A Requiem For “Cute”


I had a hot flash on the Green Line a couple of nights ago.

I say this because I need to own it. A hot flash. Like – sweat pouring down my back, face on fire, felt like I was gonna hurl – hot flash.

I don’t get them often. I’m not full-blown menopausal…yet. But I’m pushing it, you know? I’m 45. Things are dropping, drooping, and drying out. Also, now, evidently, heating up, although not in a way that I at all enjoy.

I’ve been joking about the chin hairs for a while now. I have a pair of tweezers in every handbag I own. But with the introduction of hot flashes into my world, it’s time to admit that I am not a young, cute thing anymore.

And when I say this, folks, it’s not to invite an outcry of “BUT YOU *ARE* CUTE OMG STOP!” Because listen – I am 45 years old and I left “cute” somewhere back in 2007, and even then it was getting a little threadbare. “Cute” is no longer in my wheelhouse.

When I say I’m not “cute,” I mean that I am making a conscious decision to leave it back in the early 2000s or whatever. Maybe even back in ’95, truth be told, around the time I was still wearing, like, mini-kilts and carrying a Hello Kitty backpack….to GRADUATE SCHOOL.

I was faced with my not-cuteness not too long ago, when I was introduced to one of my husband’s coworkers. She was cute. I was….well, I won’t go so far as to say “matronly,” but I was rocking a semi-mature look that day. Big comfy sweater, stacked heels, tasteful jewelry. And I was feeling moderately okay about myself up until that introduction. Then I immediately felt like a dowdy, dumpy she-beast. I looked at her calf-high boots and her sassy little dress (Size 4, maybe? 6, tops?) and suddenly felt as if I’d outfitted myself in a pup tent purchased for half-off because it was the display model. And I wanted to slink away muttering “Bargon wanchi kox paa, Solo! Hoo hoo hoo hoo…

I had to ask myself WHY – when I am ordinarily so pro-body-positivity and adamant that I should not be comparing myself to other women (particularly women who are a good 10 years younger than I am, because that shit is just not fair) – I immediately start in on the self-hate. Yeah – I know it’s conditioning. It’s practically hard-wired and/or arguably some kind of Paleolithic instinct to size up another woman as “competition.” Or something.

And this is when I have to remember AAALLLLLLLLL of the times I’ve looked back at pictures of myself at various ages and remember that, at every age, I thought of myself as a monster. 13. 15. 18. 25. 36. 40. And when I look at those pictures now, I don’t see what I saw then. And it’s like, I don’t want to have to be 60, looking back on myself at 45, and doing this EXACT SAME THING ALL OVER AGAIN. I’ve spent entirely too much time saying things to myself that I would never dream of saying to my closest friends. That has to stop.

But let’s get back to “cute.” I am not claiming it for myself anymore. I am not going to feel BAD because this isn’t what, or who, I am these days.

There’s a poem by Louis de Paor in which there’s a line (an cailín a bhfuil áilleacht an bhróin ina gnúis) that translates roughly to: “the girl in whose face is sorrow’s beauty.” This is something that I have claimed for myself, as DRAMATIC as I know it sounds to some people. But fuck it; this is what has replaced “cute” for me. It has rung particularly truthful in the past few years, as crisis after crisis has knocked me on my ass. For a time I was looking at myself in the mirror and thinking how HAGGARD I looked. I’m not haggard; I am goddamned beautiful from sorrow and stress and uncertainty. Radiant, even.

But cute? No. And that’s okay.

My present.


Tomorrow is my birthday.  I am going to be 42 years old.  I have spent far too many of those years saying really horrible things to myself, about myself.  So, for my 42nd birthday, I am giving myself the best present possible:  I am giving myself a break.

I have spent so many years being so blinded to the facts of my life, of the body I live in.

And the facts are these:

  • No man that I’ve been with has ever turned around and run screaming from the sight of my body.  Now, that’s not to say that any man’s reaction should dictate the way I feel about myself – it’s just that when I pause and THINK about it, the fact is that I’m obviously not a monster…no woman is.  I am way harder on myself than anyone else is.
  • When I am taking care of myself (getting regular – not excessive – exercise, and eating well), my body will be the shape that it’s going to be.  I refuse to view it as something that needs to be beaten and pummeled into something that I cannot naturally or reasonably maintain.
  • I am perfectly healthy the way I am.  My blood pressure, blood sugar, and cholesterol are all at (direct quote from my primary physician) “ridiculously normal” levels.  In fact, they’re at the very same levels that they were when I weighed 120 pounds.  This is me telling the Body Police to kindly stuff their “concern” that I need to worry about my health because I’m now carrying about 15 pounds more than some chart says I should.  That number takes virtually nothing into consideration, like my activity level or my age.
  • I am TIRED of beating myself up because I am almost 42 years old and don’t wear the same size skirt that I did at 18, or 25, or even 37.  It is exhausting to be constantly obsessed over what I can and cannot eat.  It is a colossal waste of my time and breath to APOLOGIZE for eating something, or to let everyone know that I’m going to the gym so it’s okay for me to eat this cookie.  NOBODY FUCKING CARES, and if they DO, I’m going to have to wonder why I hang out with them.
  • Whenever I equate food with character, I will always fail.  Eating is not weakness.  Food is sustenance, not something to be demonized.  Entire industries thrive on making me feel shitty about myself.  The ads that run along the side of my Facebook page tell me that my current jeans size is something to “fix,” that I will be happier, and “healthier” if I am at least 4-5 sizes smaller.  If I start on their plan(s) NOW, I could be a size smaller in a matter of DAYS.  This is me telling those companies to fuck right off.
  • A flat stomach and ripped upper arms are neither the essence of beauty nor an indicator of good health.  I needed to write this, and post it, so I can look at it again and again.

So tomorrow morning, I am taking the scale out of my bathroom, and I am putting it in the basement with the rest of the trash.  Happy Birthday to me.

“But you have such a pretty face…”

Many moons ago, as a refined young lady freshly sprung from higher education with a B.A. in Theatre, I wound up working in retail.  To be a little more specific, I worked for a popular apparel chain, as a “Visual Coordinator,” which was essentially a fancy title for “Window Dresser.”  I spent most of my days sequestered in the back, with an ironing board, a can of spray starch, and boxes of upholstery pins, which I used to hold the twists and folds of size 2 clothing so that they would fit nice and snug and tight on the size 0 mannequins.  I was to present that season’s styles in an idealized manner, which is to say, skinny.

I was painfully aware of the irony of my situation.  I was 21 years old, and had spent a good deal of my life up to that point “subverting the dominant paradigm,” doing weird things with my hair and clothes and generally being crassly unapologetic for carrying a few extra pounds in the age of “heroin chic.”  Yet here I was, ritualistically torturing V-Necks and khakis with long sharp T-pins to ensure that nothing on these ridiculously tiny forms looked “baggy” or “lumpy.”   But I needed the paycheck, and the publishing houses and theatre companies were not exactly welcoming me with open arms.

Clothing, you see, “hangs better” when there are no pesky curves getting in the way of the drape.  Everybody knows this.

I had not thought about that job, so many years ago, until just today, as I was reading the story of Nancy Upton, an activist who is challenging American Apparel’s search for a “plus-sized” model.  Upton’s issue?

I don’t believe that beauty should be qualified as BECAUSE of someone’s size or IN SPITE of someone’s size. Beauty is beauty, it’s fluid, it’s objective and it doesn’t need to be justified to or by anyone.”

The photos she submitted of herself are hilarious, skewering the absurdities of the average fashion spread while having some fun with the whole “plus size” category.  Upton received the most votes in American Apparel’s contest (called – amazingly – the “Next BIG Thing” Campaign), but was not offered the job (to be fair, she never expected them to offer it to her).  In a testy little letter to Upton, American Apparel’s Creative Director sniffs:  “It’s a shame that your project attempts to discredit the positive intentions of our challenge.”

Positive intentions.  Uh huh.

I love when these companies suddenly grow a conscience after continually and methodically promoting one kind of body type.  Problem is, this new-found admiration for the rest of the population almost always smacks of condescension (and let’s not forget the ridiculous campaign name).  And you have to give the ol’ side-eye to a company that, as recently as last summer, had a hiring/firing policy based entirely on looks.  With the economy continuing to scramble like a beetle in a toilet bowl, what’s a company to do?  Why – start selling to the fatties, of course!

I’m sure plenty of you are reading this and thinking, “Well, at least they’re doing something to promote acceptance.”  Listen – apparel manufacturers should have been doing this ALL ALONG, instead of adding a few “plus” sizes to their lines and patting themselves on the back for what is basically a publicity scheme.  Because the fact of the matter is, they’ll give the “winning” model a month or so of print, while continuing to pin and tuck Size 2 clothes onto Size 0 mannequins in the front windows.  Trust me on that.