Recently a professional photographer told me, “Every time I photograph an older woman she says, “Make me look 20 years younger.” I incredulously responded, “Every time?” “Without fail,” was his affirmative answer.
What a sorry state for women! How can we ever enjoy old age if we hate the faces that accompany it?
Our culture is responsible for this dirty deed; a culture dominated by ageism where the obsession with youthful appearances tells women: to age is to fail.
As Lynn Segal, author of Our Time: the Pleasures and Perils of Aging, notes: “The biggest problem for many older women is ‘ageism, rather than the process of aging itself.’
The pejorative image of the aging female face is instilled in us at an early age. As children we learn from reading fairy tales like Snow White, that female aging is a curse, as personified by the evil stepmother. At Halloween, the ugly, old witch, with a face blotted with warts, is trotted out to scare little kids.
As adults, we continue to be bombarded by negative images of the older female face. The recent TV series, “Feud,” dramatized the rivalry between the aging Hollywood stars, Bette Davis and Joan Crawford. “Feud” is about the filming of “What Ever Happened to Baby Jane,” where both stars’ obsession with trying to beat back the clock is the basic plot line. The Joan Crawford character slugs vodka to deal with her no-longer-youthful face.
Lorraine Devon Wile, a columnist for the Guardian has taken up the torch to embolden older women into accepting their changing physiques. She writes:
Youthful beauty is one kind of beauty. There are other kinds: the beauty of grace, acceptance, and feeling at ease in your skin. The beauty of wisdom, life lived, experience gained. The beauty of Maggie Smith, Judi Dench, Toni Morrison, or any woman who hasn’t panicked, doesn’t resent her years, who hasn’t put herself under a knife to carve away her familiar beloved and well-earned features to be replaced with the reptilian, repetitive faces of fear we see all around us these days.
Women, we have to get over this! We can’t let ageism do us in!
We need a strategy for fighting back against a culture that works overtime to take away the dignity of aging for older women.
A good place to start is to affirm our older faces and bodies not just in self-talk but to one another. Compliment your friends and relatives on the wisdom that shines through their faces, on their bodies, which are the accumulation of a life well-lived. When someone mocks you for being old, respectively take them on. Stand up for your wise, experienced self.
Be a positive role model for younger women, who are often terrified of aging.
Let’s show them how to age with pride where our life experiences become far more important to who we are than what we look like. When my daughter-in-law confessed to dreading turning 50 (a way’s off for her), I told her how wonderful the 50’s were for me, describing my increased self-confidence which made it possible for me to start a women’s radio show and to take a stand when necessary.
In another passage from her book, Lynn Segal proclaims, “Attitude and humor are the strongest weapons in the armaments of aging.” I would add: a strong sisterhood of powerful, loving, wise women who will remind us that we are each beautiful in our own individual ways.
If you’d like more conversations with like-minded women, we have a Facebook page for you: WOW (Women’s Older Wisdom).