Aging is a crazy thing… what does it really mean, if anything? It seems like it has meaning for most people, but should it? Is it the big deal that Hollywood and the media make it, or is it only the outward appearance of who we are, physically, that has absolutely nothing to do with who we really are, on a soul level? I personally believe this is the case. Am I exempt from aging or feeling society’s judgment because of this belief of my appearance… unfortunately not.
I grew up on a dairy farm, in an average middle-class, white family. So, I suppose by some standards I’m already more privileged or perceived as more privileged that a lot of people in the world. I obtained two degrees, am married with no children, and live in Spain. Am I more privileged because I have two degrees, or am married or live in Spain? Am I underprivileged because I don’t have children? Some people may say I am privileged or not privileged going by these stats, but the point is they are just stats… just as aging is. So, why does everyone make such a big deal out of all these stats, including aging? Yes, I suppose I’m fairly good looking. Has this made my life easier and brought me more advantages? It could have and I’m sure some people would definitely say so, but how do these so-called advantages make my life more enriched? They don’t. What’s more people treat you differently when you are good looking. They assume that you have everything and they don’t. I’ve seen some of this directly, but I’ve even caught myself thinking this about my own niece. How absurd. I’m sure she’s had just as many hardships as someone who isn’t young and good-looking.
Where do we get these beliefs? I think a large part of these beliefs are propagated by the media and then perpetuated and enforced by family, friends, cohorts, etc. I remember when I was a teenager who couldn’t wait to get older. I incorrectly thought all the adults had everything figured out and had so much more fun than me. Hmm. Again, where do we get these thoughts and beliefs? I think around 13/14, I started to figure out that some times it wasn’t so bad being a teenager, although I hated high school, hated being an introvert who tried hard to be an extrovert at times, and lived in the middle of nowhere. I remember thinking that 17 must be the most amazing age because of the magazine, 17, and that everything after that must surely be golden and easier from that point forward. I fantasized about being on the cover of 17, which I’m sure plenty of girls do. I thought what a glamorous life I would have: I would live in LA with a pretty boy who would do everything for me, and I could just wile my days away shopping and walking my dog, like on Legally Blonde. No wonder everyone thinks they want to be young again when it looks so glamorous and wonderful on all the magazines and in the movies. Even the video games only feature busty, young women. Only recently have women in film ventured into their 40’s, and gasp, beyond… Nope women don’t die when they turn 50, and they aren’t all only mothers, grandmothers or haggard looking witches. Finally we are starting to see in TV series and movies women that are multi-dimensional, and older than 35... they have careers, they have plans to change the world. And, not all of them want children… and, that’s okay.
We finally have real role models, too, that didn’t seem to exist when I was a teenager. Maybe they existed but weren’t getting a lot of attention, especially in the Midwest in a dairy town. Yes, there was Madonna, but she was just considered a pretty slut as far as most people were concerned; or apretty slut that could make a lot of money on records. She quickly became known for much more than that. She’s funny, smart, driven, philanthropic; in other words, multi-faceted. There’s always been Gloria Steinem, but unfortunately she’s stays on the down low, and I didn’t know that much about her, her work, or her activism. I remember when Geraldine Ferraro came on the scene as a potential Vice Presidential candidate in the 80’s. I was blown away by this concept, quietly of course, because who says a woman really knows what to do in a political position. I was really impressed and thought about how awesome it would be to have a strong role model for girls and women if a woman got into office. But as usual, she was systematically torn apart and discredited, just like Hillary, for her looks and age.
Men don’t seem to have this problem. However, I’ve noticed recently there are more TV shows and movies that are objectifying men just as much as women now. I don’t think this is necessarily equality, but it’s a step in the right direction. At least it feels like it’s leveling out the playing field and holding the standards that men have had for decades for women in the media. These men don’t seem like they’re particularly old either, which is interesting, because traditionally male actors can have a much longer acting career than women, and get paid a lot more for doing it. I think the tides may be slowly changing, though. More female actors are calling out the pay discrepancies and there are slowly more female directors, and even producers calling for more relevant topics to be addressed. These new roles cover a wide range of new topics that seemed to be taboo not that long ago… take for instance the recent series, Grace and Frankie. Not even five years ago, this wouldn’t have been produced because the topics and even the very notion of two older women, in their 70’s, being the main characters in a sitcom would’ve been unfathomable. Yet, this sitcom has enjoyed three seasons, and has been renewed for a fourth. It opens a whole new world of possibilities to me. It features older women, who are divorced, to gay men, and that created a business making vibrators. I mean this is amazing. And, they have proved that there is a market for this type of show, for women in media. I’m very encouraged by this show’s long run and the possibilities it has created just by being created. Yes, they look good for their ages (which is of course an ageist comment that we have become accustomed to) and Jane Fonda’s character tries to be perfect in all ways and overly concerned about how she looks, but her character really evolves from starting off that way to being less concerned about that and more concerned about what life is really about: friends, family and really living.
If more and more good examples of women in the media become more prevalent (such as Grace and Frankie or Girl Boss, to name a couple), including magazines, news shows, TV series and movies, I think people will eventually become less judgmental about how people look, especially women. And, as women become more vocal and confident about being multi-faceted, and having multiple interests (other than looks and having a family), I think the whole ageist approach will fade away. It’s certainly making a difference in my life; as I see more role models in the media, politics and in business, I’m definitely rethinking my beliefs about aging. I don’t think it stinks to age any more. I wouldn’t want to be that 17 year old again, with the same insecurities, thinking that I needed to be and look perfect all the time. I’m me, and always will be.