It’s not “letting yourself go,” it’s “letting yourself be”

This colour photo depicts close up a bold dark pink cactus flower against a bright blue sky. The single flower has pointed pink petals surrounding a yellow, pink, and white interior, and green leaves, with red flecks. The green leaves of other trees are visible in the background.

[Image description: This colour photo depicts close up a bold dark pink cactus flower against a bright blue sky. The single flower has pointed pink petals surrounding a yellow, pink, and white interior, and green leaves, with red flecks. The green leaves of other trees are visible in the background.

Yesterday I read “In Defense of Letting Yourself Go,” in the Huffington Post. Author Dayna Evans reminds us (without endorsing this line of thinking) that:

When a woman concedes to letting herself go, she rings the death knell of her valued contributions to society. Letting yourself go by putting on weight, not wearing makeup, eating buttered Pop Tarts, deciding to wear clothes that are fit for comfort instead of style, is the equivalent of saying the morally accepted standards of beauty and presentability do not apply to you. And this is unacceptable.

Last week when I wrote about Christie Brinkley appearing, at age 63, in the swimsuit issue of Sports Illustrated (I remain surprised that it’s still a thing!), I said something along the lines of “isn’t there an age where we can just stop worrying about whether we fit the normative ideals of feminine beauty that we’ve had imposed on us for all of our lives?”

I can relate to Dayna Evans’ statement that “Being a woman is a little like putting on a pair of tight shoes at birth and then not taking them off until you die.” So the desire to do what is interpreted as “letting yourself go” is as understandable as wanting to kick off those shoes. She associates the permission to let yourself go with giving yourself the permission to age.

Granted, since youth is a huge part of the oppressive feminine aesthetic, older women have an inescapable strike against them already. The beauty industry preys on our fear of aging — of “letting ourselves go” — by offering an overwhelming array of products meant to stave off aging.

But allowing ourselves to age is not “letting ourselves go.” And at any age, allowing ourselves to give up those figurative high heels for more comfortable shoes is not “letting ourselves go.” Why don’t we think instead of honoring ourselves enough to let us be who we are without having to stuff ourselves into an ill-fitting, uncomfortable mold.

I know it’s optimistic to think that we can just overthrow the pressures of normative femininity overnight. But if we each take little stands against it, defying the narrow range of “acceptable” in order to change it, we can make some progress towards broadening those ideals so that I wider range of “looks” that encompass diversity — of age, race, body size and type, hair colour and style, fashion, etc. — are considered acceptable.

I totally agree with Dayna Evans when she says:

Wouldn’t it be nice, instead of concerning ourselves every morning with the most flattering shirt to wear or putting aside extra cash to dye our hair, if we wore the shirt we wanted to and the one that felt good? And we put that extra cash toward a bowl of chili on a cold winter evening? And when we wanted to “be cozy,” we just were cozy. Or we didn’t put Spanx on under our bridesmaid dresses because the shape of our bodies is just that: the shape of our bodies. Why shouldn’t we?

What I disagree with is that we should think of that as “letting ourselves go.” I get that she’s embracing this and that in so doing, she’s performing an act of defiance. But giving in to dominant characterizations of this type of defiance as “letting ourselves go” doesn’t take it far enough. Let’s challenge the status quo and the narrative surrounding it by letting ourselves be.

Are there any areas of your life where you’ve made a conscious decision to let yourself be? We would love to hear from you about it!

About Tracy I

Writer, feminist, vegan, triathlete, sailor, philosopher, sometimes knitter.

5 thoughts on “It’s not “letting yourself go,” it’s “letting yourself be”

  1. rebeccakukla says:

    The penalties for nonconformity are really marked by social location though. As an academic, I suffer zero penalties for not owning or wearing makeup and wearing hoodies and jeans every single day. The person you quote strikes me as having a fairly corporate point of view that doesn’t generalize as much as she thinks.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Tracy I says:

      That’s a good observation. It does vary with social location. And it needs to start younger, by giving all kids a wider range of options for expressing themselves rather than trying to slot everyome into gender conformity from birth.

      Like

  2. Sam B says:

    Thanks for this. Love the “let yourself be” language. Which of course applies to far more than age. And as Rebecca says is also much more difficult depending on your job and location in the world. And also, on how much you care about the attention of others.

    Like

  3. Jean says:

    “Are there any areas of your life where you’ve made a conscious decision to let yourself be?”

    I love the concept of letting yourself be. After we suddenly weren’t alive, several people would miss us -no matter what we looked like!

    Don’t mean to shock women here: I haven’t worn ANY makeup on my face in my office job for the past 6 years. I work full-time in a professional position and am in constant conversation, side by side meetings/dialogue in person with men and women….I’m talking about seeing at least 10-30 different colleagues daily. My beauty rule of thumb, is have a good haircut, keep my hair clean/shiny and my only jewellery is earrings. I’m 58.

    No, I haven’t got lovely blemish-free skin. I have some tiredness in my face. No I haven’t started to dye/colour my naturally black hair which has some grey strands here and there. I really want to avoid dyeing my hair if I can. I don’t want to start worrying about fading hair colour jobs, etc.

    I wear dress clothing sometimes, other times it’s business casual. I work for govn’t. I’m probably at a point in my career where I just feel comfortable where I am. Yes, I used to dress for career success, makeup, etc. in other jobs.

    With my partner, he’s allergic to perfume, any light scents in lotions, makeup…. so he really wants me….to be my true self.

    My health is absolutely no.1. Good health is the best fashion statement anyone can make.

    Like

  4. ainsobriety says:

    Amen. Letting yourself be.
    I kept thinking letting go of who you think you are supposed to be, and being who you want to be.

    I threw away my scale. I got tattooed. I wear black leggings almost every day so I can do a little yoga at lunch.

    I breathe easier now. It’s awesome.

    Like

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