By DR. KAREN LATIMER
I just finished reading, "This Beautiful Life," by Helen Schulman. It is a story about one family's experience with children and sex and the Internet. It is sad and eye-opening. One specific part resonated with me. Liz, the frazzled, distraught mother comes to understand that each generation must hand over sex to the next generation:
"Generation after generation of teenagers invading this mysterious and previously 'adults only' floating island, laying down the flag of ownership, and declaring the previous inhabitants obsolete. Now it was the kids' turf."
This got me thinking. What are we handing over to our children? It is only natural for our daughters to want to push the limits a little further than we did. It is only natural for a girl to want to adopt a style different than her mom's. No one wants to come of age in her mother's kind of sexy -- ew, gross! Most girls want to be sexier than the women before them, they want to believe they've invented a new kind of provocation. This tendency took us from prairie skirts to mini skirts, but it took us there in baby steps. Maybe it is just the more prudish perspective of motherhood, but it feels like our girls are taking a giant leap. Is this in response to the image we try to portray?
By the time my grandmother was 40, it was completely acceptable to let yourself go, wallow in the daily chores of womanhood and don a housedress for the rest of your life. This housedress covered every and any flaw. Who did you have to impress? You were too busy sewing clothes, spanking children and making every meal from scratch. Without birth control, keeping your husband out of your pants was also a great motivator for living in a moo moo, which could not only hide curves, but could also hide cellulite, flabby boobs, sagging stomachs and the occasional canned ham. When you ventured out, the goal would be cleanliness and presentability. Other than the occasional magazine picture or movie, the only women you encountered were all from your neighborhood, and you all shopped at the same store. Your comps were low, your self-acceptance high and your priorities intact.
My mother's generation looked at their mothers and thought, "I'm younger. I'm prettier. I will never wear a tent, and if I just wear my sweater a little tighter and put on some bright red lipstick, my mom will disapprove enough to support my rebellious desire. Fashion magazines and TV provided role models. Marilyn and Jackie represented flirtatious femininity and class. Girls satisfied their need to put their own stamp on sexy by raising their hems an inch or two and buying more flattering bras. The racy girls wore pants.
When that generation hit their forties, the goal was to be attractive and elegant. The crime-fighting women of "Charlie's Angels" were style and beauty icons. The actresses were in their 20s and 30s, but their look was attainable and appropriate for the fashion forward mom crowd. Farrah Fawcett and Jaclyn Smith made big hair and leisure suits sexy, without giving too much away. And when age made the hot P.I. look unbecoming, middle-aged women gave it up for jeans, sweaters and track suits. Of course, there were still some moms sweating it out in their living rooms to the Jane Fonda album and following the advice of Andie MacDowell and Loreal by "fighting [aging] every step of the way." For the most part though, moms looked like moms.
My generation viewed our mothers' style and tried to take sexy a step further. With MTV and more accessible media providing us with inspiration, we took charge of our own need for shock value and rocked shorter skirts, Madonna inspired belly shirts, skin tight jeans and off-the-shoulder "Flashdance" sweatshirts. Black rubber bracelets as statement pieces and roach clips as hair accessories completed our rebellious look.
Then we got older, invented our own style of mothering and matured. We regrettably gave up our leg warmers and acid wash jeans, but we didn't give up our desire to look young. We are holding onto it with all our might. We are more attracted to a "How to Look Younger" headline than we are to news from the Middle East. We talk and read and obsess over ways to look younger, and we resent and feel betrayed by our aging faces and bodies.
Enter intense workouts, extreme dieting, botox and plastic surgery. Enter photoshop and a bombardment of how fabulous, stylized celebrities look in their 40s, 50s and 60s. No longer is it enough for a mom to be attractive and healthy. Today's middle-aged mother is expected to work like Sheryl Sandberg, parent like Caroline Ingalls and look like Jennifer Aniston. It is really difficult, yet we continue to battle. We spend a lot of money, waste a lot of time and take on serious risks in our quest for the holy grail – a younger appearance.
There are consequences. For us, the inevitable failure of this quest can cause depression and anxiety, and women are becoming obsessed with and addicted to plastic surgery. What are the consequences for our kids?
Have you been to a bar mitzvah or a sweet sixteen recently? There are girls in dresses no bigger than my Spanx and heels so high they can't walk or dance. They are a broken ankle and a ruined reputation waiting to happen. Have you seen any teenage Instagram posts? The attempts to look older and sexy are both pitiful and off-putting. The image they want to portray to the entire world saddens me. I want to scream, "Act your age. Your age looks great on you." This is advice I should be giving myself.
But, what can we expect? As mothers who want to look "hot at any age," we aren't giving our daughters much wiggle room to differentiate themselves from us. I fear they are wiggling their way into obscene.
Are we stealing sexy from our daughters and leaving them only with vulgarity?
Perhaps it is time to hand over the reins of youth and beauty to those who own it. Heaven knows it would be a relief. Think of all the time and money you'd save. Where does one buy a housedress these days?