A Hellacious Belle’s Guide to the New South: Ma’am Shaming

Yesterday, was my birthday.

Becoming a year older has brought to my attention, once again, that I have crossed the bridge of age, that arc of time connecting the bright and verdant shores of “Miss,” to the cracked, barren desert of “Ma’am.”

Because politeness is so important in the South, a formal direct address, based on age and status is dictated for every female. “Thank you, Miss;” or perhaps, “Excuse me, young lady;” are phrases every Southern girl hears growing up.

Then comes that wretched day for every woman, usually sometime in your thirties (or even forties, if you are genetically blessed.)  You fight against it as diligently and as long as possible: facials, exercise, dieting, bright colors, a sexy hairstyle, skillful cosmetics.

Regardless of how good you think you still look, whether or not “age is just a number,” without a heed to being married, single or even a mom.

It happens in one brief soul-searing, come-to-Jesus-with-your mirror moment and you are forever changed.

Of course, it’s typically from some young, handsome college boy.  You may have even lightly toyed with the idea of flirting with him.  He looks at you, radiant in his youth, correct in his upbringing, the flower of southern manhood.

“Yes, ma’am.” he smiles at you, proud to be properly polite to an older woman.

Oh, the agony. The humiliation. The shame. The loss of hope, joy, vitality.

You have been called out. It’s all over. Youth has fled. Embrace your inner crone.

You have been ma’am shamed. 

I am well in body, although completely rumpled up in spirit. Thank you, ma’am. — Lucy Maud Montgomery M