Satchel Living: Letting go of jealousy
When you reach a certain age, when you are no longer considered "young" but instead "a mature young woman" (scraping in at 31), it's very possible to start taking offense at every pretty young thing who enters your gaze as if their youth and beauty were a direct assault on your personage.
Don't worry – I've felt it and I have been attempting to deal with these ill feelings productively over the past couple of weeks. A quick glimpse at Facebook, through which I am friends with many young ladies who I swear were 12 yesterday but whose status updates suggest definitely otherwise, is enough to send a prematurely wrinkling lady into a spin. Look at all those hot, gorgeous things! It's not fair... I want to be 17 again!
Only, I don't, thank you very much. I would rather poke my eye out with a Papermate pencil than be 17 again, which is not to say that if the opportunity arose to be 17 again, and to do it better, I wouldn't enjoy the challenge. (For the record, I would read a lot of books. And not sunbake. And save my pennies. And leave boys till after high school graduation. Or maybe till my 30s, as my aunt had warned.)
And this brings me to the heart of the matter: while the world continues to be obsessed with youth, I am delighted and fascinated by this whole maturing process. Momentary feelings of jealousy aside, the prospects of what being older can do for a woman are plethora-full. Think of the amazing opportunities we have, as we reach each new stage in age, to enjoy the new endeavours brought along, such as:
- mentoring younger women and encouraging them not to make the same mistakes but holding their hands when they inevitably slip up
- bearing children in our wombs and watching them grow and thrive (or deciding not to, or by sheer necessity, devoting ourselves entirely to our vocations)
- knowing who you are and making peace with where you are from
- enjoying the fruits of any professional inroads you've laid (or starting afresh if you deviated onto the wrong path... it's never to late to study!)
- a more holistic worldview that looks beyond ourselves and out there where things are happening and being in awe of the sheer wonder and scope of it all.
Consider this: without the perceived need to impress so much with your visage, your often awkward or highly marketable (to men) outer self, you have the mind space, and time space, to address the sort of things that bring you true joy and glee: the sweet relief of snuggling into a pair of slippers on the couch at the end of a winter's day, appreciating the fact that you are strong and healthy, and attending to the health of your soul with your head in the Bible, for example.
One beautiful older woman I know, whose girls are all grown up, has thrown herself into a '365 Days of Memories' project, taking photos everyday (sometimes two or three) of something she is grateful for, with the view to compiling an album along with captions to document her life. What a treasure to leave for her daughters one day!
What's more, I do feel that the older you get, the more you you can become, if you will let yourself, because you have a much clearer idea of what you like and who you want in your life and those things on which you are willing to compromise and those you are not (I do know there are young women who have a clear idea of this to their credit, and more power to them, but I did not at 20 know myself like I do now).
But there remains the issue: how do you navigate the ill feelings you might have towards the younger women in your life, and who are everywhere on the streets and the blogs and the Facebook page. And what if they are, perhaps, in the acquaintance of your smashingly good looking husband? What then?! I think there are a few tactics to bear in mind, and this applies equally if you are a gorgeous young thing and are having a down day thinking you are not special at all.
"A person is a person because he recognises others as persons," said Desmond Tutu, a wise old Anglican and apartheid activist. This is so important to keep in mind when appraising the younger girls or, indeed, those of celebrity ilk: just like you, they are people and could very well do with having your love and compassion (even if they infuriate you, secretly, by wearing revealing clothing when it is 10 degrees).
Life is tough and it's not necessarily easier if you are 17 or 27 and pretty. When we venture to look past the outside and think, mindfully, 'I wish you well, sister, because the road ahead is tough', we can obliterate those niggling insecurities. As Rachel Hills noted recently on her blog, even the Alexa Chungs of the world have their worries.
In this sense, it is also good to be active in your compassion, in your seeking out of younger women – or any women or girls at all – to connect with, because they will remind you, through and through, that it's not easy being green. Oh, the travails of being a teen. So very up and so very down! It's not all as fun and lighthearted as it seems (you just have to read the letters in the teen magazines to see that).
Now, we have to address the fact that most every cultural message we're being sent by the mainstream, which cares very little about the person and very much about popularity, prettiness, wealth and fame and building you up only to tear you down because that's what sells, will have an affect on your brain and self-perception.
The unattractive effect, outside the objectification of one's body – but one aspect of our being – that causes us to contort and distort and fret over what's obviously unattainable but which we're led to believe is the bee's knees, is that younger women are painted as the "other" because, demographically, they are being marketed to by a specific set of brands who do not include us 'older' women in their cause.
We should not feel offended or left out: this is how the advertising model works, and we do have different interests and needs at different life stages. But we should encourage thinking, events and/or media and entertainment, that aims to redress the imbalance by not only feeding us a diversity of looks and types and interests and personalities, but also ages within the same context/platform.
This is healthy; it creates within society less tension. It creates unity. The sense that we are "all in it together but at different stages" is reality. The more unity there is among women, the happier the world will be.
Now to the matter of how we feel about ourselves. I have found it very challenging to accept the popular notion that sounds like "I love myself!", because some days I plain old loathe myself because I am not quite up to scratch (did not achieve enough) or because I felt ill feelings towards someone because they disappointed or offended me or have something that I do not (how dare they?!).
It's easy to take to heart every aspect of life that threatens to pull you down, and also to take stock of your position in comparison to other women.
Don't do that. It's so unhealthy!
Because while we're busy thinking "I wish I was more like her" or "I wish she didn't make me feel so horrible", I think what we miss is the sheer enjoyment of the thought that, as Dr. Seuss once said, "There is no one alive who is Youer than You".
Your best line of action is to concentrate less on other women/girls – and the niggling messages sent to you by the world, or boys or mean girls, telling you you don't measure up – and more on what's great about being you... because that's how God sees you: as one unique and wonderful package with a definite purpose for life on this here earth. You have to stay on task to ensure ill feelings don't overcome you.
Pushing through feelings of envy are hard, I know, but it is freeing to do so. I could sit around all day lamenting the fact that I don't have a big income, for example, and then project that angst onto the world or the people I love. But any actions or thoughts motivated by fear or disquiet or envy will only tear you down in the end.
I truly think one of God's greatest gift to women, as we are in this present day and age, is the focus on eternity – the comforting thought that we are really not here for all that long, and when we do get to Heaven's gates, it's our character and the condition of our heart, as attended to by our friend Jesus, who will count for so much more than how hot we looked as we whipped it on the dance floor.
Girl With a Satchel
P.S. Tonight I'm off to my local Women's Supper Club in a pair of slippers for some pampering with ladies aged 20 to 70!