Woman of Allure—or Delusion? By Janet Hubbard
Recently, I embarked on a five-city book tour out west (San Francisco, LA, San Diego, Phoenix, and Denver) to promote my new novel, BORDEAUX: The Bitter Finish. As a single woman who admits to being 60-plus, and armed with a love of people, a new bob, fun outfit, and stories of discovering wine and France, I set off to pedal my books with alacrity.
A reading in today’s entertainment climate is a misnomer. Authors might read a short passage, but more often they talk about the location of their novel, as mystery writer Cara Black did recently, when she described the Pigalle area of Paris, or tell a story or two connected to the writing of the novel or the subject, which is followed by a question-and-answer. I tend to talk about my wine epiphany, a moment in Paris when I stood in a dingy bar sipping a vin ordinaire and smoking a Gauloise cigarette while watching Buzz Aldrin land on the moon. I end my talk with a short reading, followed by the “Q and A.”
I wear the same outfit to my readings: a short black skirt with tights, short black boots with low heels, silky tank top and a linen Edwardian-style jacket with ruffles. I feel sexy in this attire, a sharp contrast to my “working writer’s outfit” that I don when I’m home in Vermont—bare feet, comfy clothes like flannel pajamas and baggy tee-shirts, and unruly and uncombed hair.
Imagine my chagrin, then, when I came upon two articles mid-tour about middle-aged women that made me wonder for a moment if I was delusional about the self I was presenting to potential fans. The first article, “Writer of a Certain Age,” by British novelist Faye Weldon appeared in the New York Times. Weldon makes the point that no one wants to read about middle-aged women protagonists and advises writers to make them young.
Check. I had created young characters, not with the needs of readers in mind, but with the intention of writing about a combination of some of the young people I have around me, as well as writing about a period in my own life that stands out (early 30s). But then Weldon focuses on the writer, saying that “young, nubile women attract attention, aging women do not,” and went on to express that middle-aged writers should “look at the advent of the ebook as a blessing,” for it avoids the necessity of a jacket photo that “gives up trying to make you look sexy and tries to make you look intelligent.”
Oh, DEAR. Isn’t that exactly what photographer friend Dana was doing when she “touched up” my jacket photo? Isn’t that what my daughter in LA was doing when she had her hairdresser give me a stylish bob, or when she and another friend lined me up to see the plastic surgeon her friend works for? (I said no to this.) Wasn’t their goal to make me look younger?
The next article that slightly ruffled my feathers as I continued giving readings across the country appeared in The Atlantic. “The Narcissistic Injury of Middle Age” by Joseph Burgo relates how middle-aged women begin to feel invisible when their children leave home. (This begs the question, what IS considered middle-age today?) Burgo claims that “when others stop looking, we naturally experience it as a narcissistic injury, as if it means we are no longer beautiful and important, especially in a world where the emphasis is on youth and looks.”
I decided that he wasn’t addressing the women in my life, or the women I meet in cities where my readings take place, who are part of a growing trend of American women who are divorcing late (after 25 years of marriage) and who are happily dating, traveling, venturing onto dating websites, and yes, feeling and looking sexy. In my world, older women dating (and marrying) younger men is now as common as younger women dating (and marrying) older men. My ex-husband, whom I was with for 27 years, is a decade younger, and a recent boyfriend was also younger. Trust me, I am no beauty. But I am full of vitality and creativity, and convey excitement about the world I am in. Doesn’t that translate into sexy?
Burgo also wrote that with lack of acceptance of aging, people become more self-centered, and increasingly dissatisfied and stagnant. He wrote, “They will ape the behavior, clothing, and attitudes of the young, trying to preserve their sexual appeal. They may opt for plastic surgery, and demand to remain the center of attention.”
Those women I was referring to above? Many have long hair, which used to be a no-no for women of an indeterminate age, and they do share appropriate clothes with their daughters, and a few have had plastic surgery. I would say YES, they are trying to preserve their sexual appeal. Are they supposed to give it up because they are single and of an indeterminate age? Am I demanding attention when I give readings across the country?
Because I spend as much time in France as I can, and have since I was a young woman, I decided to turn to Mireille Guiliano, author of “French Women Don’t Get Fat,” and “French Women Don’t Get Facelifts.” She is a fine role model for me. At age 68, she is tall, slender, has a great hairstyle, and is subtly sexy. According to her, in France if a woman doesn’t fit a standard mold, she is alluring. I looked up the word allure on the internet: “the quality of being powerfully and mysteriously attractive or fascinating.”
Guiliano said, “Americans tend to consider women in their 40s old, while a self-awareness of their persisting allure keeps French women in their 50s and beyond looking and feeling young…most French women are ready for love and sex no matter what they look like or what their age might be.” This was music to my ears as I completed my tour.
Wine is served at most of my readings because it is the subject of my books. There is sometimes a celebratory air in the room, which I relish. Don’t think it never crossed my mind that I might meet Mr. Right in one of my readings, though it seemed like a far-fetched fantasy.
But, guess what? A tall, portly, handsome man wearing all black entered a bookstore where I was reading. It turned out he and his friend had entered the bookstore by accident, as they were playing hooky from a conference they were attending, and found themselves in this out-of-the-way bookstore on Venice Beach. I introduced myself to them, and offered them a glass of wine. Looking into the eyes of the man-in-black, a frisson occurred that caught me off-guard. A crazy few moments of flirtation followed. He purchased my novel, and he asked me to sign it. I cannot recall what I wrote today, only that in my excitement it might have been a little much.
My theory is that Fate delivered a magical moment into my book tour to give me an ending to this essay to prove the point about middle-aged women being women of allure better than any verbal argument I could have conjured up. Or maybe it is more than that. Mr. Man-in-Black and I have emailed each other twice. Stay tuned.
Janet Hubbard is the author of two mysteries in her Vengeance in the Vineyard series : CHAMPAGNE: The Farewell, and BORDEAUX: The Bitter Finish. (Poisoned Pen Press on April 1, 2014). She also wrote over twenty non-fiction books for teens under the name Janet Hubbard-Brown. She divides her time between Vermont, Virginia, and France. Learn more and order your copy of Bordeaux here.
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