At 59 years old, I was buying fancy dresses. Does the dress reflect the complexity of life?

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With a distance of 60 meters, I faced a novel challenge. It was about finding a floor-length dress for a formal dinner party. Having spent much of the past few years in sweatpants and other form-fitting clothing, it was humbling to slip into an attention-grabbing dress that exposed her six decades.

Also, what should I say about this gown? About me, about women, about my body, about the passage of time? I wore it to her husband’s Nobel Prize in Chemistry award ceremony in Stockholm in the winter. It occurred to me that I should consider warmth. But of course it wasn’t. The look I envisioned ignored practicality and went directly for appeal.

Still, I wondered, at what age does the balance between provocative and realistic break down? Would I dare to reach for unlimited Vavoom? Or maybe I was relegated to the mother of the bride?

Recently, I noticed new signs of aging. The skin on my elbows became loose and crepey, and the sagging sound of my upper arms became louder when I jogged. The chest is not in the correct position. Spanx came out of storage, but there was only so much it could do. I was refusing surgery. I feared a medical error more than I feared the effects of gravity on my hips and stomach as I carried my two children.

I soon realized that my quest for the perfect gown had led me to embody a certain question. Will it be a distraction and a sheath to hide her own shortcomings, or maybe it will help show off her 60-year-old figure, which is still sexy and sublime? ?

dress shopping and memories

I started by imagining a gown for a young girl. It features dark roses and pale pink appliqué flowers, short capped sleeves, a cinched waist, and a flowing taffeta skirt that swirls as the dance begins. As I stumbled into the dress, her itchy chest was engulfed by floral details and so much taffeta that I needed her GPS to escape. In the era of senior discounts, it has become clear that less is more.

I moved on to a simple black off-shoulder form fitting. I gave up on my kinks and reached for my super strong Spanx. Staring at my belly in profile, I was transported back in time. As a 15-year-old growing up in Brooklyn, it was the heyday of fat-free eating culture, when I was proud to eat half grapefruit and half chalky cottage cheese and go to bed hungry.

At the time, I asked my mother to let me attend a “health manor” in upstate New York. There, every day for a week, I drank only three glasses of diluted orange juice and a small bowl of lettuce that day. 5 To regain strength. Every morning a man who claimed to be a doctor but was not actually came to take our pulses. It was Thanksgiving, so when I got home my stomach was flat. And we felt powerful.

When I asked my mother, who is now 87 years old and still checks the scale every morning, why she had allowed my teenage self to starve to death like that, she said, “You wanted to go.” I did.

I try not to pass on this twisted self-hatred to my daughters. I don’t think fries are bad, and I don’t comment on my daughters’ bodies. I try to differentiate between hunger and craving, and I think the comfort of food can bridge the two.

I haven’t always modeled the best behavior when it comes to enjoying the pleasures of food, but I find that my daughters are much more at ease than I am. Looking at their exposed bellies in their crop tops and the way they happily munch on soft-serve ice cream topped with sprinkles in the summer, I think they’ve given me back some of the power I’ve lost.

The girls also attended a formal dinner where we were all to be photographed and interviewed. Dress shopping was easy for them. Easy without any luggage. My second daughter, who is 18 years old, transformed into a princess in her first dress. It was A-line with her dusty pink sequins and had satin straps that hugged her perfectly. “I just need shoes,” she said.

My 20 year old daughter repurposed a recycled dress she wore to her high school prom. The long-stemmed Day-Glo flowers were embroidered slightly off-center on black velvet. My stepdaughter, who is 21 years old and an athlete, chose three dress options, each more perfect than the last.

Does the dress reflect the complexity of life?

For me, the mental burden of choosing this package for my body was very tiring. The 60 people seemed to suddenly appear without any warning. I gave birth to a child when she was 38 and her 41, and we spent our 40s raising a young girl.

At the age of 50, when many women begin to face the invisible decline of middle age, desire and desire, my first husband died by suicide. My 50s were a decade of grief and regret for the daughters I lost, and then the beginning of the process of putting our lives back together.

Menopause has come and gone, but while I’m in the middle of negotiating household finances, thinking about picking up and dropping off my kids, and worrying about how I’m going to be a parent for two people at the same time, I find myself I hardly noticed it. I missed the reckoning that came with this transition, but when I looked up, I realized I was living a more settled life. New marriages and young adult children who have found ways to cope and grow.

How can your dress reflect this complexity? Are you coming to terms with a life that you didn’t choose, but one that, while still filled with sadness, has been full of richness and joy? ?

I have purchased and returned at least a dozen gowns. Silk and vintage, ruffled, velvet, one-shoulder, strapless, etc. I spent far too much on stick-on, backless, adhesive bras, bunny lifters, and nipple covers. None of them could reliably fit my chest.

Then, a promising dress arrived in the mail. The silver Halston, lace sequined “Loretta”, sleeveless V-neck, center ruching, and slightly flared godet skirt accentuated my best contours. As I zipped it up and gave it a swish, I noticed a glimmer of light. I thought that with a little tailoring, I could really move around freely. It looked great with Spanx, but it looked great without it.

On the night of the banquet, I stepped into the hotel lobby wearing a glittering dress, with my hair and makeup done. The party was ready. The ladies at the concierge desk applauded. “And I’m almost 60!” I declared, shaking off the clarity of middle age. “Really?” one of them said. “I can’t believe it.” “Yes,” I nodded.

And my daughters, with their eyes shining, saw it too. This dress was an opportunity to show them my actual 60 year old body covered in sequins. I didn’t have slender hips and dewy skin like them. I was the matriarch, elegant, but still alive, hot and ready for pictures.

The dress played its role at the banquet, attracting attention and admiration. My glittering ensemble was even featured in a Swedish tabloid.

But it wasn’t until 2 a.m., at the “nightcap” afterparty, that I realized the true power of this dress. that All concerns about my outward facing body melted away, becoming invisible and porous. I was sweating all over, moving, limbs taking up space, fists in the air, swaying to the cover of Aretha and Abba. With my eyes closed, I became the embodiment of a young girl beyond her years, dancing into the light of a new day.

Rachel Zimmerman is a journalist and writer based in Cambridge, Massachusetts. She is the author of the upcoming book.After Us: A Memoir of Love and Suicide‘ will be published in June.

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