The leftward and other blatherings of Span (now with Snaps!)

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Ageing beautifully

Over at Alas, Rachel S has posted eloquently about how young feminist bloggers need to be more aware of issues for older women. She has challenged feminist bloggers to post about the issues facing older women.

I instantly thought of women I know of my mother's age (in their 60s) and how differently they have aged physically. My own mother looks much younger than she is, but I often wonder if she feels it is a constant struggle to maintain that appearance. I know that she worries that she dresses too young for her age, that she was very concerned that people would think she was "mutton dressed as lamb" at a recent family event, or that many people think she's had plastic surgery. She carries all of this worry around with her, not because she looks old, but because she looks young.

And then there are the women I know who look their age, or older, and the different pressure on them - the comments that they have "let themselves go" just because they gave up dying their hair, or that they are frumpy because they choose to wear comfortable shoes. Somehow these women are supposed to choose a life revolving around maintaining an appearance that doesn't come to them naturally, that may be unhealthy (physically and mentally) and that pleases others but may be uncomfortable (at the least) for them.

Not much to look forward to for me then - do I hope for my mother's natural youthful looks, or build a shield around myself for the coming barbs about being a "grandma" (as if that's a bad thing!)?

Of course there's the rise of appearance "medicine" which I could always fall back on - lie about my age, and I should be able to get by for an extra decade or so before people start writing me off as a bitter old lady (instead of writing me off as a naive young thing as they do now, or a middle aged moaner as they will in the medium future).

Either way, the mere fact of being female means that your appearance remains a topic of conversation, a tool to judge you by, until your dying days. Never mind my professional or personal accomplishments when I'm 60 - the real factors to assess my worth by will be the colour of my hair, the length of my skirts, and whether I've got crows feet.

Stink.

14 comments:

Meta[+]Analysis said...

Damned if you do 'care' about your appearance (mutton dressed as lamb), and damned if you don't (letting yourself go). I know I'd choose comfortable shoes any day.

stef said...

you are a prisoner of your skin... but I think looking hot is much more fun.

Make Tea Not War said...

Warning - When I Am an Old Woman I Shall Wear Purple.
By Jenny Joseph.

When I am an old woman, I shall wear purple
with a red hat that doesn't go, and doesn't suit me.
And I shall spend my pension on brandy and summer gloves
and satin candles, and say we've no money for butter.
I shall sit down on the pavement when I am tired
and gobble up samples in shops and press alarm bells
and run my stick along the public railings
and make up for the sobriety of my youth.
I shall go out in my slippers in the rain
and pick the flowers in other people's gardens
and learn to spit.

You can wear terrible shirts and grow more fat
and eat three pounds of sausages at a go
or only bread and pickles for a week
and hoard pens and pencils and beer nuts and things in boxes.

But now we must have clothes that keep us dry
and pay our rent and not swear in the street
and set a good example for the children.
We must have friends to dinner and read the papers.
But maybe I ought to practice a little now?
So people who know me are not too shocked and surprised
When suddenly I am old, and start to wear purple.

A. J. Chesswas said...

"the comments that they have "let themselves go" just because they gave up dying their hair"

That is so terrible that anyone would say such a thing. If a person will judge you for not dying you're hair they're not worth knowing, and any opinion they hold is certainly not worth contemplating. An attractive woman is one who graciously accepts and works with the beauty God has given her. I'm sure when I'm 55 my wife will look gorgeous with grey hair. It really is a beautiful colour at the right time, God knew what he was doing when he created women. He makes even 100 year old women beautiful in their own way.

span said...

Thanks for posting that MTNW, I saw it when I was in the UK recently and would have bought it except for our tight budget. I shall endeavour to tick off the list, before, during and after I am "old." I imagine to my nieces (7 and 4) I am pretty old now!

To me the concentration on appearances (now starting to worry men as well) is about control and power - social pressure to conform to unrealistic expectations about appearance is yet another distraction for women (and others) from challenging authority and questioning received wisdom.

That said, I feel the burden. My mum has counted calories as long as I can remember. Although I haven't done that (and don't even own a set of scales) I know that as I age, especially once I have had children, I will have to fight myself very hard to stave off the temptation to do just as my mother, and countless other strong and inspirational women, do everyday - stress about my weight and have an unhealthy relationship with food.

It seems that the little progress we (women) have made about fending off all this crap is quite limited to a relatively small number of women, largely professionals, who have the luxury to rise above it. I'm not criticising them at all, but it's something I'd like us all to share.

span said...

AJ - thanks for your comment. You don't know the half of it though - I once had a bf (not the person I am with now!) tell me he didn't think our relationship would work when we first got together but then he realised looks didn't matter. This was when we had been together two weeks. What a charming man. Stupid me, I stayed with him for another 9 and a half months.

While I might not agree with you about the God bit, I wish that there were more people who shared your opinion on this issue. Unfortunately I often find myself judging others on appearance too, and it is something I try not to do. And it is one good thing about the blogs - no one knows what you look like and no one can judge you on that basis.

stef said...

Span,
I suppose I have a different perspective. I look very different from when you last saw me.

I know that we shouldn't be judged on our looks but I feel a lot more confident and happier now I've finally lost weight and am healthy and strong. I also enjoy some of the benefits of looking good. I know it's all fleeting but at the same time I can't help but like it.

span said...

Hey stef, I have been following your blog, so I have seen your pics too, plus when we met up that Xmas I thought (and I think I said?) that you were looking great - very healthy and happy.

I've changed a lot from our uni days too and am much happier feeling strong and healthy (conversely I had to put on weight to achieve it). I now like exercising (!!) and am really pleased that while I was away overseas I managed to get some arm and leg muscles, for the first time since my teens. I am hanging out to be well enough to go back to the gym and start maintaining those muscles, because they mean I feel better about myself and can do more. If nothing else, exercising regularly gives me more energy - something to be guarded and encouraged, for me.

I think this is a bind for women like you and me - we get a kick out of looking good, sometimes because of the reaction from others but mainly because of the lift it gives us ourselves (if that makes sense). At least that's how I feel. I know that when I feel like I don't look good I often feel like crap too - but which came first, the feeling bad about myself or the looking not so good?

I think that I've managed to find a place where I judge myself on my own standards, not those of the perfume adverts, but sometimes I'm not completely sure that I actually look in the mirror and see myself the way I really am, instead of some picture in my head.

Ok I'm just rambling now, can you tell I'm home sick? Damn stupid migraines. Interested in your further thoughts though Stef (and anyone else).

stef said...

Yeah, I remember. I've changed a lot more since then.

Some ramblings...

Actually the more I think about it for me it was a case of trying to forge my own idenitity. I know that a lot of women are critical esp at varsity in some circles about the beauty advertisements and that we were told we were just buying into society's expectations to want to be thin. However I think that's just replacing one standardized norm, with another. I wasn't really being true to myself and what I enjoy.

I think that in the end feminism is about freedom, and if I choose to enjoy make-up, cosmo etc, because it's what makes me happy, then that's fine and that decision should be respected. I think in our criticism of the beauty industry we need to be careful as a lot of women really enjoy it and have someone come along and say that's bad is counter-productive.

I do think exercise makes a huge difference and find myself a lot more ready to face the world after working out. I wish I had found it sooner.

I enjoy the attention too, nothing like dancing with a hot guy or have groups of men stop and stare. The important thing is sorting through the people who see through all that to the real you and still love you for it.

Being 'unattractive' at least acts as a filter for that nonsence, but it comes at a cost.

I think that confidence that comes from being the best 'you' you can be put an extra bounce in your step which makes anyone attractive flaws or not.

A. J. Chesswas said...

It's encouraging to hear those comments Stef. Sadly a lot of feminists seem to think that when a man appreciates the beauty of a woman it's always sexual. Admittedly, more often than not that probably is the case these days, but that doesn't mean we should throw away the art of presenting ourselves well. When we take care about our appearance we are actually contributing something wonderful to our world by accentuating the natural beauty we possess. And when this is done in a modest way then it will be so inspiring that it will be nearly impossible for men to be appreciating that beauty sexually rather than aesthetically.

There seems a significant movement among women away from caring for their appearance - cutting their hair short, wearing jeans, avoiding any expression of joy or laughter, even a smile. I know there are feminist authors who advocate this by saying it's all a "beauty myth" and a form of patriarchal oppression. But I know that women appreciate each other's beauty as much as men do, maybe even more than men do! Beauty is as much a virtue as a natural asset, and by expressing our beauty we minister peace and goodness to the people around us.

I think the real inequality and oppression lies in the fact that men expect women to be beautiful, but do nothing for their own appearance. Wallowing around in sweathshirts and trackpants, with a beer guts, avoiding formal occasions because they might have to dress up, giving up on ties and hats, preferring woolen sweaters to a vest and suit-jacket. I think a better approach for feminists today, rather than rejecting the beauty myth, would be to challenge and encourage us men to accept a myth of masculine beauty. The world would surely be a better place.

Cactus Kate said...

Stef & Span

The thing about looking hotter than you used to is that you raise your own standards and realise that fat men are slobs.

I can also do a broad generalisation that fat men as long as they are rich, think they have the divine right to be rude to women about THEIR figures. Like money can make up for their slob behaviour and appearance. Plenty of fiscally successful right wing men are like this. Among the left you may not have the same problem as the men, while poorer, appear to be nicer to women.

So many women lack the confidence to demand more from their pot bellied male companions than the usual Slobsville that they are getting from them.

From now on I have a rule. Unless the man is particularly pleasant and nice, he gets nowhere with me if his stomach or his tits are larger than mine.

span said...

Cactus, a question. You state above:

"So many women lack the confidence to demand more from their pot bellied male companions..."

Why do you think this is?

Cactus Kate said...

Because woman can look past the physical features of a man to the inner beauty.

Unfortunately when a man is a rich fat pig and he is demanding a woman display more outer beauty he does not display inner beauty at all. This is where women get it all wrong.

He is what he appears - a fat slob. No amount of money or gifts should be able to compensate for this behaviour.

But sadly woman give in and forgive this. So men continue to behave like this.

stef said...

Also men seem to think that they are just a few pushups away/dollars from landing *insert hot celebrity name here*