Twenty years ago in another life, I used to love to shop at the Houston's Galleria. That beautiful wool and silk suit at Lord & Taylor was my goal. After a few years I had lots of them.
As the years went by and I left a well paying career for academia, I began to realize that I didn't have to look like a Barbie doll to be successful. Part of the pressure came from being a woman in the United States. We all know that being a gorgeous size 4 gets us almost anywhere these days.
The other is being of Mexican descent, and having spent a few years living in Mexico in the late 90s, I realized that women south of the Rio Grande not only had to be very attractive, they had to wear their sexuality as a mask - complete with the most expensive make-up they could afford (that by the way was purchased at Houston's Galleria).
I guess I am still somewhat vain. I worry about my weight, - ask my 26 year old daughter what type of clothes won't make me look too matronly. But the days of the wool-silk suits and expensive high heel shoes are over. No more scrambling in the morning to fix my hair and put on eye makeup.
There have been drawbacks - my second cousin in Monterrey, Mexico once asked me, "What happened to you? You used to be so pretty? Your eyes used to be so big?" - She wasn't asking me this because I was so wrinkled or fat. At that time I was basically as I had been in my early 30s in those respects. She asked the question because I no longer "dressed up" - and put on eye make-up.
It is true that men no longer stop me to say something nice - mostly I don't miss that. I was once told I looked like a Barbie doll - the more I thought about that comment the more I realized that being told I look like an inanimate object is no compliment.
Now that I am into the comfortable shoe phase I bask in being respected for the books I write, the conversations I have, and the intellectual community I belong to. Yes, my husband thinks I'm pretty, but thank goodness his opinion is not based on my spending thousands of dollars a year on clothes and make-up.
A few days ago I was interviewed by a group of young people from Mexico City - they had traveled to Los Angeles and Houston to interview successful Latinas - after having interviewed some successful women in Mexico. They were shocked when I told them that in graduate school the women wore minimal if any makeup and didn't wear high heels (in the late 90s). I told them that there were often comments that women who took on these trappings were seen as less serious intellectually. Plus, it is so much more comfortable to work 18 hour days at a computer if you aren't wearing pointed toe spikes.
Bringing us to our current news of Sarah Palin being nominated for VP - I am fairly sure that McCain and his buddies had the beauty queen thing on their minds when they picked Sarah. Maybe they think that being like Barbie is the only way to break the glass. What a shame.