Deborah Hill Cone
Deborah Hill Cone is a Herald columnist

Deborah Hill Cone: Lessons in how to be a sassy badass

Facebook's pop-up tips can really rip your nightie.
Who wants to pass a test by the High Commission on Social Conformity? Photo / Getty Images
Who wants to pass a test by the High Commission on Social Conformity? Photo / Getty Images

Thanks, Facebook, for endlessly suggesting I get some "Makeup Tips for Older Women" but you know what? I have decided, at this particular socio-historical moment, I would prefer to disengage from the All-Knowing Spirit-Annihilating Ruthless Beauty God if it's all the same to you. You see, I just turned 49. I've worked something out.

No one is going to come along and say, "DHC, we just got word. There's been a memo. Your brand of middle-aged, stuffed-up freak is now culturally sanctioned. Welcome and rock on!"

I have been waiting all my life for someone, I'm not even sure who, Saul from Homeland possibly, to anoint me. But now my hair is going grey. I have wrinkles. My father is dead. I am almost 50. I woke up one morning and found my class is running the country. That's terrifying in itself. But at least it appears it is time to relinquish the anxiety of waiting to be given the thumbs up by some fantasy authority figure, possibly played by Judd Hirsch: it ain't gonna happen.

The culture is not going to sanction me being an old woman. The culture is never going to give me permission to accept my drooping and ageing body, my greying hair, my failure to be in a heteronormative nuclear family configuration, my audacity in having produced defiantly non-compliant children whom I've never taught to ride a bike. In short, I am never going to pass any test administered by the High Commission on Social Conformity.

I have known this for a while; we regard deviation from the norm as an unmistakable signal that something is wrong. I have spent a lot of time looking around for who is to blame for the acceptance and approval I'm not getting, for my inexplicable sorrows.

The patriarchy, of course. All those suffocating social norms, bourgeois people who live in white houses with all their books put away - if they have any - and people who spend a high proportion of time dialoguing about positional goods. "Positional goods" are commodities that come with mating-relevant signals. "Yes, the paving in the drive cost $6000; we went with the Italian tiles."

I woke up one morning and found my class is running the country. That's terrifying in itself.

When really stuck, I could always blame John Key, Mike Hosking, or any other white, middle-aged man.

And I have also tended to point the finger at the failure of feminism. Which apparently gave us the bumper stickers, the badges, the agency, the authority but somehow not the right to stop worrying about not looking hot in leather pants. Or the right to get old.

Lightning bolt! Maybe it's time to stop looking for someone or something to blame. The truth is: I am the only one who can give myself permission to be a badass. So here you go, sister. Turning 49 is not the moment to turn into a wilting sissy; it is not the time to be faint-hearted: it is time to prevail. In your own way, whatever that entails, since both the slavish adherence to rules and the utter abhorrence of them are reactions that need to be examined.

It is also time to stop making excuses because you have nothing to excuse.

I no longer believe I am broken. I am telling you this, my sweet reader, because you aren't broken either. And bear in mind I say this as someone who, until recently, possibly would have had to answer yes to the following question: "If someone treated you the way you treat yourself would you call the police?"

I wonder how I can see this now, when I couldn't see it before, and have decided it is like becoming aware of negative space. In art that is the space around and in between the subject of an image. What isn't there gives what is there meaning. One day you look at the same image but you see the other stuff. It is only then that you can change. "When we know better, we do better," as Maya Angelou said. But sometimes the slower you go the faster you get there. Not sure who said that.

Cheryl Strayed, aka Dear Sugar, said real change happens at the level of the gesture. One person doing one thing differently to how they did it before. Well my small gesture is deleting makeup tips for older women. Also, writing this down, so I can remember that I didn't used to know this. (The concept of remembering that you didn't used to know something is called Mathematical Empathy. But I often forget that.)

By the way, after writing this, I did click on the Facebook ad for makeup tips for older women. Apparently, never wear eye shadow. And match your lipstick to your gums. If you want to. Personally, I prefer badass Lady Danger.

- NZ Herald

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