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Recognizing the ISMs and Changing the Script

Article by Peni Jo Renner

Ageism. Chauvinism. Sexism. Size-ism. As women, we deal with a lot unnecessary -isms. And they don’t all come from the men. Sadly, sometimes we attack each other.

“Did you see what she was wearing? She’s way too old to be dressing like that!”

“She’s obviously had work done.”

“That girl needs to eat more/ eat less/ cover up.”

My friend and I were discussing this very thing the other day, how women so quickly attack each other, even when hard-won rights are being stripped away. This criticism (see? Another -ism) bores into the psyche deeply until it becomes our own internal broken record.

“You’re too old/young.”

“You’re not tall/thin enough.”

“You really should think about covering up that gray hair.”

These all become ingrained, and my friend asked an important question, “Why can’t we let go of the script?”

Worthiness has been an issue I’ve dealt with my entire life. Well-meaning (and not-so-well-meaning) folks probably felt they were simply protecting me, discouraging me from attempting challenges with over- protective but damaging “you’re not old/pretty/smart/fast/talented/good enough.”

Fortunately, I have embraced the fact that I am a late bloomer, and the more I age the more I like myself! It used to matter SO MUCH to me what others said and thought about me. My (again, well-meaning) husband once said, “Don’t put glitter on your shoes. You’re not a little girl.”

Watch me.

Always a big fan of glitter, I have recently taken to sprinkling my hair (and subsequently my neck, shoulders, and arms) with glitter. I love it so much I even blogged about it. I’m 57-year-old and finally feel free and empowered. I’ve accomplished my lifelong dream of writing historical fiction (3 multi-award-winning novels, but I digress). Financially comfortable, I retired when my husband did in 2017 and my days are filled with crafting, coffee dates and organizing activities for my Red Hat Society chapter.

My journey to size acceptance (size-ism being a REAL big -ism) has been a long but successful one. I had bouts of body dysmorphia like many young women and after college and marriage went up and down countless times. Happiness depended upon what the scale reading was that morning.

Sometime in my forties I grew tired of it. On my own I learned to become comfortable with my size. Granted, I am currently following a program but that’s to improve health conditions, not be a certain size. In fact, I don’t want to lose too much weight because guess what? Being a “woman of size” feels empowering to me! So much so, I can see beauty in other full-sized women.

Which leads me back to supporting our sisters. Years ago, after losing a considerable amount of weight (I was a size 9) I remember smiling smugly to myself thinking, “I’m thinner than her, and her, and her!”

How shallow and vain and downright MEAN of me.

No two people are the same so it’s only a natural that are many different perceptions of beauty.  If we choose to color our hair or not, wear the latest fashions or clothes from yesteryear, why does it matter what others think? Do we criticize the choices of others to feel better about our own?

What if we accept ourselves and others to the point of seeing beauty in natural gray hair as well as dyed hair?  I like to refer to my gray hair as, “wisdom highlights.” What if we saw extra pounds as sensual voluptuousness? Wrinkles as character lines? As my friend said, “We change the script by celebrating and validating each woman and her choices.”

Let go of the old mental script and write a new one! One of acceptance and joy and inclusiveness. Practice that long enough, and the neurons to this new mindset will be strengthened while the nagging self-criticism will be silenced.

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