Why I am enough (even though I don't fit my leather pants any more)

One woman's journey of acceptance as she grows older.

By Deborah Hill Cone
I was scrolling through some photos on Facebook from a few years ago. I hardly recognised myself. I was thin. I was blonde. I had hair extensions. I was in red velvet shoes by the pool at Caesar's Palace. I had my cleavage out, rings on every finger and leather pants.
What was I thinking with that outfit? I was in a convertible in too much lipstick and diamante sunglasses. Jeez, I was just trying so, so hard.
Look at me everyone! What do you think of me? Am I sexy? Am I? Am I? At the time I thought I looked hot, but now I just seemed lonely and needy. I felt sad for my former self.
These days I'm seeing things through a different lens. I watched some well-groomed women at a bar the other night. I thought they looked very glamorous with eyelashes and nails all done, and that long blonde hair in loose curls which looks prom-ready.
It was lovely how they greeted each other with air-kisses and hoots and effusive compliments: "You look amazing!" "Hot tamale!" "Hoochie mama!"
But I did notice their clothes were very, very tight and looked so uncomfortable they may as well have been corseted characters in a BBC costume drama, fluttering their fans and going "Fie! Fie!" to suitors in breeches. There was a lot of head tossing. A few years ago I'd have just thought all this was normal. But from my different vantage point it just looked kind of tiring.
I used to try to be a glamazon too. But these days I wear a lot of baggy shirts and a lot less makeup. I have also become more aware of my seductive manoeuvres. You don't need to turn on your va-va-voom for everyone including the milkman and the guy who comes to install your Sky aerial. Who knew?
Oh, don't get me wrong: it is delightful to flirt – at any age, or stage or gender. Flirting is essentially just saying "I see you". It's what makes us human beings. But I wonder whether the need to be overtly sexually attractive in every situation is a cry for help in its own way.
It's not just that it's nice to be admired. It's more like I desperately need to be desired. There is a terror behind the glossy façade. If I'm not seen as a sexually attractive object I fear I don't exist. Why is this?
Does the fact that I would never leave the house without vampy Lady Danger lipstick and high heels say something about my need to be seen and to be valued? All obsessions, including the obsessive need for attention, represent an avoidance of something more painful.
What was I avoiding? Letting go, loss, change, thwarted ambition, the fact I would never be a 'one to watch', ageing? I wonder whether all women in their forties and fifties come to a moment of reckoning about whether to try to be more and more seductive, or whether to try another way, take up gardening, delight in their daughters, throw out the mutton clothes, wear more scarves.
I mention clothes because they do play a big part. For a while my vibe went all Man Repeller (orthopaedic sandals, utilitarian flak jacket chic) but this aesthetic was as try-hard as my previous approach of dressing like an off-duty air hostess.
Clothes as an attention-getting device seem to be a losing proposition in a world post-Alessandro Michele at Gucci, where these days everyone dresses like a Christmas tree with feather boas, and jewel-encrusted squirrel knuckledusters, just to take the dog for a walk. It gets harder to stand out for your sparkliness.
I prefer the late writer Ursula Le Guin's attitude. She said beauty is a game. "Most of the time I just play the game in a small way. Buying a new lipstick, feeling happy about a pretty new shirt."
There is a freedom to feel you don't have to put on your pout for anyone anymore or be a publicist for yourself.
Advice columnist Heather Havrilesky says even if you polish and fluff and primp yourself and charm anyone on earth, you can never shake the fact that will never be good enough. You will never be able to just relax. You will never be loved for exactly who you are.
"You have to stop polishing yourself so vigorously and accept who you are right now, with no analysis and no improvements and no sales pitch."
I like this. And I like feeling I am no longer a product to be marketed. These days I try to tell myself I am enough, even if I don't fit my leather pants anymore. And I may have cellulite on my thighs, but I think this is much healthier.
There can be something distorted about holding on to the need for sexual attention. Often people who are seductive with everyone are like this because this is the only relational pattern they know: they are trapped.
When psychotherapists notice clients being seductive, they don't think it is necessarily about sex so much as power and control. People with what is known as eroticised transferences are demanding to be loved in the absence of a capacity to love. That is actually deeply sad.
When you need to use your feminine wiles to elicit attention and adoration it can be a way to shut off any more authentic kind of connection.
Those whose primary attachment figures were seductive (not necessarily sexually abusive) naturally attach this way to others. Seductiveness becomes engrained in their attachment style and is simply what the person knows and unconsciously repeats as a way of connecting with others.
But those who 'demand' love are usually incapable of it. To give up the need to be seductive you need to become more emotionally honest, so that any love or admiration they receive has been given with the knowledge of who they really are.
The difficulty of this task can run from fairly simple to virtually impossible, but everyone naturally wants to love and be loved. It's helpful to realise you don't need to be being the world's biggest sexpot for that.
  • undefined: Deborah Hill Cone

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