I had just finished a post on L’Oreal’s new anti-aging pill (claims to ward off grey hairs) and was feeling a little bummed and discouraged. So I was going through a long list of links I’ve been saving up for future posts and came across this gem by Naomi Wolf, author of “The Beauty Myth.” I have never read the book (which I now feel obligated to), but it spoke about the rise of feminism being such a step forward, however women were still being held back. In Naomi’s words, “When my book was published in 1991, I noted that a burgeoning epidemic of eating disorders was engulfing what should have been the feistiest, most confident generation of women ever. The field of cosmetic surgery, especially breast implant procedures, was booming. Pornography was chipping away at young women’s sexual self-esteem just as insult-ridden advertisements for anti-aging creams were shaping the way women thought about the experience of getting older. The way we looked determined our value to society.” In her article about The Aging Myth, Wolf dispels the idea that older women are less attractive, or become less desirable as they grow older and encourages them to be proud of who they are. The article was excellent and inspiring, however too long to post here. You really should read the whole article, but here is the part that I liked best:
The change in social norms around the issue of women’s aging is immense. There is now an influential and growing demographic of educated, well-off women whose status, sense of self-esteem and sexual cachet rise rather than fall as they head toward midlife. I do not see younger women looking at accomplished women in their 40s with pity or derision: I see them looking ahead with admiration and even envy. The archetype of the Evil Queen and Sleeping Beauty has been laid to rest. Many older women no longer see younger women as rivals in the same way. “I have empathy for them,” said one 54-year-old psychologist. “I want to mentor younger women, not compete with them,” remarked another friend, a 48-year-old photographer. These women liked themselves far more in midlife than they had at an earlier age, and the older women saw younger women struggling with the same issues of self-awareness they had faced in their own youth.Because of advances in health and well-being awareness, many women I know are entering midlife feeling as good as (and looking better than) they did in college. But they also have professional success, self-knowledge, sexual magnetism and awareness, and even thriving children, admiring husbands or ardent lovers. These signs of accomplishment merely add to the allure of many midlife women — women who, when asked if they would like to be in their 20s again, think of doing so with a shudder.
Certainly some men my age still date or marry younger, as our friend at the party sought to do; but in my own circles, at least, it is considered more macho for a man to have an accomplished woman his own age on his arm. His ego, it is understood, can take it. When I asked my single male peers why they were dating or having relationships with women their own ages rather than younger women, I heard variants of this: “Today, someone isn’t less cool as she gets older. She is just as cool or cooler. And, if a woman is taking care of herself, there isn’t really a difference sexually between a younger and an older woman — except that the older woman is more comfortable with herself and more sure of herself.” As one eligible man in his mid-40s put it, laughing, when he described why he was only attracted to women his own age, “I get a brain and a body!” It is true that “taking care of herself” is not an insignificant issue. But that kind of self-care is not about being enslaved to external “beauty myth” pressures: It is about loving yourself, valuing your unique body and looking after it accordingly. At midlife, the social “script” insists that we’re supposed to adopt a rueful tone — Oh, that first crow’s-foot, that first strand of gray. It’s simply more acceptable for women to be self-deprecating about the signs of aging. But when was the last time you heard an older woman say, in public — “Actually, getting older is more than tolerable — it’s great!” Let alone: “I really like it.” So, at the risk of sounding socially incorrect, I am going to deviate from that script, and I invite all women of a certain age to join me. A great many of us don’t feel particularly wistful or rueful about our earlier physical selves. A great many of us really like where we are. I like where I am. Sure, I am startled when I forget to put a color rinse in my hair, and I look into the bathroom mirror and see a sheen of gray. But I look at it with a kind of gentle curiosity: So that is what that will be like! Certainly, it takes more effort at the gym to maintain a certain level of fitness. But at midlife, you also know what an incredible gift a healthy body is. And while I don’t love working harder for an outcome, I am overwhelmed with gratitude for a body that can move and hike and swim, seduce and be seduced, be exhilarated and overjoyed, and all of this in the blessing of being free of serious illness. A 59-year-old teacher said: “I’d rather look great for who I am than try to look 19. I feel happier in my skin than I did when I was younger.” I asked a therapist who works with midlife women, “In your experience, is it true or not true that women get depressed about their appearance as they get older?” “It is a myth,” she said. “You know more about staying fit. You know more about what feels good to wear. You are more able to like the way you look.” There are many other delightful surprises about being at this stage on the journey. I don’t miss the brutal sexual harassment that young women receive from men — and I love the far gentler flirtation or civil compliments from cab drivers and park chess players my own age or older. On the street, young women are told: Give me some. Older women hear: I love your eyes. That is not a bad trade. I know — finally — what I like to wear and am comfortable not bothering with what I don’t. I love not being in physical competition with other women. I love being able to appreciate the beauty of other women and feeling appreciated myself — and appreciating myself. To anxious young women, I want to say what I wish more older women had said to my generation: Relax, enjoy the journey and do not worry about the future. There are no wicked witches. It is all good. Really, really good. And it only gets better.
I mean, that kinda just makes me want to say, “Let’s grow old together.”