The young man scanning and bagging my purchases at the bookstore check out line stopped to look at the magazine cover featuring Michelle Obama.
“I just love her,” he said.
“Me too,” I replied.
“Such an impressive background. And I loved her speeches during the campaign.”
“Mmm hmm,” I said vaguely, trying to figure out the debit card swiping machine.
“And she really looks so good…”
Here his voice did not intone down as one’s voice should when one has come to the end of a statement. Instead, the “good” hung there for a moment on the same note as the “so.” I knew there was more to follow and it soon came:
“…for a woman her age.”
She looks good for a woman her age.
What the hell is that supposed to mean? The First Lady is a year older than me. Do I, too, look good for a woman “my age”? Just average? Worse? What are women in their mid to late forties supposed to look like?
I thought about these questions all the way home. I still do not know whether I should be happy that people of all ages and races find Mrs. Obama attractive, or offended that they seem a little surprised that they should find her attractive. I don’t know what it says about me that Michelle Obama is now the example of what an attractive Black woman should look like. I mean, I am happy that she is tall, brown-skinned, curvy, healthy. I know what it is like to be thought not attractive because I am not petite, not White or “light-skinded” and not rail thin.
But that day in the bookstore I had on: some old scuffed up shoes, a frayed sweatshirt, and some old jeans. I had on no make-up and my hair was tied in the old week-past-my-touch-up pony tail. My gray hairs were visibly on display and my hand bag was about five years out of fashion.
I probably did not look good for my age or any age.
I used to frequent a certain Taco Bell in my neighborhood. A young man at the drive through window began to recognize me whenever I’d come through. It all started one time when I ordered with Lil Wayne blasting through the speakers. When I pulled up to the window he was bobbing his head to my music. “You jammin’ for lunch today, huh?” After that exchange he would always speak to me about something other than whether I wanted to upgrade my drink to a large for 50 more cents. He always gave me extra “fire” sauce packets even though the sign at the window said they would only give out three per main entre.
One time–I think this time I had OutKast on my car stereo–I drove up to his bobbing head and he said, “You know, I think it is so cool that someone your age likes this music.”
I was devastated. When I told the story to my husband he laughed. “Don’t be offended. He saw you as an MILF. Definitely don’t say anything to him about it. We could use the extra fire sauce.”
An MILF? A few googles and I had my explanation for what that particular acronym means. And again, the confusion about whether to be offended or charmed.
So here I am. Sitting at the 3-way identity intersection of “Black,” “female,” and “middle aged.” Not used to being considered the epitome of female beauty by mainstream America, my looks are now “in” because of the First Lady. Not used to being thought cool because I had always been such a nerd, I can now be down simply by being an old lady who likes young music. I am in a new weight class of sorts, competing against other middle aged moms. I apparently am ranked fairly highly in this class, but I am not sure what–besides extra condiments–I will win as a result.
I really do not know where to go from this intersection. But I probably should try to start dressing better. I’m about to log onto the onine J. Crew catalog right now…