Picture this. I’m window shopping with my lovely, tall 12-year-old and we’re matching each other, stride by stride. The wind blows back our brown hair. People pass, cars pass, and we don’t notice ’cause we’re together, striding, shopping, doing our girl thing. Like sisters in the sun.
And then it happens. A guy, a 40-something guy, all greying hair and sweatbands, is heading toward us.
Confession: I’ve gotten used to male appreciation over the course of a female lifetime. Even married, even in my 40s, I work out hard. I color my hair. I’ve been called Yummy Mummy more than once. I like to think I still got it.
So when that up-down scan comes, I expect it. Until, that is, it lands, squarely, with a splat – on my child.
I remember being 12. I felt awkward and gangly and too booby for my own good. My mother had conspired with her hairdresser to give me the Kristy McNichol special and let’s just say that I wasn’t at my best – yet. Somehow, though, at that I’m-way-younger-than-I-look stage, I still started turning heads – even if I was vaguely aware of it.
But that memory only came after much tossing and turning. In the moment of swallowing the fact that my daughter is now more attractive to men than I am, I didn’t know what to think. Or feel. But feel I did, and fast.
My emotions went something like this.
Fury: Get your filthy eyes off my Little Girl, you Perv, before I dropkick you in the balls!
Fear: OMG I need to protect my baby from a world populated with pedophiles!
Guilt: It’s all my fault for saying yes to mascara!
And finally, Self-Hate: Ack! I’m Old!
Now, two years later, I’ve calmed down some. When it comes to the daughter-ogling – from boys to men, all of whom seem to have eyes with a brain of their own – I tend to squirm and ignore. But the more inappropriate leers do bear pointing out – for both our sakes.
I tell my girl that she has woman power she can use to protect herself. Ultimately, you can’t control the male response to your physical self (I, for one, will never get used to the slime factor coming from men who could be my kid’s grandfather, let alone father), but it’s important info to be aware of. You can use it to keep yourself safe by considering the clothes you wear, the people you surround yourself with, and the purpose with which you walk. It also reminds you that sometimes, you are judged by your shell, which is only part of who you are.
As for me, there’s an American Beauty trend here: youth is magnetic to men and middle age, less so. Celebs set the tone – Yoohoo! Donald Trump, Woody Allen, Harrison Ford, Al Pacino, Jack Nicholson, over here! (For awhile, Demi Moore topped my compassion list because unbeknownst to her, age conspired against her from day one.) But the Lolita phenomenon is not just the stuff of Hollywood. The fact is, men are hardwired to notice babes, and babes are typically young.
As it turns out, that first perv episode had value. It made me face the inevitability of aging. Despite working hard to look my best, I have no illusions about regaining my youth. With age comes lines, and erasing those won’t reverse them. With age comes the wisdom to accept my looks as they gracefully change. With age comes the understanding that my body, and others’ reactions to it, does not now, and contrary to what I may have once thought, never did, define me.
And yet, both of the gals in this household are adjusting to the passage of time – one who’s not quite ready for the attention the world is just starting to shine her way, and one who (if she’s perfectly honest) is not quite ready to give it up.