Service of Giving Up Trying

January 25th, 2016

Categories: Age, Fashion, Youth

When I read Jennifer Weiner’s piece, “One Day We Can Stop Trying, Right?” in a recent Sunday New York Times “Review” section, I immediately thought of my friend Harriet. In her 80s, less than a week before her death, she went with her companion to Daffy’s, a now defunct discount fashion store, looking for pretty things to wear. I can hear Harriet calling down from heaven with an answer to the question in Weiner’s headline. We’d hear an ear-splitting “NO.”

Harriet always looked terrific, her hair just-so. I remember a striking cornflower blue sweater she wore on one of the last days I saw her. She was indomitable, for years traveling alone across country to meetings with a bag full of meds and a horrifying lineup of chronic conditions that might have kept most close to home. [I didn’t learn about her illnesses for years and only then when I went to the hospital with her in Boston when she fell and broke her arm.]

Was Harriet trying to look young or to get the most out of her life? She always wanted to look good and enjoyed compliments about her wardrobe, which were well-deserved.

I felt that Ms. Weiner implied that because a woman wants to look good it means she wants to look young and given the examples she chose to illustrate her piece, weight has a lot, if not everything, to do with achieving the goal. [I think that some women of all shapes and sizes who “dress too young” look older than they are especially when it comes to décolleté evening dresses that reveal old wrinkly skin and saggy breasts, but this is off topic].

She also seemed to be critical when she wrote, “The truth, as any woman can tell you, is that there’s no place, no profession, nowhere that a woman’s looks don’t matter.” And she used as an example members of a London group called Overweight Haters Ltd, who handed out nasty cards about gluttony to overweight people on the Tube. I have friends who are not thin and always look grand. Think about the giant benefit of being zaftig: You don’t have wrinkles.

In one of two major examples, Weiner maligned Oprah for promoting Weight Watchers as its spokesperson. She argued that such diets don’t work because the weight loss doesn’t last and suggested what if instead of “investing in paid diets and microdermabrasion, we donated our dollars to worthy charities and gave our time to the food pantry or elementary school? What if we thought about adding things to our lives—new foods, new skills, new classes, new walking routes—instead of taking things away?” Rather than following the Weight Watchers slogan “Lose weight and gain so much more,” she suggested for the new year that we “look beyond the superficial and all resolve to make more of ourselves, not less.”

Can’t women do all this and look good at the same time whether or not they are thin?

She criticized Kyle Smith of The New York Post. He responded to Carrie Fisher’s plea to fans via tweets that they stop discussing whether or not she’d aged well since the last time they saw her almost 40 years ago as Princess Leia Organa in “Star Wars” when she was 19. [One would hope she’d aged….goodness me!] She’d lost weight for the new film and Weiner wrote that Smith posited Fisher should thank the studio for making her healthy. She verbally winced at the contention that thin equaled healthy.

If a woman wants to look her best, does that mean she wants to look young and must be thin? What about men? Don’t most want to look good? Is there a point at which a woman or a man in good health, with sufficient funds, should stop trying and say, “To heck with it, I can’t be bothered to clean myself up for any reason or occasion?” And doesn’t attitude play a part?


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16 Responses to “Service of Giving Up Trying”

  1. hb Said:

    For whatever reason, I think age is more a female than a male concern. At least, I’ve never had any delusions about it. Nor have I ever had the slightest desire to make myself look any younger than I really am. I suppose unfairly, I even take a jaundiced view of those who seek the scalpel to remove the wrinkles.

    However, this does not mean I approve of people who let themselves go. We should all try to look our best consistent with what our means.

  2. ASK Said:

    I’m with “Harriet” on this one! And if men don’t know when they look bad with their big bellies, cargo shorts, and canal-boat sneakers, that’s their problem…

  3. Jeanne Byington Said:


    There are plenty of vain men out there who can’t pass a mirror without looking at it, who spend hours at the gym or running marathons to stay fit. I wonder whether anyone has studied men’s toupee and/or hair implant statistics to see whether there are more of them today or the same as in previous years.

    I have never subscribed to the “You must suffer to be beautiful” school. I can’t work well if I’m uncomfortable i.e. squeezed into tight clothing, if that’s the fashion. I admit to sleeping on hard curlers in the day–which was not comfortable at first. That’s about as far as I can recall going in the suffering department. Yet I always feel best when I think I look OK. Negotiating deep slush puddles today I saw a woman hobbling on the sidewalk having crossed a slushy avenue on three-inch heels. She thought she looked beautiful. She looked uncomfortable and a bit silly to me. Maybe she was trying to see how fast she could ruin her shoes or get out of work due to a broken ankle.

  4. Jeanne Byington Said:


    Agree about men who don’t dress with their silhouettes in mind–especially those at airports headed for vacation. Unfortunately, some of their female counterparts work near and around my office or shop for groceries where I do. Stilettos don’t make a woman look young if she can’t control them and skin spilling out of lycra tops that are two sizes too small do not enhance one’s appearance, regardless of age.

  5. EAM Said:

    I think that personal development of your inner-self trumps all here. Some people can look svelte and stylish and are just intolerant people. I admit to being a full-figured woman but as you know, I do my best to dress stylish and look my best. I’ve struggled with my weight over the years and no doubt people have judged me just for taking up a seat on the bus or subway (I’ve seen the looks). So if you’re 50 and fabulous and feel like crap on the inside, does it make much difference? I think not.

  6. Jeanne Byington Said:


    You have one of the most creative, stunning wardrobes in wonderful, becoming colors, of any of my friends and a glorious collection of accessories–especially jewelry. You look fashionable and attractive whenever I’ve seen you. More important, you like to giggle. And you’ve seen the plays, attended the concerts and watched the movies folks want to see and are talking about. Your vital interest in current events and topics, astute critiques and remarkable memory will serve you well into your 10th decade, and you’re not even half way there. As you note an unhappy 50 year old, thin or not, can follow a zillion diets and buy couture by the armloads full and is just wasting her time.

  7. Hank Goldman Said:

    Tough question. I think a lot has to do with age and marital status… The ability to link up ….or not, then makes a big difference…

  8. Jeanne Byington Said:


    I am not sure that this is what you meant, but some women, once married, let themselves go a bit, although this may be more unusual today as women in the job market must stay fit and look good, [if not trim]. Others, hoping to attract a partner, want to look good.

  9. Martha Takayama Said:

    I did not read the original article you refer to, but it doesn’t sound very profound. Vanity or lack thereof is an individual matter. Some women are more concerned about appearance, than others. Aging and the acceptance of the changes it brings can be difficult, but a realistic point of view is best. The epidemic of “cougar” women on TV and in print verge on the ridiculous. Wearing clothes designed for another generation generally looks foolish.

    Trying to look the most attractive for one’s age is an attainable goal that makes life more pleasant for a woman as well as those who interact with her. However, charm, grace, humour and intellect are also very import elements of an attractive person.

    I think the danger of giving up on appearance is that it may mean giving up on life in general. Just about all of what is listed here definitely applies to men; Criteria for showing age is just different. Think of all the aging or grey-templed leading men.

    Obesity is a separate issue and a national epidemic. Our culture foists enormous quantities of incredibly rich and unhealthy foods at us while our ideal is thin. There is no reason to not take care of one’s appearance because of excess pounds.

  10. Jeanne Byington Said:


    Metabolism has as much to do with weight gain as does the food some people eat. We’ve all known people who are pencil thin and eat up a storm and others who eat normally and are plump. Clearly someone who has a weight problem and eats fried fast food and drinks giant size sodas most meals will continue to have issues.

    I can’t get out of my mind a stunning woman in her 60s who was trying on a jacket [I coveted] at my client’s December craft fair at Brooklyn Museum. Until she removed one jacket to try on another, I didn’t think of her as fat or thin. In fact, she was far from thin but the jacket did wonders. And it didn’t hurt that she had a most beautiful face and smile!

  11. Lucrezia Said:

    What is meant by to stop trying? Failing to mimic the appearance of that ghoulish looking figure at the top of the page? Facing such a thing in the mirror threatens cardiac arrest in a healthy percentage of the population.

    I am out to please is myself, since doing otherwise is a waste of time. The fashion industry thrives by its success in making people believe they are being closely watched and evaluated, when 99% of the time, few if anyone cares.

    So have I stopped trying? Nope. Never started. There’s tons of fun things to do out there, and kotowing to a non-existent audience is not one of them!

  12. Jeanne Byington Said:


    To answer your question, for me to “stop trying,” would be when I walk around for days with unkempt, dirty hair and wrinkled, mismatched clothing.

    Fashion plate I’m not but I have some days in which I pray I won’t meet anyone I know and other days where I’m wearing an especially nice blouse or good looking jacket and I feel put-together and hope I do!

    I have a few ideas where this inclination came from. One of the first nights I was alone in my parents’ apartment after I’d graduated from having a babysitter, mom and dad were off to a friend’s party at a restaurant and I was watching TV. I heard a key in the front door and froze. They’d been gone a while but it was hours too soon for them to be returning! It wasn’t a burglar, it was Dad. On the bus he looked down and realized his socks didn’t match. Mom urged him to forget it as they’d be late, pointing out that his feet would be under a table and nobody would notice, but the sock mismatch mattered to him.

  13. Lucrezia Said:

    OK, then one may expect to get as many reactions as there are people, starting with those most easily discouraged to ones who never quit! Then there are those who consider such things in varying degrees, and on and on…..

  14. Judy Schuster Said:

    I’m still not thin, but you know I am down 80 lbs. from where I once was. It didn’t change my view of clothing or jewelry even a little. I made an effort to look good then, and I try to look good now, at 75 and with more than a few wrinkles. Just because I was heavy, didn’t mean I didn’t care how I looked. I shopped for nice apparel then, and I do now, although more casual apparel takes up most of my closet now that I’m retired. Age and weight have nothing to do with how people want to appear to others. I cared then and I care now that I am neat and nicely dressed. (I did give up coloring my hair and having perms. Now I have short, gray hair, nicely styled I hope!) Personally, I believe that wrinkled ladies with black hair are only fooling themselves

  15. Jeanne Byington Said:


    That’s it! Although related to housekeeping and not how a person considers their personal image, this example illustrates the range of what’s considered to be trying. I knew someone who said “If the wastebaskets are empty, I’m ready for company!” No dusting or vacuuming or tossing piles of paper, magazines and correspondence for her. Her definition of “the house is ready for company” wouldn’t work for others who might think, “Oh-oh–she’s stopped trying!”

  16. Jeanne Byington Said:


    You’ve written in a few words what I tried to express in far too many: “Age and weight have nothing to do with how people want to appear to others. I cared then and I care now that I am neat and nicely dressed.”

    As for hair color, I started pulling out white hair in my early 20s and at one point realized I had to color my hair or I’d have none left. In my 40s, my then hair stylist told me “gray/white doesn’t complement your skin tone.” I’ve never forgotten that!

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