The Burial of Life as a Young Girl

On Saturday night I stood outside a bar with a group of friends, waiting to get in. There were about a dozen of us – men and women all in our late 20’s and early 30’s.  We were kept waiting while streams of young women in their teens and early 20’s were ushered inside.  The bouncer had glanced at our group, and then proceeded to unwaveringly ignore us as he scanned the rest of the crowd, hand-picking those to be let inside.

We had spent all day out partying, the guys holding a bachelor party, while we ladies simultaneously held a bachelorette party. The groups merged around 1 AM and danced together until the bar we were in closed.  Everyone voted to continue the festivities, so we found ourselves standing outside one of the few places open past 2 AM in Pau.

The Beautiful Miss - soon to be Mrs.- Mel

Mel, the bachelorette, eventually went up to the bouncer and in somewhat tipsy, broken French tried to convince him to let us in. She attempted to explain to him that it was her bachelorette party. In French, bachelorette parties have an unusual name:  “enterrement de vie de jeune fille” – roughly translating to the burial/funeral of life as a young girl.

The bouncer flatly told Mel, a gorgeous 29-year old Canadian of Moroccan and Belarussian descent, that she was not a young woman at all and that he was currently only allowing genuine young women in.

Some of our group appeared ready to put up with this and wait, while one friend got so irate that he was on the verge of picking a fight with the bouncer, who happened to be twice his size.  We ended up leaving after making quite a scene, and probably making everyone who WAS let inside feel pretty good about themselves.

***

I thought, “So here I am on the other side of things.” I waited, observing myself cautiously to see how I would feel.

I was, until quite recently, a girl in my 20’s, and this was the first time I had ever run into a problem actually getting into a bar.  It was an interesting new phenomenon.  After it became clear that the bouncer had no use for us, I was waiting for the sting to kick in.  I was expecting at any moment to feel the insecurity, the rejection, to feel old and ugly, to feel bad about myself.  But it didn’t happen.  It never happened. I didn’t feel old or ugly.  I felt a bit tired (we HAD been dancing for hours already, and celebrating since mid-afternoon) but I realized that I still felt beautiful.  I had been feeling great all day – full of mirth and sparkles – and nothing that man could say or do – neither his rejection of me and my friends nor his definition of us as “old,” could change that.

I knew that the idea that everyone under 30 is young and everyone over 30 is washed up was a construct, but it’s really different knowing something intellectually and finding out how you actually FEEL about it.

This was one the first times I had really had my feelings about being 30 tested.  I had been able to stand there, and be judged “old” and not feel anything more than slightly sardonic about it. I smiled and thought, “I am more than all of this.  I am not just a person in a line.  I am not just my age.  I am more than the fine lines that are starting to show up on my face. I am more than my clothing and the size of my hips and breasts. You cannot define me.”

It felt like that moment near the end of one of the quintessential movies from my childhood, “Labyrinth,” when the heroine finally remembers how to say, “You have no power over me” to the Goblin King.

You have no power over me.  I felt light as a feather.  I felt suddenly like I could see right through the bouncer, right through the door of the club, right through all the people inside and everything happening in it, beyond and beyond for miles and miles.

Maybe it was just tipsiness, but being outside the bar seemed exactly the same as being inside.  It made no difference – all the people were the same. Each of them would get older every day just like me.  They would be what they are now until they became something different. We would all get wrinkles and grey hair and we would all die.  I am neither less nor more than anyone else, and I never was and never will be.  They are not too young and I am not too old.  We are each precisely what we should be at this moment.

***

It probably sounds silly to have been analyzing it so much.  I had never cared about being ABLE to get into bars easily before, and I have never been someone who frequents selective dance clubs.  If getting in never mattered before, why would not getting in matter now?  More than anything else it was a representative moment to me, where I could test the waters and feel what it might be like to have my twenties completely behind me and to be heading into something new and inarguably different.

I watched the pretty young women entering the bar.  They all had fresh young cheeks colored by blush and nervousness, they wore high heels, tight clothes and were caked in night makeup.  They presented themselves one by one to be looked over and giggled nervously as the bouncer motioned for them to pass.

And then I looked at our rag-tag group of ladies and smiled.  We were glorious.

We had all started the day at a baby shower – it had been a magnificently hot day for April so we were all wearing sundresses or jeans and t-shirts.   We wore flip-flops and almost no makeup.  We were sweaty from dancing and our hair was bedraggled.  We wore colorful scarves and sequins as sashes and bandanas, to show solidarity with the bachelorette who wore a pink nightgown over her dress. We looked more like we belonged on an all-female pirate ship than in a night club.  We looked like we didn’t give a shit – because we didn’t.  We had been having an absolutely awesome day with a bunch of really cool, fun women. We weren’t there to impress, to decorate the bar, to be coquettish, to get phone numbers, to play the part – we were there to have a good time with our friends.  And the bouncer could see this.  We weren’t what he was looking for.

***

Apart from the price of the drinks, nightclubs are mostly exactly the same wherever you go – it doesn’t matter if it’s Paris, New York or Pau –  selling the same mystique of purported exclusivity. The goal is to fill these places with young pliable women who are out to impress and with men who are willing to buy them drinks, creating a cocktail of youth, glamour, beauty, and booze, topped with a hint of sex.

The appeal of the “jeune fille” is not just her beauty – it is her freshness, her naivete, her readiness to please whether she sees it that way or not.  She all too often is ready to be what others want her to be, wanting to be wanted, feeling incomplete, so pretty but so incomplete, although she’s painted in confidence and her heels click audaciously with each step.

***

In high school and college I was confident and absolutely insecure at the same time.  I wanted to feel special, I wanted to be appreciated, and I wanted to feel powerful.  I wanted my insecurities to be quieted, if only temporarily.  I was pretty but I did not believe it and I tortured myself over it.

Tender 22

There is more change in me than just my cheeks being thinner and more sunken, and the skin around my eyes crinkling when I smile.  I also feel alright letting myself believe that maybe I am still beautiful, even if I look older and different now.  I try not to care  about having short legs, crooked teeth, a long nose, wide thighs, a bony chest and all those other things that used to bother me so much. I know that when I let myself feel beautiful, I become more so, regardless of all those “imperfections.”

I also do not need to feel substantiated, verified, authorized, or endorsed by men.  I’m not quite sure when that changed.  If I go out, I still want to feel pretty and confident, but it is different somehow.  When I feel beautiful now (although of course this still comes and goes), it’s a deeper feeling, a very peaceful one which confidence naturally accompanies, and it has nothing to do with what anyone else thinks.

Perhaps that is part of why women over thirty are not night-club prime material.  It is not because we aren’t beautiful or hot, it is not because we don’t dress well or we don’t have sex appeal.  It’s because by then we’re not as pliable and naive.  We don’t feel like we have to try so hard, we feel more comfortable just being ourselves. But once we get to THAT point, and start developing a stronger sense of our true value, we get told we’re old and don’t have any anymore.  It’s an amazing gimmick.

***

All your teens and early 20’s you are told you are too young, and you have to fight to be taken seriously, to be treated like an adult, to grow up, to be noticed.  And then, after just a tiny handful of years of being the “right” age according to cultural standards, suddenly you are “too old.”

And even during the “right” years you are still told you are too fat or too thin, too short or too gangly, too flat-chested or too curvy, too pale or too dark.  And just when you maybe start realizing that your body, while not perfect, is still beautiful, just when you start feeling good about yourself, they start hitting you with “you’re getting old,” and telling you you need all sorts of products to fix it and hide it.

Our society is totally obsessed with the 20’s, as though no other part of life is as great or matters as much.  Men and women both are convinced that not only must you use all your time in your twenties to develop a high-powered, successful career (because if you’re not something by 30 you will never be anything at all), but you had better develop a meaningful, deep relationship that turns into marriage (because if you don’t do this by 30, no one will ever want you later), and all the while you better have as much fun as possible in your 20’s because that’s when you’re young (after that everything gets harder and you have more responsibilities, and you’ll never be so carefree again).  And by the way you should think about having a baby soon too – because it’s harder the older you get.

We are told we must do all we can to squeeze every last drop of life out of our 20’s because after that everything is downhill.

**

I actually was happy to turn 30. I had felt there was something nebulous about my 20’s, like they were more of a dress rehearsal for something, and I now I was ready to truly become myself.

I think it’s been quite similar for a lot of my friends.  Some people had it together a long time ago, but most of us didn’t. Only now, on the cusp of 30, are we finally coming into our own in a way that wasn’t possible before.

So, with our 20’s behind us, we are finally more solid, we are more real, we are more confident, we are more skilled, we are smarter, we are happier. It doesn’t seem like it’s going to be all downhill from here.  In fact, I think I am ok with burying the jeune fille, so long as I can replace her with the wiser, happier, more capable woman that I feel I am becoming.  It seems like a fair exchange.

~ by zoetropic on April 14, 2011.

25 Responses to “The Burial of Life as a Young Girl”

  1. Interesting to study how you feel at age 30. I never had the experience of that same kind of youthful 30, since I was a mother by age 20, with four children by age 28…. So I appreciate your thoughts and am glad you have arrived at a place of balance and positive self-awareness. When you have little ones to nurture, your attention is diverted from that kind of self appraisal. I just missed out on all that I guess. And of course you still seem very young indeed to your auntie in her 80’s. Thank you for sharing so beautifully. You are and always have been beautiful to me . . . . .

  2. Cif it’s wonderful to read about this process a few years down the line– one of the many great advantages to little sisterhood. 🙂

    I notice myself subconsciously believing the hype. Here I am only just finished my training, and somewhere deep inside part of me believes that I should be at the height of my powers RIGHT NOW or else I’ll slip into a mediocre obscurity never to reappear by the time I’m ready to settle down and have a family. It’s twisted and bizarre and violent and there to sell products and keep the whole world sexually aroused and insecure– “The Beauty Myth” is alive and well. But frankly I’d rather be on your pirate ship than in that club, and will live accordingly and be happy. love xxx

  3. and ps David Bowie still does it for me in that outfit in a big way

    • I know. Me too. There’s no way I would be able to successfully say “You have no power over me” to him. It would be a bald-faced lie.

  4. Amazing! You’re totally soothing my fears about recently turning 29; this completely explains why I am so neurotic about having fun. I get the impression this is my last year to have ‘crazy 20’s fun’, the problem is the kind of fun I’m being told I should be having doesn’t seem like much fun when I factor in all the work I have to do to keep being successful and married.

    • Jo B.. darling, you are the last person who must worry about maintaining The Fun. I would look forward to raking rocks in a deserted lot with you.

  5. I love the woman you’re becoming. And I loved the women you were in your 20’s too. Thanks for sharing your impressions!

  6. How great.. Thanks for writing.
    There were moments in this essay that gave me serious anxiety, I have to admit. I lived my entire 20s as a club-going partygirl in New York, and threw shit (rarely literal) at bouncers who found me less-than desirable. I never felt anxious about my value as a young woman – carefree, single, educated, what-have-you – because I convinced myself that I had to stand up not just for myself, but for all of us recipients of the confusingly contradicting messages that dictate our worthiness in terms of our desirability. To me now, at 29 1/2, I look forward to 30 as a time when I can finally stop feeling the pressure of being a 20-something. I don’t like ‘proving’ anything to anyone. I still feel beautiful, but I have to re-think what it means for my youth to become less of a currency.. and shit, I guess I’ll rely even more on my intellect, wit, humor and class. 🙂

  7. Beautiful writing. I was taken into your story from a different perspective– as one who was married early and never in the party scene but I completely related to your appraisals nonetheless. I am a part of a collective group of wonderful friendships now in my mid-fifties. We are a tight group and yet are all so different and unique as individuals. I see you and your friends that way. You are on your way to the most rewarding life. I enjoy your posts very much. Thank you for sharing. Mary from Boise Idaho.

  8. You write beautifully and sensitively.

    As someone very much older than you, I was delighted by your conclusion. What we look like is superficial – what we ARE is what matters. Peer pressure seems to be important to young people – increasingly and disturbingly so it seems to me.

    As a word of encouragement, life really does get better as you get older. Maturity gives you the freedom to find yourself. Once you can make a clear distinction between what you think other people think of you and what you think of yourself then life takes on a whole new perspective. It’s a release and it opens up a world of new opportunities.

  9. I so enjoyed reading this, and was pleased to feel the depth of knowledge of the human condition it expressed. We are all indeed on our own particular spot on the Great Wheel of Life, and one spot is no better than another. It is, I believe, a matter of perception.

    I had a similar moment a few months ago — but as I am 32 years older than you, it was into a different place on that Wheel — the “oh my god they’re calling me a senior” moment.

    Hey, wait a minute, that wasn’t supposed to happen! I’m from the Sixties! I don’t think we thought we’d ever get old. When I walk into a party filled with my peers, their hair is in general white. I find myself wondering who all the old folks are until I realize that they are friends of friends!

    I’m not entirely sure how this has happened, but after a long life crammed with as much fun as I could stuff into it (particularly AFTER 30) I take my pleasures differently, more quietly.

    My days of dancing all night are over. But I don’t feel that as a loss because what has been returned to me is my primary “self” – that which existed most purely when I was a young girl. The self when it is not plagued by hormones is a much more cozy, more productive self.

    Thank you for this.

  10. P.S. — You beauties were and are magnificent, absolument!

  11. Lovely philosophical post on the latent (and very socially repressed) power of a woman who knows her worth. There’s nothing beautiful about naivete except the absence of everything it is, or better said, the potential of what one will become. Congratulations on becoming, zoetropic! I really enjoyed your conclusion:

    “I had felt there was something nebulous about my 20’s, like they were more of a dress rehearsal for something, and I now I was ready to truly become myself.”

    *grin* Me, too!

  12. There is something about our version of thirties that’s different from the previous generation or people stuck on the number. I think Liz Hurley said it best, in your twenties you’re cute and pretty, but not till you become a woman, say thirties, do you feel beautiful. We understand ourselves better and live more for ourselves than approval of others. (Some take even more time than that)
    Thanks for commenting on my blog, it gave me the opportunity to read your lovely post.

  13. Mel looked great at age 22! She should’ve married then. She wouldn’t be so concerned with becoming “invisible” to people like she is now. I guess at 22 she was too concerned that she’d marry a guy who wouldn’t be wealthy enough, hence the fretting over being seen as an “adult” and needing to get into adult circles, read: get the attention of successful older men who work in offices.

    I suspect that Mr. Mel has few options to marry her at age 30+, I predict the marriage will only last 3 or 4 years since once Mr. Mel starts getting regular sex from her it will charge up his confidence to approach younger women. Happens every time to guys who marry 30 year old chicks. Often they’re guys that just don’t understand female psychology simply cause they’ve been sex starved for so long. Giving him a regular dose will only stimulate his confidence to find a fresher set of strawberries in the sexual supermarket.

    Can’t believe she waited to marry that long. Look at what 8 years did to her. Too much partying, chasing athletes and late night romance novel reading. She better have a good job at this point, cause who would hire her? I live in a country where all the men try to get rich and start businesses because it means you can hire secretaries that you have NSA sex with and dump em when they get frigid. It is an incredible set up if you can get it. Most of the guys are able to get hot blondes. The only problem here is that businesses are so coveted, because it means easy sex, nobody gets a loan from the male bankers. Those a#%^& only dole out loans to old flaccid men to protect their egos. I heard about the sexual harassment laws in the US and me and my buddies, including the women, think it’s a farce. It’s understood here that women trade sex for their position in life, that’s why they get cushy jobs. If you want an easy life you have to pay, and there’s only one thing society wants from young women, but this setup is not trivialized and rejected by our women like American girls always do. If you give women the cushy jobs without getting any sex then you’re simply a chump and you end up with an entitled stone cold biyatch. This is happening to America all around, and it is why you read about their men wanting to fly to other countries where their money means something. If America allows their women to get away with acquiring jobs without trading sex then it’s a doomed country.

    Who would want to live there if you have to hire hags who spend hours contemplating their bad choices on blogs? It’s like being forced to hire an old prostitute who has no clients. 30 year old Mel is already looking tired and witch-like in appearance, unless Mr. Mel is like 50 yrs old there’s no reason to settle for a 30 year old flesh hankie. Where I’m from, Brazil, she’d be forced to become a call girl or marry Mr. 50 which would be an appropriate future for these American princesses. Instead America lets her value as a spouse whither away as she catches up to episodes of Tru Blood. If she wanted into the club Mel should’ve blown the bouncer, it’s only fair because she’s simply not pretty enough to trade her mere presence for access. She has to start trading sex for her trophies. She’s at the age where she has declining value and must act as men wanted her to act 10 years ago. I suspect this is something this chick has avoided her entire life out of hatred of sex and how much her looks were tied into her level of comfort. Hard to admit it, I know, but America allows women to bury their heads in the sand when they’re hot and only pop out when they’re becoming gray, wrinkled and desperate.

  14. […] was in response to a post I wrote in April about turning 30.  (If you have not yet read this post, “The Burial of Life as a Young Girl,” you might want to do so now in order to understand the […]

  15. […] dealt with a disparaging diatribe left by one odious individual in response to her inspiring post on turning glorious 30. His remarks tell you more about him than anything else.  He was an utter cad and undoubtedly a […]

  16. Loved Reading this P! I can so thoroughly relate to your experience and beautifully illustrated inspection of this topic. It’s been decades I think since I’ve seen you and your blog reminds me how much I’d love to connect with you again. Beautiful writing! Keep it up, and good on you for leaving up the trash posted above. kudos and thanks for your blog! Sepia

  17. All I can say is wow… a 20 yr old could not write such words. I was feeling a little old and read this. At 30 I am feeling old! I realize that I am blessed to be 30, 40 and beyond. Life is not guaranteed. I feel the pressure to get married and have children. I have not met my partner yet.. Everyone don’t have the opportunity to do so by 30. I have to embrace the face that it is okay for me to be single and 30. I also understood what you wrote about the club situation. Your group was the party. All you guys needed were each other. I remember going in those clubs all dolled up getting loads of free drinks and leaving without much fun because the night was spent posing and desperately seeking. There were times when I did have fun but majority of the time those places are filled with people looking for sex. As a maturing woman I prefer an actually relationship, intimate time with friends. Having experiences that I can remember ..being sober to appreciate the small details of life. I love being in the sun now.. I use to be a night owl. I now want to savor each moment. Thank You for this post.

  18. All I can say is wow… a 20 yr old could not write such words. I was feeling a little old and read this. At 30 I am feeling old! I realize that I am blessed to be 30, 40 and beyond. Life is not guaranteed. I feel the pressure to get married and have children. I have not met my partner yet.. Everyone don’t have the opportunity to do so by 30. I have to embrace the fact that it is okay for me to be single and 30. I also understood what you wrote about the club situation. Your group was the party. All you guys needed were each other. I remember going in those clubs all dolled up getting loads of free drinks and leaving without much fun because the night was spent posing and desperately seeking. There were times when I did have fun but majority of the time those places are filled with people looking for sex. As a maturing woman I prefer an actually relationship, intimate time with friends. Having experiences that I can remember ..being sober to appreciate the small details of life. I love being in the sun now.. I use to be a night owl. I now want to savor each moment. Thank You for this post.

  19. […] The Burial of Life as a Young Girl […]

  20. A lovely story. I am so glad that you still felt beautiful. I think you all look great. I know I am beautiful and I am over 50. Good to know that Pau is about as exciting as Saintes – I need a trip to Bordeaux to go out later than 2.

  21. I ran across this site on http://zoetropic.
    wordpress.com/2011/04/14/the-burial-of-life-as-a-young-girl/ and if I could I want to suggest to you some interesting things or ideas.
    Perhaps you can write your next articles referring to these
    ideas. I would like to read more things about what you’re talking about.

  22. […] *The Burial of Life as a Young Girl […]

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