It was a typical high-end editorial spread: leggy models with parted lips, casual poses in city streets, backdrops of brick and graffiti. Some of the expressions are provocative. Others are edgy. Sometimes, the scene tells a story that screams “I’m young, I’m vital and I’m carefree!”
I don’t recall a period of time when I felt carefree.
First World problem?
That doesn’t alter the fact that from the time we are very young (especially as women), the imagery reflecting what our lives “ought” to be has relatively few settings from which to choose. One of them – not pouty, not sultry, not uber-successful – is carefree.
Carefree in a Stressed Out World
Have you ever had one of those moments? You’re as light as air. You could fly. You haven’t a worry in the world. At least, that’s how you feel.
You’re high on a great encounter, a fantastic presentation, a “yes” to your next step in life, or the prospect of an entire week without school, without work, without the kids. If indeed I mention carefree moments – you can probably answer in the affirmative.
But the imagery of a beautiful girl (next door) with a gleeful grin and expansive body language?
Those get under my skin. They promise a lifestyle that I have missed, that most of the women I know have missed, a look of the lifestyle we never knew that leaves us feeling, well… wanting, disappointed, vaguely nostalgic for something that is more of an idea than a reality.
A carefree life in a stressed out world? Seriously?
Free of Cares = Free of Worries, Responsibilities
I imagine I was carefree as a child some of the time – those were different days – perhaps in the summers, which were unscheduled and largely unsupervised. That would be between the ages of eight and eleven, before puberty and before realizing I had to ace everything if I wanted to go to college.
My own kids?
I’d like to think they had some carefree periods as well, but I know better. There were some relaxing times now and then – days of summer camp – but children are so scheduled, so pressed to perform from such a young age, so looked over – lest they be overlooked – I see no shortage of worries. And that doesn’t begin to enumerate their responsibilities much less my own – and those of millions of men and women who juggle jobs, relationships, parenthood, and of course the bills.
Carefree? I can’t imagine it – not for myself, not for my kids, not for their friends. The only exceptions are those with big bucks, which may have allowed for extended vacations and postponed “adulthood.”
Media Views of Women: Carefree, Sexy, Successful
No one will deny that we are deeply affected by media views of women. As young girls, we aspire to the images and lifestyles we see. Hopefully, these are not our only models. Nor should we ignore the ripple effects on our boys who are processing the same restricted options: innocent or sexy, girl next door or dangerous woman, determined and successful (or not worth the time of day)… and little else.
Yes, perhaps the mother is there, too – and she’s baking cookies and smiling brightly. Or, she’s polishing her most recent presentation while on the phone, a baby on her hip, and working on her gleaming granite counter top.
Naturally, she remains perpetually young, energetic – and thin.
Where does this leave us – especially our girls?
My Non-Carefree Past
Any possible periods of carefree attitude in my life do not resemble the images we see in the media. Not even close! That is in part because yours truly doesn’t resemble those individuals – I am a small, dark woman.
But I can, for example, recall my summer in France at age 15. I was nerdy and a bit serious – (surprised?) – and it was an extraordinary experience. Still, I wouldn’t term it as carefree.
College? Hardly, though there were many good times. My first job after graduation? Any of the jobs that followed?
Not a chance. Long hours, always much to learn, and I was frequently in a heavily male field (with much to prove and produce to stay in the running).
Today, there is absolutely nothing in my lifestyle that even approaches “carefree.” I know I’m not alone. Who can cast off responsibilities? Who doesn’t have worries?
Projecting Confidence and Self-Knowledge
Ironically, one of my most relaxing pastimes is curling up for 30 minutes with a fashion magazine. So where’s my beef? With the images or the concepts behind them? With the narrow focus of the images?
I’d say it’s all of the above. Surely our young women ought to be exposed to a wider set of “looks” and lifestyles than pouty, sultry, successfully determined and prettily carefree. Surely women of all ages would appreciate the same.
Personally, I consider a confident, contributing, curiosity-driven lifestyle worthy of aspiring to – and reflecting. Likewise, one that incorporates responsibilities, and equally, contentment. This leads me to imagine women with a broader range of expressions (not to mention body types and ages), set in something other than a typically moody urban backdrop, a cheery (artificial) workplace, much less shopping in the city or smiling in a field of flowers.
So what happens when we see lifestyles and examples over and over again, year after year, that only leave us feeling left out – or “less than?” What if it’s as simple as feeling less than “carefree?”
Don’t even get me started on the Photoshopping, the issues of “plus size” models, the ageism.
Can’t we do better?
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