"How dressy is this supposed to be?" I ask.
From inside the closet my husband answered, "The invitation said cocktail attire."
It's thirty minutes before we have to leave and I haven't had anything resembling a cocktail dress in my closet since the Singapore Sling was the cocktail of choice.
"I'm wearing black pants and a black silk top. That'll have to do."
"What else is new?" my husband said. And then immediately before the demon-wife could be let loose, "whatever you wear will be fine. I'll be in the kitchen."
I reach for my black stretch pants with a black sparkly tank top that I cover with a black silky sweater that comes just below my saddle-bag hips -- and if you don't what that is, you're too thin to be reading this. It's the same get-up he's seen me in a thousand times. Slipping on black flats, I walk into the kitchen.
"How do I look?" I ask.
He doesn't look at me. He doesn't need to. He knows it's the same get-up he's seen me in for every dressy occasion for at least fifteen years.
"You look fine," he says.
I'm in black from head to toe. I'd be fine, if I were an old Italian widow. Fine, if someone dies and there's an impromptu funeral. But do I look hot? I think not.
Hot. A word that conjures up summer days, fire, fever, and William Hurt and Kathleen Turner in Body Heat, rolling around in 90 degree temperature and 100 degree humidity. For me, body heat brings up memories of hot flashes. So if night sweats count, one answer to the question, when was a time that I felt hot, could accurately be answered "between the ages of 53 and 55."
What makes a woman feel hot is probably a lot like fingerprints. It's different for all of us. For one woman it might be the confidence that comes with holding a powerful position, for another maybe it's what happens after a couple of glasses of wine and a husband that takes his eyes off the television long enough to listen to what she's saying that gets her going. For me, it's my body mass index.
I personally know women who are older than I am, who weigh more than I do, that are gorgeous and sexy and, yes, hot. They just feel at home in their bodies and they come across as completely juicy. I'm perfectly willing to own up to the possibility that focusing on that number on the scale is an anemic distraction from the effects of having a loving mother who was obsessed with youth and looks and said to me as she lay dying ,"It's a good thing you found someone to marry you before you looked like this." I had recently given birth to my third child in four years so her observation, though better to have gone to the grave with her, was not entirely inaccurate. But the baby weight has stubbornly persisted, followed years later with an AARP subscription and ticket takers at the movies just making the assumption that I want a senior ticket.
How has getting older, gaining some weight and dressing like I'm in a perennial car pool line keep me from being my best self? The one that Oprah wants for me. I know I'm not alone here. I'll bet if I got a few drinks into Barbara Bush, we'd be talking Weight Watchers versus Atkins, juices fasts and colonics. She'd confess to me how hard it was never to be able to wear sleeveless dresses like Michelle Obama does and I'd share my secret desire to liposuction my calves if there even is such a thing.
I fasted once for four months, sixteen weeks, one hundred forty two days, putting absolutely nothing in my stomach but three protein shakes a day. I lost weight. Lots of it. I didn't feel hot during the process because I was in survival mode. I didn't want men to whistle at me, I wanted them to throw me pieces of meat. But when I started to eat again, slowly and methodically at first just enough not to be famished, I switched gears. I felt hot. I mean, seriously, I looked great. I felt so hot that I wanted to have sex with everybody. The thing is that I was married so my husband was the sole beneficiary of all that raging hotness.
It wasn't just about sex of course. It was about feeling as if I was in touch with my physical self in a way I hadn't ever been before. I loved waking up and getting dressed. I loved the feeling that I could put on anything, quickly, not want to change five times. My mother's mantra came back to me, "see, you look so beautiful when you're thin." I sought out new experiences. I expected positive feedback from people, because I thought they must be thinking, "wow, I wanna hang with her 'cause unbelievably she's funny and she can wear her shirt tucked in."
Time does indeed march on and when you add to the equation the double whammy of aging, a girl has to dig deep to find her inner Sofia Vergara.
But what about Sonia Sotomayor? And Madeline Albright? And Hilary Clinton (particularly during the last months of her Secretary of State-hood) ? These women are changing the world even if they do have a snip of avoirdupois. So do they feel hot? When Sonia is sitting in a room deciding constitutional issues does she think "gay marriage, shmay marriage, I should have worn elastic pants under these robes" or when Hilary is brokering a peace between nations is she thinking, "God, I hope Netanyahu doesn't notice the 5 pounds I've put on." As Madame Curie turned 60 did she wish she invented Botox instead of fooling around with that darn radium?
No one has to admonish me about the foolishness of the kind of vanity I seem to be talking about that is at the crux of my own personal hotness crisis. I know better. I'm just being honest here. I know I'd feel pretty darn great if I published a novel or became a United Nations Aid Worker. I'm not a person who sits at home and weighs herself hourly or pulls the skin on her neck up with scotch tape. (It doesn't work anyway). I do know the great feeling that comes with helping someone who needs a little assist in their lives, getting something... anything... right as a parent, or even writing something that resonates with people. But does it make me feel like I'm hot? I'm working on it, still deciding if the answer is brokering world peace or donning a pair of red leather thongs. Although, come to think of it, why should I have to choose? That sounds kind of hot to me.