The Post – Jamie Lee Curtis: Am I Just a Body? Why Am I Here?

I mentioned in an earlier post that I am not much of a clothes person, just neither my interest, nor my strength. Mind you, I admire people who make wardrobe an artistic expression of themselves. It’s their talent and I acknowledge and admire it. I do better with paints on a canvas. To each his own. No competition required. Instead, more often now, I just laugh at my foibles here.

Where I can walk into a bookstore and immediately process hundreds of topics and book locations and see order and clarity when hunting what I want, I walk into a clothing store and see chaos and confusion. And we won’t even discuss that I’m no longer 20 so many of the styles I wouldn’t be caught dead in, and I wouldn’t look right in anyway. Over the years I learned to figure out the things I like to wear and how to find them, and shopping online allowed order and quiet.

But even if you take all that out of the equation, the simple fact remains…I am at heart a simple person. Intricate complicated wardrobes are just not me. Even more, I am married to a man who could not care less about my wardrobe, and enjoys and I think, even prefers me in simple attire, relaxed, happy, and focused on enjoying each other.

I have to laugh to remember this, but I am a person who spent 8 years in Catholic grammar school wearing uniforms…and LOVED it. I never admitted it to any of the other girls who always griped about these horrible uniforms and why couldn’t they wear their nice clothes. I was secretly relieved. Uniforms leveled the playing field – it took wardrobe out of the picture. People were more able to react to each other as persons because the artificial concept of what you had on, was removed from the equation. So whether you couldn’t pick out nice clothes, or didn’t have the money for them or preferred T-shirt and jeans….none of it mattered. And I liked it that way. And it was less complicated for a non-morning person. You got up and every day you knew what you were wearing. No struggle to figure out what in God’s name to put on.

Even later in life, after I’d learned to do the high heels and makeup and dresses and got fairly comfortable with it, and was slim enough to wear what I wanted….I was still secretly relieved to work in a hospital for 15 years wearing uniforms because again, no questions of what to wear. Sure I had to decide “dress today? skirt and top? slacks?” But still, uniforms limit the confusing options. And deep down inside, that simple child still would rather be in T-shirts and jeans.

That child was the one who wanted to get home from school, throw on whatever and run out to play. Play – biking, baseball, climbing trees and fences, playing in the dirt, imagining through my play that I was on all kinds of adventures – that was the goal. I wore clothes because you had to.

I always loved that in the Nancy Drew books, her clothes were given one sentence: “Nancy went home and packed for her sleuthing trip, then headed for the airport” and the rest of the 130 or so pages were about finding hidden doors, crawling down dirt tunnels, chasing bad guys down deserted roads, and escaping from being tied up in a basement. I would love to be as dressed up as Nancy Drew (not to mention have her lean frame these days), but only have to devote one sentence to it: Deb went shopping and picked out some clothes that looked nice on her, then went to the bookstore. šŸ™‚

Now in menopause, I find I’ve come back full circle to that child who just wants to play and doesn’t care whether society approves of what I put on. In fact, as I get older, the more I feel society demanding something of me in any area of life, the more inclined I am to tell society to take a flying leap off a short pier. And some things on my body hurt more now – high heels I always looked good in but they kill my toes, heels, and arches, and I’m in pain for days afterward. These days, my biggest priority is not to turn heads as I walk in a room…I prefer to not even be noticed, after all, I’m a writer…writer’s like to be anonymous observers of life….my biggest priority is not to turn my ankle walking in shoes too narrow for my wide foot, or feel abdominal pain because the waistband on my slacks is causing my insides to hurt. I did crab at the man in the shoestore one day about why don’t they carry heels in wide sizes. I said, “don’t you think people with wide feet like to wear nice-looking shoes?” He just shrugged. Not really his problem. I was just frustrated. These days I spend most of my time in very expensive running shoes which make my feet feel good. So much for wide heels. The bottom line is, my biggest priority these days is comfort and doing what I was sent here for in the first place before time runs out.

I wear clothes because I have to…they arrest you if you don’t šŸ™‚ . And yes, I am a grown-up, sometimes you have to and should dress up…so I can, and I do. And by the way, for anyone out there who loves clothes and it’s your talent in life….that’s wonderful. Indulge and revel in it. It’s your strength, celebrate it. But it’s not mine and I’ve finally reached a place in life where…I am okay with that. I really understand that for me, it doesn’t matter. My body just wants to return to the simple….to the child. And by that I mean “child-like” not childish. Child-like is the ability to retain the knowledge gained in life and have depth, but to keep the open “beginner’s mind and awe” of a child. You drop the weight of answering to society for the reward of discovering joy in everything out there in the world….even just a bunny rabbit at the back yard feeder. Child-like is what Jesus was talking about when He said you had to become like little children to enter heaven. He wasn’t advocating we all start acting like two-year-olds and throwing tantrums, He simply meant, let go of all that is unnecessary and instead, view the world and life again, using the wonder-filled eyes of a child seeing things for the first time. And maybe He knew that at least by menopause, heaven is not forcing wide feet into tiny high heels, which is hell. šŸ™‚

As an aside about dressing up, I have found simple can be elegant – I always admired the actress Stephanie Powers. Very glamorous Hollywood type. Yet, she seemed as at home in Khakis on the African plains with her friend William Holden, as she did in evening gowns at a Hollywood premiere. When she dressed up, she wore simple, classic styles and avoided “trendy.” She chose classic and it worked. So when I do dress up, I look for that ….even though I don’t have her budget. šŸ™‚

So, it was with all this mulling through my head that I came across the May/June 2008 issue of AARP and saw the interview with Jamie Lee Curtis. I have always enjoyed Jamie Lee Curtis in movies, especially the funny ones, such as A Fish Called Wanda or True Lies. It’s not that her other works are bad, just I like her ability as an actress to poke fun at herself. I suspect that’s part of the real her showing.

For whatever reason, someone discovered a few years ago that she is an interesting and intelligent interviewee. In addition to this current article, I have these two others about her – one from 2006, another from 2007. In each I kept underlining and circling things, and finally just tore them out and kept them. They are sort of a progression of installments as she navigates midlife, and the bits of wisdom she’s learned along the way.

In reading each, I found a person I’d enjoy having tea with, many of the same struggles, foibles, questions and insights. And grounded, down-to-earth. No pretense. No BS…even when talking about her flaws….especially when talking about her flaws. From the 2006 article in More magazine she said: “How can I sell a book about self esteem if I’m not willing to acknowledge that I too have self-esteem issues?”

She is on a quest to get real and the evolution over those articles shows. She ditched the golden brown hair and is now silver. In 2004 she did an article with More magazine that included a picture of her – no makeup, unflattering spandex…midriff bulging – her point: A way to make amends for making many women feel less than they were when she was doing movies with a Barbie-thin frame. She wasn’t advocating going after obesity, but rather the point that she does pilates and yoga, exercises, and eats carefully and yet “This is what I look like….I’ve had to accept that part of me.” She even named her midriff “Midge.”

Progressing through the 2007 Ladies Home Journal article and the 2008 AARP article, she continues her quest for real. She speaks of overcoming alcoholism and drug addiction, being a better mom, wife, and human being, and confronting such questions as: “Did I learn to live wisely? Did I love well? Why am I here? Am I nothing but a body?”

In this latest article, she continues the journey and among other things, talks about aging, clothes and paring down: “Getting older means paring yourself down to an essential version of yourself.” She turns 50 November 22nd and sees herself peeling away the layers more and more and notes that “I have not one second of anxiety about turning 50.”

Frankly, neither did I when I turned 50. In fact I found it liberating to be out of my 40s. Something about reaching a milestone and for whatever inexplicable reason, I felt like I could start to let some things go, shed them, be me again and take back that freedom that comes with getting older and knowing you aren’t 30 anymore, you don’t want to be 30 anymore, you’re better than you were at 30 in so many ways, and you’re actually happy to do what you please and make a fool of yourself and the hell with what people say.

Jamie Lee Curtis mirrored my thoughts. She went on to say that “My style is a distillation …I’ve let my hair go gray. I wear only black and white. Every year I buy three or four black dresses that I just keep in rotation. I own one pair of blue jeans. I’ve given away all my jewelry, because I don’t wear it.” She wants to “jettison what no longer serves her.” She noted that she recently got rid of a pair of black boots and no longer wears high heels…. “Too uncomfortable. Don’t need ’em. Gone.” In evolving this way, she becomes new again.

Her first insight into this new simpler approach came years ago when she and her husband attended the Golden Globes. She described herself as “wearing some borrowed dress that wasn’t me, my hair was done in a way that I never wear my hair, and I had earrings on. And my husband said, “You know who is the most beautiful woman in the room?” And I was hoping he would say me. And he pointed across the room at Jessica Tandy. She was sitting at a table wearing a cream-colored silk-shantung pantsuit. Single strand of pearls, short white hair, a little lipstick-nothing else. And I thought, ‘He’s totally right.’ There was none of the pretense, none of the trying so hard.”

She talks about being older and seems to like it, thinking “there’s an incredible amount of self knowledge that comes with getting older. I feel way better now than I did when I was 20…stronger…smarter in every way….less crazy…..” She added that “as we get older, we say goodbye to a lot of people….and discover our capacity to love and communicate and have intimacy–real intimacy, not the superficial intimacy we had in our youth. Strip away all the bulls—; be done with that.” Her goal now is to “jettison what no longer serves her” and she aspires to “essential being. Nothing extraneous.”

In a 2002 article she said that she hoped to someday feel sure enough of herself to “look like just me” and say to magazine editors “This is what I wear, this is how I wear my hair…;I’m going to look the way God intended me to look.” She admits that she’s not a spiritually perfect person. “I’m flawed and contradictory and fraught in many areas. But I’m better. I’m growing, and that’s all I really want.”

I raise my cup of tea to her. She said so many things that I’ve felt and wondered if I was the only one. I embraced her thoughts about “shedding” and “being essential only” and know exactly what she meant about coming to an age where you suddenly realize the amount of power you have inside you to love and to communicate and to want, demand, and give REAL intimacy — soul connection…not that kind from my 20s that left you feeling scared, competitive, inadequate.

So now I will go upstairs to change from my comfortable sweats, and put on my shorts and T-shirt to work through my day, doing work I feel I am being called to do….work that draws on every last experience, failure, mistake, despair, wonder, and love I have internalized over the last 52 and 1/2 years. Later this year, also in November, like Curtis (guess we’re both Scorpios?), I will turn 53, and I will revel in that and take more of my own power back from society.

And I know the questions she asks, and I ask them of myself almost everyday –Ā  Why am I here? Did I learn to live wisely? Did I love well? Good questions.

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