The Look

Last week, as I was walking to my office, I passed a woman on the street. She reminded me of myself – black woman, about my age, dressed for a professional, office-type job. As we passed each other, we exchanged smiles, and then she gave me The Look.

No, not the “who is this bitch?” look. That’s the look I used to get in my twenties and early thirties (and still get on occasion) – the look that inspired that song by Klymaxx, “The Men All Pause.” Klymaxx didn’t say it, but when you look good enough to make the men all pause, the women all pause, too, but they want to fill your heart with daggers and empty it of blood.

This Look is a new look, a different look. It’s a look of camaraderie, of kinship, of fellowship, of acknowledgement that you’re a worthy member of a certain club. I’m not sure what the “club” is. Sometimes, it seems to be the “women of a certain age” club. Other times, it seems to be the “women doing the damn thing” club. Whatever club it is that I’ve joined, our members know each other. And it’s not just a black thing. I’ve exchanged The Look with women of all races. The Look is a look of support, of friendship, of “you go girl” and “we’ve got your back.” And it is wonderful.

Now, I don’t get The Look from every woman of a certain age. I especially don’t get it from the ones who are in denial about their age, who are trying desperately to turn back the clock with implants and Botox. But I frequently get it from women who are trying to extend the clock and send the game of life into overtime, not with chemical or surgical intervention, but with Pilates and Bikram and running in Central Park. I see these women in the park, in my weekly running class, in my Saturday or Sunday Bikram class, or at the gym. We give each other The Look and smile, and go on about our business, because that’s who we are.

Some women don’t understand The Look. I tried to give it to a woman one morning when I was out running laps around Marcus Garvey Park in Harlem. A woman running ahead of me reminded me of how I must have looked when I first started running. She was slow, lumbering, her breathing heavy. Yet she was out there, giving it her all. As I passed her, I decided to give her both The Look and a few words of encouragement.

“Good work! Keep it up!” I said as I came up on her left.

She nearly jumped out of her skin. “You scared the life out of me!” she yelled, not friendly.

“Sorry!” I replied, truly (and briefly) feeling sorry about having scared her. “I was just trying to give you some encouragement for being out here.”

She glared at me. That was the look I remembered from my twenties. The look that said, “Bitch, who are you?” She was not a member of our club. I wanted to bop her over the head with my running shoe, but I was too focused on maintaining my time. So I took my bitch self on, and blew past her. I wanted to really be a bitch and lap her, but by the time I made it back around the park, she was gone.

Despite that woman’s reaction, having been the happy recipient of The Look on many occasions, I’ve tried to reciprocate as much as possible. The result is that women will chat me up at the bus stop and compliment me on my hair and makeup, and I will do the same. I have said, “Girl, those boots!” to a perfectly fabulous stranger, and we’ve exchanged knowing, confident giggles. So if being forty-plus means I’m now part of this secret society, this sorority of fabulous, supportive women, I’m all for it. I want to pass The Look on to my daughter as a tool that can be used not just in your forties, but to also diffuse some of the “who is that bitch?” nonsense. Because, really, why can’t we just say, “Damn, I don’t know who that bitch is, but she’s awesome!”

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