How Anne and I Lost our Bloom, by Kirstin Odegaard

How Anne and I Lost our Bloom, by Kirstin Odegaard

I’m rereading Persuasion, and as I read, I’ve been thinking about all the references to how Anne has lost her bloom.  We’re told in the first chapters that “Anne Elliot had been a very pretty girl, but her bloom had vanished early.”  Even Captain Wentworth says Anne is “so altered he should not have known [her] again.”  Then Anne swipes left on his sorry face and friends him on Facebook so that she can pointedly unfriend him later.

Just kidding.  Instead Anne agrees that she’s quite ugly now, but Wentworth is still hot, and if only she had married him before the worries and stresses of life took their toll on her face.  I want to say the world is different now, but is it?  When a woman hears a disparaging comment, from an ex of all people, does she say, “Move along, you worthless loser,” or does she go to the mirror and count every wrinkle and imperfection?  I think I’d do the “worthless loser” bit boldly with my friends, but then, at home, when it’s just me and my mirror, I’d be counting those wrinkles.

Anne’s sister Elizabeth also worries about this loss of bloom.  Austen writes that Elizabeth “was fully satisfied of being still quite as handsome as ever, but she felt her approach to the years of danger, and would have rejoiced to be certain of being properly solicited by a baronet-blood within the next twelvemonth or two.”  Elizabeth worries that time will suck away her beauty, so she’d better lock down a man soon.  Elizabeth is 29, very much at the age of danger in Austen’s time.  Today, at least among my friends, the new age of danger seems to be about 39.  It’s pushed back a decade, but it’s still there, looming.

The Crofts continue this emphasis on a woman’s looks.  When speaking of their quick engagement, Mrs. Croft says to her husband, “I had known you by character, however, long before.”  Admiral Croft then agrees, “Well, and I had heard of you as a very pretty girl.”  She knew he was solid, loyal, honest, and he knew she was pretty.  So!  Even trade!

Sir Walter also cares about his looks, but his fixation is seen as silly and excessive, something to laugh at.  A man caring about his looks is frivolous, but a woman is only doing what is necessary because her looks are her key to marriage, safety, and security.

I can read the novel now and think about the pressures of sexism.  These poor women, taught by society that their appearance and youth are their main assets, and once they lose those, they are less useful, less relevant, less noticed.

Why, then, 200 years later, can I relate?  The pandemic was hard.  And now that the dust is beginning to (kind of) settle, I look at myself and see wrinkles and gray hair.  Where did those come from?  Are they going away?  I Google it: “Will my gray hair and wrinkles go away after the pandemic because that wasn’t really fair, and it was an early loss of bloom, and what if Captain Wentworth says I’m so altered he can no longer recognize me?”  And Google tells me where to get hair dye and Botox and also corrects my spelling because, let’s face it: Google has a terrible habit of mansplaining when what I really wanted was someone to just listen.

Maybe my question isn’t why sexism is still here so much as why I’m still letting it have so much power over me.  Why am I thinking about buying carcinogenic hair dye and injecting poison into my face, as if these are rational options?  When my husband says I’m pretty, why is that gratifying?  Shouldn’t I be happier if he said, “My gosh, Kirstin.  That comment was so witty that I’d be overcome with lust if we didn’t have three children tearing through the house like wild boars.”  Wait.  Why isn’t he saying that?  I knew if I kept typing, I’d get to how this was somehow his fault.

Today, a woman can make her living without a partner, but her looks are still important if she wants one, and, as looks fade, as we age, there is still less relevance in our society for older men and women alike.  Just look at the pandemic.  People over 65 were affected, and there was a lot of controversy over whether we should shelter, wear masks, alter our lives.  If COVID had been killing off children and pretty young things, I don’t believe there would have been so much controversy.  We would have stayed home to protect them.  But people in nursing homes?  That sparks debate.

When I read about Anne losing her bloom and her relevance, I’m surprised at how much I relate.  I’m surprised at how little society has changed.  And I wonder if all this worrying about how my wrinkles and gray hair are making me less relevant in society is causing me more wrinkles and gray hair.  Google, do you know?  Oh, right.  I misspelled “relevant.”  Thanks for that.

 

I waxed a little serious in this one.  Don’t worry.  I won’t make a habit of it.  Comment below to tell me how you stayed sane during the pandemic—or comment on whatever you want, and thanks for reading.

Click here to visit Kirstin Odegaard’s website.
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15 COMMENTS
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DarcyBennett
DarcyBennett
March 12, 2022 10:24 AM

Loved your post and could relate to everything;)

Jean Stillman
Jean Stillman
March 2, 2022 8:22 PM

That was a seriously serious and humorous look at how women are still evaluated on our looks and age. Men are considered mature and distinguished, as they age, and are very successful in business. Women can work to earn a living today, but unless they are attractive and smart, they may not be very successful. And when women age, I never hear anyone say, “My, she looks so distinguished with that bit of gray at her temples.”
Nope, it is definitely, “She has really aged!”

Bonnie
Bonnie
February 28, 2022 4:48 PM

You’re wonderfully blooming here! Keep smiling! ??

Last edited 4 months ago by Bonnie
J. W. Garrett
J. W. Garrett
February 25, 2022 11:46 AM

Time, that bastard thief robs us all of our looks, stealing that healthy bloom of tone, and flexibility. I look in the mirror and wonder when the heck did I start looking like my mother? I look at my hands and see my grandmother’s hands. Really? I especially want to thank my grandfather for giving his descendants his turkey wattle neck. Scarves and turtlenecks aren’t popular these days and I am not going under the knife just to wack off half an acre of loose skin. Gravity is not our friend. I’ve started sagging in places I had no idea would sag. Goodness. I may need a forklift just to help me smile in the future.

I spent the pandemic caregiving. After nearly fifty years of marriage…I am now in mourning. Before he died he often told me I was beautiful. Lord, how I cherish those words. Now what? After mom passed, dad remarried at 83 and they enjoyed nine years together before he passed. Well, I cannot even imagine going out there again at my age. I suppose it is security, companionship, and safety. I suppose that is what the mourning period is about. I’ll think about what I need to do tomorrow. I don’t have to think about it today. In the meantime, I read JAFF and smile… using my grandmother’s hands to lift my cheeks.

Riana Everly
AuAu
February 25, 2022 1:37 PM
Reply to  J. W. Garrett

I’m so sorry for your loss. May all the memories be good ones.

Riana Everly
AuAu
February 25, 2022 10:59 AM

And even today there are studies that suggest that attractive women are more successful in business than plain ones. Bah humbug!

I am “much altered” from a couple of year ago, but that has as much to do with illness as with the pandemic. And yes, I stare at myself in the mirror, wondering if a bit of blush would help, or if a new eye cream would make a difference. Maybe a brighter shirt. We are our own worst enemies sometimes.

I’ve kept what little remains of my sanity with extensive reading, far too much cooking (brownies, anyone?) and dabbling at various crafts like paint-by-numbers. I may not be an artist, but I can count to 25. 😀

cindie snyder
cindie snyder
February 25, 2022 10:30 AM

I noticed some lines on my face too. But luckily No one else noticed so I guess that’s good!lol Don’t sweat the small stuff it will get better! I kept my sanity by reading quite a bit during all of this it has become my little escape for a couple of hours!

Cinnamon
AuAu
February 25, 2022 2:20 AM

You have such a witty way of expressing your thoughts. Give yourself ten more years. Suddenly, unless you are forced to confront an unsanctioned photo, you will stop caring what most people think of your appearance. If that doesn’t work, wait a few more decades and you’ll start to forget it bothers you.

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