I am fifty-six years old and just came home after buying my very first red handbag. I took it out of the shopping bag and felt the soft, rich leather in my hands. I put it close to my face to smell the delicious aroma of good leather. The bag is a small clutch that holds little more than my cellphone and keys. It is red; bright, very bright, attention-getting lipstick red. It is to serve no other function than to look attractive. As I model for myself in my mirror, I think, Wow, here is something beautiful I can do for myself that Ive never done before!
Seems like no big deal, but it feels indulgent and luxurious. I am not speaking of the economic times: the bag is not terribly expensive. Maybe its the Jewish guilt in me but finally, I let go and admit that something so unimportant, so seemingly superficial, could make me feel so good. Years ago, I would never have chosen the color red for anything, let alone for something I typically saw as a practical accessory. My handbags and shoes were almost always black, since I saw them as easily getting ruined by wear and tear. And a clutch? Never. Bags had to hold stuff, all the "essentials" that had to be carried from place to place; my computer, my old-fashioned date book, make-up casethe list goes on. And although Ive always loved the smell of fine grain leather, a bag made of the soft kind just seemed impractical.
When I thought more about it, I realized there were two emotional issues that were underlying the purchase of my first red leather bag: First, calling attention to myself at age 56 was different than years ago. Then it felt bothersome, now it feels delightful. It wasnt that I didnt care about my appearance when I was younger. Looking good was a necessary aspect of my professional life as long as I could remember: first as a ballet dancer and then as a professional model. But the over emphasis on beauty was complicated by all the feelings that get attached to it.Second, I no longer feel compelled to follow a trend or fit into a fashion that others impose on me. Now, I am free to wear what I choose. How liberating! This does not mean I am going to buy multi-colored bikinis or the skinniest of jeans. I may be liberated but I have not lost my sense of taste and what is appropriate. I no longer feel the pressure of trying to look like I did but rather feel relieved and happy to look great for my age.This new experience of looking good for my age is different. Its relaxed. Its less competitive. Its about pleasure. Its ageless. I recognize that clothes, accessories, color and style can be fun. It has endless possibilities. Being attractive at 50 or 60 has yet to be defined by our culture, so I figure we all might as well decide for ourselves. Let it be red bags, long skirts, short hair, high heels, flats, who knows, who cares.About the Authors:Dr. Vivian Diller is a psychologist in private practice in New York City. She and her fellow model-turned-psychologist, Dr. Jill Muir-Sukenick, are co-authors of Face It: What Women Really Feel as Their Looks Change. You can learn more at their website: www.faceitthebook.com