This article was originally published on Role Reboot, you can read it here.
At the grocery store on Sunday, my heaping cart included enough food to last the four of us for a week as well as enough stuff to help feed my daughter’s swimming and diving team on Friday. Two women in their 40’s were in the checkout lane in front of me. They had shared a cart, and I thought, how nice it would be to shop with a friend or sister to make this huge, weekly chore seem easier.
As one of the women put a tower of Lean Cuisines on the belt I heard her say to the other woman, “You didn’t hear that she’s getting a divorce? He cheated. Which is horrible. But I do have to say, she really let herself go.” I looked down at myself. I stood in the grocery store wearing black yoga pants, a T-shirt, and a fleece pullover.
I hadn’t showered. My medium-length brown hair was pulled back in a ponytail. I wore no makeup. I am susceptible to bouts of depression and I gain and lose huge amounts of weight with those mood cycles and right now I am very heavy. I stood there, a poster child for a wife and mother who had “let herself go.”
Thus far, on this Sunday, one of my “days off,” I had made my family pancakes and eggs for breakfast, and then wrote and edited for three and a half hours. I had scooped the cat’s litter box, fed the pets, updated the Google calendar with various practices, tournaments and concerts, helped arrange a carpool for an evening I had to work, taken my son (and picked him up) from his music lesson and dropped him back at home and then headed to the grocery store.
My husband’s day had consisted of cleaning up after breakfast, paying the bills, taking our teen daughter out to practice her freeway driving and then dropping her off at a special weekend swimming practice (during which he checked his work email on his phone).
My husband and I have been together for over 24 years. During this last quarter of a century, both sets of our parents separated and his parents divorced. Three out of our four parents are now dead, all of them requiring care before they passed.
In 2009 alone, I was in graduate school full time, my sister died, my brother-in-law died, and my mother-in-law died. My husband and I both have careers, the children, a house, a dog, and a cat. Amidst all of this, my personal appearance hasn’t been foremost in my mind. My health has definitely been a consideration and I struggle every week to fit in exercise and healthy eating.
The comment by this random woman brought me up cold—both the “old-fashionedness” of what she had said, but also its unshakeable truth.
My husband has never made me feel this way, but I realized that even my poor bloated mum body is still a commodity in this culture. I have two college degrees, have read thousands of books, written millions of words, raised two happy and well-adjusted teenagers, and still I am stuck eternally in high school, being judged by my appearance.
And the stakes were high—I could be divorced (with justification from my own gender) for being too ugly. This truth was not unknown to me, but the fact that men are held to a different standard, that men still deserve physical beauty regardless of the realities of life, stress, and aging—this thought sank in more deeply than it ever had before.