Are You Juicy?

I've been writing about women and age since I charged into my 50s. That was a while back - during the Clinton years, to be honest. But I was determined then, as now, to not let the culture, the media or a birth date inhibit those lush women I call Juicy Tomatoes.

And look at what we've done together. We've grown into the role models we were looking for. We've got the juice. And we have a voice.

I use mine to comment on Washington, global women, the media, un-retirement, hair color, the need to dance...
For more on Susan Swartz.

Mean World for Girls (little and big)

October 25th, 2013 © by Susan Swartz 2 Comments »

I was in the seventh grade when I got my first negative message about body image.  I was lucky to be spared that long. Then walking home from school one fine, blissful day I heard my name shouted out by a cute boy with floppy brown hair on whom I had a little crush and who lived a couple streets from my house. Leaning over his front porch with two other boys,  he shouted out, “Hey, Suzi.”

 Flattered to be singled out, I cooed back, “Yes?”

“Do you know why you’re like a pirate,” he asked.

“No,” I chirped, never expecting a trap.

“Because you have a sunken chest,” he bleated. And the other boys chorused,  “Haw, haw, haw.”

From then on I avoided the cute boy and his street and felt pretty self conscious about my arrested development. I would like to report that years later I dazzled him with my amazing cleavage and he fell to his knees and begged my forgiveness. But he moved away and I grew enough to like myself, especially during the braless period when small was an asset. Now, of course, I am simply grateful for a clear mammogram. Touch wood.

A Hillary Clinton joke made the rounds at a GOP conference in California this summer. Some of the old boys, real buffoons, taunted her not for her politics, but her body parts, employing the strategy that you can counter a woman’s power by saying “haw, haw” about her looks. She’s used to it. In fact, it wasn’t even a new smear but an old one used when Hillary first gave the big boys hives as First Lady.

I doubt these things cause her much anguish, although it would be fun to sit with her and come up with the best retorts for boobs who make fun of women’s breasts.

It’s easier when you’re older. But for girls, it’s still tough to buck a culture that cares too much about image. That’s why we keep having to come up with new efforts to remind girls that they are beautiful in many ways.  

In New York City there’s a public health campaign to do just that with posters in subways and buses picturing girls of all sizes, looks and talent. The campaign is aimed at girls ages seven to 12, a vulnerable time when bad self image can take over and lead to eating disorders, bullying, sexual abuse and suicide.

malala threeI wonder what the wonderful Pakistani girl, Malala Yousafzai, thinks about our problem with girls’ self esteem. Malala was targeted by the Taliban for declaring that girls should be educated. They tried to kill her for it. Now she’s an international icon, charming everyone from Jon Stewart to the UN with her courage and young wisdom.

American girls can get all the education they want. So why is it that lucky American girls are still in terrible danger of  losing or wasting their lives because someone makes them fear their nose is big and their breasts are small? It shouldn’t be such a hard sell, to convince girls there’s more to life than looks.

This Halloween there’s been a small empowering campaign to offer costume ideas to girls that have nothing to do with princesses or fairies. Photos on the internet show how to turn your daughter into Amelia Earhart, Jane Goodall, Coco Chanel and the like.

If any of those girls come trick or treating tell her she looks clever and strong. And if she dresses up  like a woman who might become president one day or a girl who defies terrorists, give her an extra Luna bar.

 

 

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See What Else Is Out There

October 13th, 2013 © by Susan Swartz 5 Comments »

My friend Mary, a lawyer in the Midwest, is thinking about retiring and wants to know if I think she should. I’m no expert although I’ve been playing at it for a few years.

I say sure, see what else is out there. I tell her about Bob, the retired journalism professor who bicycles to his own little corner in the park to play his trumpet and about Ellen, the retired  diplomat, who self-publishes exotic novels.

But no rush to jump into something new right away. Do a Hillary Clinton. Say you’re going to “untire” and see what else comes up.

meditatingThere are some pretty groovy people no longer working for a living or living for work.  After I retired I found two new groups to keep my body and mind going. The Transition Network is a national organization for women leaving and changing careers. Every two weeks our local transition group drinks tea and ponders our possibilities. Every week my Wander Women group pushes me onto a hiking trail and bike path.

Of course, I explain, I’m not really retired.  I’m semi. I still write. I still have an appointment book.  I still wake up and make lists.

Do I sound defensive?  Once you quit your day job you find yourself using the word “still” a lot. As in continuing. As opposed to sputtered out and stopped.  People ask, “Keeping busy? Bored yet?” You could serenely respond,  “Actually, my life is fuller than ever but in different ways.” But sometimes you stammer, maybe a little too loud, that you just put in a winter garden, took care of two kids under 4, written a book proposal and are thinking about trekking the Camino de Santiago. The whole route.  

It is not a seamless next step.  You may worry you gave up the job too soon. I guess if you’re a lawyer you could be nostalgic for those genius moments in the courtroom when you were like Martha, the brilliant London barrister with the no-smear lipstick in Silk. I enjoyed  good days, even great ones, in the newsroom. But I don’t miss death-to-the-soul staff meetings and how a dull day could turn on the corner deli not running out of lentil salad.

Get going, I tell my pal in Detroit, but understand that you can’t return to what was.  It’s like the spikes in the exit lane of a parking lot. Try to back up and you’ll wreck your tries.

Do it now.  Some people would keep you tethered for another decade or two. Robert Benmosche, the head of insurance giant AIG – bailed out by the government, helped wreck the global economy – is one who thinks the retirement age should go up to 70 or 80.

I imagine my friend, a lawyer for mostly low income people, and her husband, a retired newspaper editor, will rely for a large part on Social Security, Medicare and a pension. But there are no guarantees.

Some members of Congress and their keepers would cut the lifelines.  These people do not have a kind and generous nature. They’re the same ones who hack at food stamps, milk for babies, Head Start, birth control and health care for all. As well, both sides in the Washington games take turns threatening Social Security and Medicare.  And these crazy shenanigans with the debt limit can’t make anyone feel secure about any future.

Here’s my advice:  Curl up on the chaise and purr for a while and then look for something that doesn’t require a blazer and makes you feel alive.  The ukulele, I hear, is a kick. And break in those hiking boots. If the big boys keep cutting, you’ll need them for our march on Washington.

 

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Beaches and Newspapers

September 29th, 2013 © by Susan Swartz 9 Comments »

Driving up the Oregon coast we caught a radio interview with a woman, someone who lived in the far-off troubled Arab world – I think she was Lebanese – saying she likes to take her family to the beach because people don’t usually bomb beaches. That’s something I never think to plan for.  But there I was imagining being a mother grabbing sunhats and sand buckets to take time off from maybe being blown up.

Later we stopped in the resort town of Seaside, Oregon, a long soft stretch of dunes and beach grass full of end-of-summer vacationers.  There were lots of families, speaking several languages, but I doubt any were worrying right then about terrorists or rebels or government thugs.

The only recognized danger was a tsunami warning sign with a picture of a pouncing wave and reminder to run like hell to high ground were the ocean to suddenly attack.

oregon beachAfter dark the beach lit up with small fires but they were made from driftwood and for roasting marshmallows.

Without that mother who thinks of her beach on the Mediterranean as a refuge I wouldn’t have been paying the same close attention to an Oregon beach.  You need to be in touch with all the world to see what you have. You need to make these connections.  You need to find a radio station with real news. You need to sit down with a newspaper. At least I do.

I can’t give up the news. I know some people have and I understand because it’s all so enraging and terribly sad and how can you sleep and what can one person really do about any of the awfulness anyhow? But can we ignore the world we’re living in? Including a mother in Lebanon who organizes her days by where violence is least likely to strike and who really isn’t that far away from me at all?

Americans get their news from television, the internet, newspapers and radio. In that order. A lot of young people don’t seek out the news at all because, they tell pollsters, they don’t find it relevant. I once heard a young man boast that he gets all he needs to know from Facebook and I wanted to throw up.

I assume if you’re reading a newspaper you care about keeping up with the news, but I’m prejudiced. And, okay, dated.  My husband and I spent our careers in newspapers. To give up the printed page would be like a baker renouncing bread. On a road trip, the deal is that he drives and I read the newspaper out loud even though in many towns it’s easier to find a drive-through espresso shack than a newspaper rack.

In one of those small towns we stood on a bluff and looked down at a beach where people were dancing in the surf. You could hear their music coming through the fog. I’m not sure why they were dancing. Maybe just because they could.

 

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