Hello there. It’s Sugar again. Today is my birthday. I’m 37. I’m happier than I was when I was 27.
Over the past five years or so I’ve become less concerned with a whole group of things that used to somewhat obsess me, and I am the happier for it. I put this change down in part to the aging process and in part to trying to think deeply about how to improve my level of happiness without anti-depressants. Some of the things that I’ve done to be happier are familiar and obvious. For instance, exercising more lifts my mood, so now I exercise more. But a large part of why I think I am so much happier now than when I was 27 has to do with a mental program that could be called ‘Not Caring in a Radical Way’ (or it could be called something catchier, if I could think of it).
I’m writing about this here because parenthood and aging has pushed me even further in the direction of radical nonchalance, but I think for some women (like my own mom) parenthood and aging pushed them the other way. There are a lot of cultural pressures to go the other way and I think we need to resist them.
Here is some stuff to not care about, and I mean really not think about, rather than say you don’t care about, but actually constantly return to in your mind:
- Gray hair, wrinkles, aspects of your body that sag or look different than they did when you were 16, weight gain or loss
- and the corollary: excessive corrective grooming and dieting
- and the other corollary: whether other people think you look attractive/young
- your numeric age
- how perfect your clothes are
- whether your house/apartment looks extremely clean and nice
I bet this doesn’t sound radical, since it’s basically what smart liberal women have been telling me forever. Radical would be letting go of those things internally, truly knowing that those things are distractions. Not only do they not matter, but worries about them are actively imposed on women to prevent them from being happy and doing interesting things.
What do these worries really accomplish? Worrying about my appearance and age makes me feel competitive with other women, bad about myself, and like I am less worthy than more attractive people. Worrying about what other people think about my appearance gives away power to those who didn’t earn it and don’t necessarily deserve it. Excessive grooming and house cleaning waste my time. Dieting makes me ill. Worrying about my wardrobe wastes my money.
I’m done with this crap. I want to have as much time and energy as possible to do things out there in the world rather than waste my life in front of a mental tribunal and a mirror.
At least I’m trying to be done with it. I’ve had better and worse luck with this, but here are some things that have helped.
Don’t read ‘women’s’ magazines. Don’t even look at the pictures. Just don’t. This includes parenting magazines, which usually have a section devoted to making mom sexy again. I used to believe that I enjoyed looking at the fashion spreads in Vogue, etc., but eventually I realized that I actually felt considerably worse about myself after an encounter with any magazine like that. They are designed to suck the life out of you. They are your frenemy from high school, the one that would tell you that she would ‘help’ you be more popular. No.
Try not telling yourself anything negative about yourself for 24 hours. I know this sounds like advice from someone’s dopey therapist, but it is shockingly difficult and interesting. 24 hours is about all I can do (and really, I’m asleep for 8 hours of that 24, ideally). I tried this and discovered that I tell myself that I’m terrible in some way constantly. I tell myself that I’m sad, unattractive, incompetent, have boring ideas, have inappropriate emotions, and generally have failed at life. WHAT IS THE POINT OF THIS? I think that somewhere in there I believe that if I’m not always reminding myself of my weak points, I’ll get worse. But this is just nonsense.
Just don’t do some shit. Parenting helps with this! Because who has time for a 20 minutes of blow-drying her hair when the toddler is trying to put cake in the printer? A friend of mine who has a son about the same age as the Bean recently said to me that she used to wear make up but hasn’t since her son was born. I expected the follow up to be some self-flagellation about how she should get back to it (because that’s the women’s magazine rhetoric, that grooming is somehow ‘time for yourself’ and I hear versions of this all the time), but instead she said, “I’m so much happier this way.” Yes.
These things have helped me have a calmer perspective on my life, but I am not saying that people who enjoy wearing make up or high heels or whatever should give those things up. If you like something, do it (within reason). What I think we should reject is the litany of pointless and manipulative shoulds that come with being a woman. If we think we should do something, particularly something we don’t enjoy and that doesn’t have a meaningful and positive outcome, we need to evaluate its true purpose. And if it doesn’t matter, then stop worrying about it. For real.