I am a woman approaching middle age. This fact does not frighten or bewilder me. It does not anger me or send me running to the esthetician’s or cosmetic surgeons office in a blind panic. There is no love lost for my life as a younger woman. I neither miss nor pine for the days of my twenties and thirties. Not even in hindsight do I believe that my youth was better than the life I am living right this minute. Although, the mass media, social networks, and present society, in general, would have all of us womenfolk believe that our youth, our glowing, beautiful, carefree youth (mine was none of those things, was yours?) is THE one and only time in our lives when we held any real value. Value to the general public, value to our romantic partners, value to our workplaces.
When we are in our late teens and into our very early thirties, those are touted to us as THE TIME OF OUR LIVES. The time when our bodies are perfect, probably hairless (due to genes or most probable, painful hair removal treatments), we have energy and are fertile and unblemished by wrinkles. But in the words of our dearest Saint of Eternal Badassery, Dolly Parton, “Time marches on and eventually you realize it is marchin’ across your face.” Let me clear something up. I don’t have any ill-feeling towards women who are presently living through their twenties and thirties. I hope they are all feeling confident and strong and taking great care of themselves mentally and emotionally. Enjoy it, ladies! I just don’t want you to dread getting older.
What I want to talk about here, is the fact that as I have gotten older, when someone wants to pay me a compliment, it is almost always appearance centered, and more often than not, it entails some form of the adage, ‘you don’t look your age.” What is my age (almost 43 if you’re wondering) supposed to look like anyway? From the sound of other peoples’ compliments to me, you would deduce that a woman of my maturity was generally stooped and shriveled swamp troll with missing teeth and snakes in her hair that doesn’t know how to accessorize properly and most likely has a dried out, dusty, cobweb-covered vagina. So, let us unpack this notion that the only way an older woman could possibly DARE to be attractive is to appear to be much younger than her actual human age. I am not 23, nor do I wish I still was. I am proud of the life I have lived and the lessons I have learned through all of that living. I celebrate still being ALIVE, not being considered beautiful.
In our current society, it is expected for us as women to chase youth and beauty until the day we die. We are expected to stay sexy and available and pleasant (Lord help us, pleasant is the last thing I want to be when slapped in the metaphorical face with this bullshit). I am a woman who is tired of the mental drudgery of keeping a running to-do list on constant rotation In my head, keeping me “in proper form” for public consumption. I spent decades (DECADES!) of my mental energy and so much money on: makeup, hair removal, haircutting and coloring, current fashions, workout programs, diets (Fucking diets!) to hang onto my beauty with the tenacity of a professional beauty queen. Almost every woman I know has lived this way, many still do.
I have opted out of the hamster wheel of youth-chasing and spend much less time worrying about how attractive I may or may not be to every other person on the planet, and I actively work to affirm myself in other ways. I am not completely cured of the conditioning to manage my appearance, and I find myself slipping back into old mindsets sometimes. (“I’m going to the grocery store, I should throw on a bra at least.” No, no I shouldn’t. I hate bras, I hate the way they constrict me, the way they smoosh my boobs into unnatural shapes, I hate everything about them.) Speaking of lingerie, how many women have spent ungodly amounts on sexy bras and panties to impress some dude who is only ogling them long enough to wrestle his jeans off before giving you mediocre sex that if measured in worth by dollars and cents was worth less than half what you paid for your secret from Victoria which you bought in order to snag this guy in the first place? Yeah, me too.
Apart from simply being a frustrated woman because my societal value is centered on how young I look, I am also increasingly baffled by how we basically are erased the older we become. This happens to men as well, but not nearly to the same degree. As women, we are not lauded for our accomplishments as much as we are our appearance and/or how well we take care of our partners and/or children. Oh, you can be old and wrinkly and even, Heaven forbid, fat (GASP) as long as you can still cook really well, or keep an impeccably clean home and your kids are all perfect angels and your husband gets blowjobs on the regular.
In a perfect world, the appearance and desirability of women would be a non-issue. Removed from the collective conversation entirely. I know, I know we are years and years away from that utopia but a woman can dream. I feel like we are breaking some of the thought systems that have kept us locked into youth and beauty consciousness, and that feels amazing. More and more women are caring for their bodies as a vehicle for their minds and spirits instead of a hunk of walking meat made to be consumed.
It is time for women to be appreciated for more than their ability to appear years younger than they actually are. To be recognized for our minds and the good work we accomplish with them. To be complimented on more than how sleep-with-able we are, at whatever age we happen to be.
I am all for taking care of ourselves, and if you are a woman who loves beauty treatments and makeup and high fashion makes you feel very much YOU, then by all means, go for it. I am a feminist, and despite what many would define feminism to be, my main belief is that it means each and every woman is free to choose how she wants to live her life, free from oppression and violence. For some women, like me, it means I don’t shave every day or pour myself into clothes that aren’t comfortable or shoes that will permanently damage my feet and spine. I don’t wear a bra and I don’t try my damndest to appear perpetually 23 years old so that I am desirable to every person who chooses to gaze upon me.
I am happy to be 42 and counting. My daddy always used to say about getting older: it’s better than the alternative.
If you see happen to see an older woman out and about (it’s a mystery! How would you know when we all look 34!) and think it’s a good idea to pay her a compliment, by all means, do! But please, for the love of all that is holy and good, come up with something better than, “You look so young!” Because there are a lot of wonderful things we can be in this world and ‘young’ is not anywhere close to the best of those wonderful things.
If you like this article, check out: https://www.harnessmagazine.com/the-fragile-beauty-of-time/