I assumed the Zimmerman dress would cut it. I picked it up at the outlet store for $350 but it retailed for more than double that and it looked it. But when I turned up at the women’s charity lunch the next week, it hit me that I’d missed the mark. I wasn’t underdressed or overdressed. That dress would’ve been perfect for any other lunch, but at this one amongst Gucci and Chloe, Valentino heels and top shelf totes, I felt like I’d walked into the wrong room.
I’d like to think at my age I wouldn’t give a toss. That I would be comfortable anywhere in my own skin, certainly in a Zimmerman maxi dress, unruffled by what anyone else thinks or is wearing. It was an unexpected and inappropriate relapse of insecurity, especially at a lunch to raise money for the far less fortunate. I hadn’t felt like this since I strutted into Paddos nightclub at 16 in a Liberty frilled blouse to find my friends in Madonna cone bras dancing on a podium. I couldn’t get out of there fast enough.
It’s not the clothes that mattered so much in either scenario but the disconcerting sense of not fitting in. Of being so fundamentally incongruous that it threw me off guard and led me to extrapolate momentarily that I didn’t just not fit in here in this room of women so seemingly at ease with themselves and their surrounds, but that I didn’t fit in anywhere.
Had I not been invited there as guest speaker I would have turned on my Wittner heels and scurried away.
This was no one’s doing.
The guests were welcoming (mostly), but something about the gaping disparity between their seemingly otherworldly world, their idle chit chat about au pairs and the ideal season for Aspen, and my own sense of displacement (and the fact that they weren’t listening to a word I said) sent me spiralling disproportionately into a maze of self doubt. So flustered was I that I dropped my notes, my A4 pages scattering all over the floor and when I bent down to pick them up, I contemplated staying there. Blessedly it was only lunch. But that was long enough. Since when did I rely so heavily on the validation of strangers?
By 40ish we’re supposed to be done with all this, leaving behind the second guessing of our youth, morphing into strong, self assured women in our own right, certain of our place in the world.
“We call it running out of Fs to give”, says author Glennon Doyle in a podcast interview With Mia Freedman. “The beautiful thing is when you stop caring about the things that don’t matter, you can give yourself so mightily to the things that do matter”.
Glennon writes often and candidly of her chronic youthful insecurities, of sending her ‘representative’ out into the world rather than expose her own authentic self. But that was then. Now, at 42, she gushes about her boundless confidence and “walking around open and free and unafraid”, no longer needing to be liked by everyone, but rather, “loved by a few”.
I do have moments where all the wisdom of my ages holds me up no matter what. I make tough decisions, speak my truth, rise above, carry the load. I’m braver, wiser, calmer and more loving. I forgive easily. I like myself better than ever. I’m proud of who I am.
But I can also be felled by the mildest things: like when people gush about happy family times. I’m delighted for them. Really. But I question if I’m somehow doing life wrong. The friends who slipped away when I left my relationship, the invitations drying up. Occupational hazards of single motherhood, I’m told, but still hurtful. Those moments when I feel overlooked, misunderstood, under appreciated.
I’m not as brazen on the work front either. I used to go after what I wanted, the job I thought I deserved, take risks, step up. Author Jamila Rizvi wrote in her book, Not Just Lucky, of having the chutzpa to call the prime minister’s office at 22 for a job but now, in her 30s, says that version of herself “is a stranger to me”, referring to the decline in career confidence so typical of women as they get older.
What never goes away is our deeper desire to belong, to be a part of something. What social researcher Brene Brown calls the reminders that we’re all “inextricably connected”.
And that can come at any age.
This article was first published in Sunday Life Magazine and on dailylife.com.au and is published here with permission.