The doctor was pissed. She was a small Indian woman and it radiated off her like a heat wave. “You have to stop eating!” she said. “You’ve gained an enormous amount of weight in a small time. This is what you must do: No breakfast, a little tea, that is all…” I tuned her out. I already felt bad enough about the ten pounds I’d gained when I stopped smoking. But I wasn’t fat.
Then I saw my mother. At a big baby shower with all of her girlfriends there, she looked at me when I came up to the table and said “WHAT happened?” I said “Oh, it’s my blood sugar,” and sat down at the table. I was humiliated. I’d known these people my entire life and I was afraid to tell them I had gained weight. That was obvious. The blood sugar excuse just popped out instead of “I’m packing on the pounds, Mama.”
She knew. But she wanted it to not be true or she was embarrassed that this is what her daughter had come to, this was how her daughter had let herself go. Despite plenty of people at the table being my size or bigger, my mother rejected the notion that a daughter of hers could be overweight so thoroughly that she asked a stupid question with a look of horror on her face rather than just say “Hi, honey, glad you could make it.”
I have never understood that phrase “She’s letting herself go.” What does that mean? She let herself go to the refrigerator? She let herself go to the candy store instead of the beauty salon? People never say men “let themselves go” but if a woman allows her hair to grow in to its natural silver she’s “letting herself go.” If she doesn’t get a mani-pedi before sandal season, she’s “letting herself go.” If she refuses the gym, she’s “let herself go.” And heaven help the woman who wears anything in her wardrobe faded black or yellowed white or chosen an ill-matched outfit. There she is “letting herself go” again. No jewelry? No lipstick? No mascara? Letting herself go. Such a shame.
When I was a teenager, I didn’t wear a bra (and I needed one). I didn’t wear make up. I never got my hair cut, not even the frizzy ends trimmed. My jeans were faded and my tops were flannel shirts from the men’s department. I just really didn’t care about all the girly stuff. None of my friends did. But then I entered the working world and to fit in, had to get in line. Wear a uniform. Shave my legs. Attempt to paint my face. I even got contact lenses when a friend suggested it.
I’ve never been a slob. I take a shower and use deodorant. I brush my teeth. I comb my hair. When I think of someone who let’s herself go, I imagine a train wreck of a woman with a dirty face, filth under her fingernails, wearing too tight clothes that show her muffin top or wrinkled cleavage to unfortunate advantage. That woman is probably homeless and mentally ill. Letting herself go so far from the norm is probably a symptom of her disease. She needs help. She’s sad and alone and she’s not me. She needs a hug and a treatment program.
I don’t wear make up now that I’m retired unless my husband is taking me out to dinner or I’m meeting friends for lunch. Most days, I write in my pajamas. If I notice it’s getting on in the afternoon, I take a stretch break and throw on yoga pants. I recently found out I’m allergic to hair dye. My silver hair has grown in an inch or so. Yes, I’m letting it go natural. As women, we fight nature bleached tooth and polished nail. But I’m telling you, letting go feels really good.