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.
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.
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.