Thou shalt not age: Why is getting older treated as something we should fix?
A woman's looks are commented on all the time in different ways by both men and other women. And as you reach your 40s, you start to notice that a new slur has joined the ranks of unattractive, not-hot, too-tall, too-wide, too-something. Too old. "Oooh, she's aged."
As if getting older is something we should sort out. As if it's a failure. Not the dreaded oldness! Not the ageing and passing of time. Why are you not doing something about that?
According to the media headlines, age is something that can be conquered by a lucky few. She's 65 and looks 45! She's 40 and looks 30! He's a she and doesn't look 56!
As women, we spend our teen years trying to look older so we can get into bottle stores, then, as early as our mid-to-late 20s, we're meant to work on looking younger or 'age prevention', as if it's something we can control. As if this ageing business is a choice.
It's impossible to bring up the latest Star Wars without somebody mentioning how old Carrie Fisher looks. It's been 36 years since she filmed the first one. Now, unless she's undergone some sort of cryogenic freezing, like Hans Solo did in Return of the Jedi, then Carrie should look older; more than three decades older. Exactly like Mark Hamill does, although I'm yet to hear people comment on his crow's feet.
While men can go right ahead and turn into silver foxes, women must hide those silver hairs – to do otherwise is seen as a form of self-neglect. If we have wrinkles, we've failed to use the right creams. If we have laugh lines, we haven't invested enough in our plastic surgeon's holidays. If we have baggy necks, we haven't drunk enough antioxidant-rich, magnesium-infused calendula tea in a copper cup followed by quinton shots. I don't even know what quinton shots are but Elle tells me I should be having them instead of tequila.
People who would never judge someone negatively for their race, gender or sexual orientation will judge the old and the middle-aged as inferior. What would they know about K-Pop. Or fashion. Or biodegradable cushions?
I mean, middle-aged is half way to dead, right?
A 45-year-old friend was giving a speech recently and before she went on stage she asked, "Do I look old?" She doesn't look like the 24-year-old version of herself any more, but to me, and all those who love her, she's beautiful. But she was wondering if she would walk out and appear interesting enough.
Thank goodness for middle-aged wit, as she slammed it.
Judging ageing is like blaming a plant for growing.You were once tall and blooming with a head full of flowers and now your bark's hardened, your stems are thicker and your leaves have turned golden. How outrageous.
Yet the older trees are better for climbing than the bendy young ones. Plus they provide more shade and are less buffeted by the weather.
It's natural that things change – thank goodness or we'd all still be in nappies. And while we're probably heading towards nappies again, growing up should be an honour.
A woman's age indicates her worth and the whole equation is inextricably linked to sex appeal. When women are fertile we're considered in the running, we are valid – not just for sex but for career advancement, attention from the media, for all of the fruits that society bestows. When our eggs are on the blink we are not considered to be worth so much. Except to the multibillion-dollar beauty industry.
MassMutual Financial Group, which sounds like an exciting place to work, has identified 'Boomer Women', those over 50, as wielding more spending clout than any other group. They have a net worth of US$19 trillion (NZ$27.5 trillion).
Forget Millennials, the advertising drones are honing in on Boomer Women, especially in the beauty industry. It's all too easy to foster discontent by showing women what they're not and how they could be youthful again if only they bought this $900 face grater.
If we believe it's a crime to age, then we'll continue to think dieting, plastic surgery and chemical face peels are a fun time.
My seven-year-old daughter asked me recently why I had those curly bits on my brow. She was not referring to my hirsute eyebrows, but the lines above. "Those are wrinkles," darling.
"When do you get them?" she asked, arching her smooth brow trying to get some herself. "30?"
"Yes", I said.
"40?" Yes some more then too. "50?" Yep. "60?" and so we went right up to 100. I told her to think of her nana, who at 80, has a face full of wisdom.
"What does wisdom mean?" she asked.
That means knowing some stuff, I told her.
"That sounds good," she said.
Maybe we middle-agers have some wisdom because we've seen a lot. We remember what it was like to be young, and sometimes it sucked. We couldn't wait to be older. To be treated differently, and respected. To not worry so much. To be taken seriously. To not have to work so hard at trying to be attractive and find somebody to mate with, because that was a confusing time.
Maybe, if we shared that wisdom instead of hiding in our ageing shells, the generation coming up behind us will feel less anxious about getting older. And won't feel the need to start Botox at 21 – because that's happening.
Maybe, instead of worrying about the dreaded ageing, or being 45 and, horror of horrors, looking 45, we accept that while we have no choice over ageing, it's our choice to accept it. And even better, to respect it.
- Sunday Magazine