


Janice said...

The notion of conforming in my world has always stemmed from the public school system. I know, I'm combining a few of your recent posts into one comment. In the public school system if a child is somewhat off the beaten path in their hair, clothes, make-up, they become socially shunned by students and teachers alike. Even worse, parents who do not conform to a certain "look". Self expression through appearance is not appreciated in my neck of the woods.

Janice said...

The public school system does not appreciate self expression through appearance. Just try showing up to parent teacher meeting wearing something that is off the beaten path. The chatter among the teachers will socially stifle your child and make the family outcasts. Layer your damn hair, get a few highlights, shop only at Kohl's and don't you dare wear black or someone will accuse you of some heinous existence. Such is the world in small town America.

Goody said...

It seems so strange, having lived through the 60's/70's when everyone was doing their own thing, to swing so far back in the other direction. Remember when your teachers wanted students to be creative? That would probably get you on some damn blacklist now. I think school, both public and private is harder on the parents than the children. All that nonsense of how you present yourself-I mean, didn't anyone see Serial Mom? Just because you're wearing a twinset and pack away the white shoes after labour day doesn't make you normal. I wouldn't point that out at a parent/teacher meeting. John Waters movies probably wouldn't work as a reference point.

And then, you have to worry they'll call in the social workers.

Think about the language we use today. *Compliance.* You are not in compliance! Combined with the Orwellian way everyone is tracked, why not just hang out the banners ordering, "Obey!" Don't draw attention to yourself.

I think you almost have to dress so over the top that it intimidates people. Wild hair colours, visible tattoos, piercings-around here that would come off as "arty" and largely, those people get left alone because they seem like the sort of people that read books.

Small town America has always been kind of mean in that way. We like to think of it as Our Town, but we get Dogville.