Of all the judgements that are passed on women's appearances, the one that irks une femme most is "she's really let herself go."
Perhaps because I've been on the receiving end of this accusation during times when I was really struggling (to lose weight, or dress decently on a shoestring budget, or balance a demanding job and young child with special needs), I'm a bit sensitive when it comes to those words.
Perhaps it's because of the moralizing subtext indicating that sins of gluttony and sloth are made manifest. Perhaps it's because of the erroneous belief that all aspects of our appearance are ultimately within our control.
But truly, I have yet to meet the woman who has truly "let herself go," this mythical creature who just decides one day that she just doesn't give a fig anymore about her appearance, about the state of her home, about her work, and suddenly is perfectly content to sit on the sofa all day eating bonbons. If you scratch the surface of someone who used to dress to the nines but now is seen shlepping about in sweats and greasy hair, I'll bet you find someone whose life has taken a turn that has her feeling overwhelmed and out of control. Perhaps it's illness, job loss, depression, or sudden demands such as care taking for a sick family member. Perhaps we should ask how things are going for her, rather than assume she doesn't care anymore.
And I've also heard those "letting herself go" assessments levied against women whose only transgressions are showing some natural signs of ageing. Weight gain, wrinkles, softening jawlines, greying hair...the balance between a willingness to invest time and money to hold back the visible manifestations of passing years and a desire to just enjoy and experience whatever finite amount of time we've been granted is one we continuously negotiate. None of us will retain our youthful beauty forever; we each have to decide what level of effort put toward our appearance enhances or diminishes our lives.
Personally, I can't imagine the day that I won't want to dress well, but I can hope to achieve a level of acceptance where a few extra pounds no longer drive me to distraction, and a few more wrinkles don't make a dent in my self-esteem, and nothing stops me from living life to the fullest.
So can we retire this outdated expression?