the invisibility of age

Lori Day’s article “Aging white female is not your worst nightmare” struck a chord with me that compelled me to return to this platform after months of focusing on other forms of creativity (mostly my Instagram art photography forums). Ms. Day outlines the intersection between misogyny and ageism, noting that the latter bias affects women much more than men in our patriarchal society, which values the wisdom and experience of older men but rejects older women as irrelevant.

One particularly poignant quote echoes many thoughts I’ve posted to this blog: “[The solution] isn’t to try to look or act younger. It isn’t to write blog posts about how hot/thin/beautiful/sexy middle-aged women are. They are, but wasting my written voice on championing shallow efforts at continued conformity to what is expected of women in a patriarchal society does not feel productive. It is an insidious capitulation.”

I am two years older than Lori Day and attempting acceptance of the 10 pounds I’ve gained post-menopause. This is no small task, especially for someone who has struggled with eating disorders in my distant past and body acceptance only in the recent decade. The first gray hairs didn’t bother me; the small lines and age spots on my face haven’t made me feel worse about myself. Yet my body changing causes me to feel “damn unpretty,” to quote TLC. I am not hot, thin, or sexy to my mind’s eye (although many around me may disagree, and I bless them). Intellectually I don’t give a damn, yet psychologically I am fading into the background of the public stage. This is an internal judgment that has grown from decades of being told by strangers what my true value is to the world, even as I’ve refused to believe it: “smile, beautiful.”

A good friend in her 40s was recently dumped by a man she was dating (and falling for, which by all signs was mutual) because she was “overweight,” according to him. She is intelligent, talented, adventurous, fun to be with, and beautiful, and yet this somewhat paunchy middle-aged man couldn’t accept her love and other gifts because he couldn’t turn away from the five extra pounds she may or may not be carrying (depending on who is judging). Although this is much more about him than it is about her, she has to process the anger and self-doubt that his cruel dismissal caused. And his assessment is neither rare nor unspoken: we see it all around us as women with good genes or good plastic surgeons are heralded and those who thicken or sag for good reasons are publicly mocked (look at Kelly Clarkson, for example).

Like Lori Day, I am grateful not to be cat-called in the street anymore. I relish being able to go out dancing and know that it is less likely than in my youth that some drunken jerk will start grinding up against me. But what I don’t like is for my opinions born of wisdom and experience to be ignored because I’m “of a certain age.” This is precisely why I started this blog. I hope other women will join me in a refusal to starve or work ourselves into the twisted, youth-culture image of what a vital, relevant woman should be. I do not have time to spend hours exercising away my “muffin top,” which I come by quite naturally from having birthed a child at 40, from enjoying healthy food, and from living an active — but not obsessive — life.

Gray hairs, laugh lines, and a belly bulge have nothing to do with who I am and what I think, but being less attractive and visibly older can lead to being dismissed. It seems that only those with exterior beauty are given public platforms to say what they think, even if what they say is pure nonsense (take Sarah Palin and Ann Coulter, for example).

The real solution is to change our societal norms to value the input of “elders,” as many cultures have for centuries. But while that snail crawls into mass media and sexist attitudes, we as sisters have the power not to capitulate to unreal ideals of womanhood.

Gloria Steinem, a portrait of feminism

Gloria Steinem, a portrait of feminism

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One thought on “the invisibility of age

  1. Way to go,! And as you age even more, you virtually become invisible. And medicines you must take distort your body and bruise your skin. I try to wear my body changes as a badge of surviving 4 childbirths, 2 autoimmune diseases and 3 cancers.

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