Monday, October 7, 2013

Matronly Women: Reclaiming the Term Matronly

Disclaimer: This post isn't really about parenting, but it is about body image and self-acceptance. How we view our bodies and our level of self-acceptance directly affects how our children view their bodies, so in my mind there is a connection.

If you search Pinterest for "matronly" 99% of what you find are posts that comment about something or someone looking "too matronly."  The other 1% looks like this:

Websters online defines matronly as: like or suitable for an older married woman

Google search pops this up at the top of the search results:
ma·tron·lyˈ /mātrənlē/  adjective
1. like or characteristic of a matron, esp. in being dignified and staid and typically associated with having a large or plump build. "she was beginning to look matronly" 

I have been gifted a subscription to Ladies' Home Journal. On the cover this month is "How to Look Sexy at 30, 40, 50, and 60." Each of the women features in this photo shoot are tall, thin and shown wearing heals and body hugging styles that would be appropriate at any age, as long as you were tall and thin, and capable of wearing 4 inch heals. 

The very next article in the magazine is "The LHJ Guide to Anti-Aging," which begins with this lead-in, "Let's face it: Once you hit a certain age, turkey necks don't just show up on Thanksgiving anymore. Thanks to a combo of age-related fat and muscle loss, genetics and sun damage, many of your once-perky parts start to look crepey and head south. But are you going to let the sagging get you down? No way. From small changes in your daily routine to surgical nips and tucks, there are plenty of options to keep everything on the up-and-up."

The article focuses on "Saggy Boobs," "Droopy Eyelids," "Baggy Arms," and "Neck Wattle." Under each heading you will find two sub headings "Defy It" and "The Surgical Solutions."  Defying it can involve exercises, lotions, Botox, the non-invasive use of "radio-frequency technology to reduces the circumference of the arm and decrease fat," or lasers.  

Google "What's wrong with looking matronly" and you will get a slew of articles about how not to look matronly.

But wait, what's wrong with looking matronly?

 I'm 45, according to the fashion police, mainstream media, and 99% of the internet, I should aim to look like the women featured in this Huffington Post piece on "Amazing Bodies Over 40: Celebrities Whose Astonishing Figures Have Us Deeply Impressed."  

Many people lump matronly and frumpy into the same category, and I believe both words were used to describe Adele's outfit at the Grammy's, which I thought was wonderful, but then I'm matronly so it figures: 

I wear long skirts, mostly because I have a health condition, chronic urticaria, that makes it uncomfortable to wear anything else.  But I like long skirts! Does that make me frumpy or matronly?  

I'm 45, I have given birth to three children, and I have two medical conditions that have affected my weight directly or though medications. And while I've rarely been thin, I'm leaning way more toward fat then ever before in my life. Not counting when I was pregnant, which doesn't count, because I was pregnant. As I work toward improving my health, physical and mental, I am working toward accepting my body. And, part of accepting my body is accepting that aging happens. Why should I defy that, as suggested by the Ladies' Home Journal, when I can accept it. Perhaps I can even embrace it, or revel in it. 

Instead of reading articles like "How to Avoid Looking Frumpy or Matronly," Perhaps I can research How To Rock Molly Weasley's style. Because, if ever there was a role model for the bad-ass matronly woman it is Molly Weasley. 

Women of a certain age have choices. If Molly Weasley isn't your style, spend some time looking at photos at  Advanced Style, where the women come in all shapes and sizes, and while they may not embody the traditional (negative) idea of matronly, they are fabulous in their unique self-expression through fashion. 

Reclaiming words that have been used negatively,or as insults and slurs, is becoming more common. Perhaps it's time to reclaim the word matronly.  Perhaps it's time to remind the world that women who are over 40 or who have given birth come in all shapes and sizes. And if that size happens to be rounder or thicker or greater than a size 8, that doesn't mean they can't be fabulous, sexy, a milf or a cougar. It means they can dress with confidence however they choose to dress because they are women of a certain age. They have life experience and have lived in their skin long enough to be comfortable wearing it just the way it is, wrinkles, fat folds, sagging breasts and all.

And then there's my personal attachment to the idea of matronly. As a kid I saw matronly women as comforting. The idea of being gathered to an ample bosom in times of distress was in my mind comfort and softness and "there, there, dear, let me make you a cup of tea." Perhaps similar to the image of a the soft breast of a mother hen who warms her chicks and provides shelter and safety for them in a big scary world.

Would I rather look "good" in form fitting clothes or be soft and huggable?  Well, gee, when I put it that way the answer is easy! When my kids think of me do I want them to think of someone who was their shelter in the storms of life or someone who spent a lot of time at the gym and looked great in photographs? Now I realize that matronly women can spend time in the gym, and women who fit the Ladies' Home Journal's idea of sexy at 30, 40, 50, and 60 may not spend any time at the gym. I realize that matronly women can be more like Miss Trunchbull in Matilda and less like Mary Poppins. 

Perhaps that's my point, how a woman looks on the outside isn't nearly as important as who she is on the inside. And if we let our outsides match our insides then we're beautiful, just the way we are, as long as we're beautiful on the inside. But it's circular, or interwoven, or really just not that simple! We can become more beautiful on the inside by accepting what we look like on the outside. And we can become more beautiful on the outside by accepting who we are on the inside.

O.K. now I'm talking in circles, so what am I getting at?  Well, as Ren, from Faces by Ren says, "Be Your Own Kind of Beautiful." Embrace who you are, inside and out, express that in how you dress, and how you decorate your body. Stop trying to fit into some narrow definition of beauty and stop trying to defy aging. If you are aging count your blessings, not everyone gets that opportunity.

Side note (which by placement here is actually a footnote) If you are wondering what is meant by a "woman of a certain age" you'll find the answer Here.

I've written a couple blogs about body image, fat shaming and related topics over at Raising Allies:

Let's Stop Comparing and Judging: Size Doesn't Matter

Worthy at Every Size


  1. Jenna, I love this post. It's important.

    I enjoy working out, and, recently, I've lost a little dimensionally, in the last month or two. Annalise noticed this, and said she hoped that I wouldn't stop being soft and squishy. I'm better than OK with being her soft place.

    I tend to get heavier when I am deepening, personally, as though I need some extra padding between those inner spaces and outer ones, at those times.

    I'll be sharing this post in my October 20 Sunday Sampler.

    SO happy that you're blogging again! =)

  2. I needed this post! It says what I was thinking but you said itbetter than I did.

    One thing, I did notice that if I was at or below a certain weight or being somewhat careful about what or how I eat, I feel better... it's important to find our own balance rather than trying to be an undernourished supermodel or something like that. We need to find our own balance!

  3. Oh yeah, I love Molly Weasley!