It is never a surprise when we see topless shots of young female celebrities. In fact we hardly even bat an eyelid when we see their bare breasts on screen. So what happen when these same woman approach their 50th birthday? Why does it make news when a 64 year old woman bears her breasts?
Nina Funnell, 26, is a researcher in the Journalism and Media Research Centre at the University of NSW and a regular contributor to The Sydney Morning Herald, she writes here
Recently actor Helen Mirren posed topless in a bath scene used to promote her new film, Love Ranch. Media commentator, Pete Timbs from Channel 10’s The Circle was quick to express aversion and borderline disgust.
As Timbs says, “I don’t want to do this story but I have to. Helen Mirren, has gone topless. It’s kind of unnecessary. She is 65 years old. Not before lunch time please. I mean – eww- nup.”
Ignoring the fact that Mirren is actually 64, I doubt that Timbs would have been complaining had it been Miranda Kerr or Scarlett Johansson posing nude in the tub. Nor for that matter was anyone complaining when, in 1969, aged just 24, Helen Mirren appeared nude in the film Age of Consent.
Discretion and nudity are not the issues here. Rather the objection and discomfort seems to stem from a culturally conditioned aversion to representations of mature female sexuality.
Historically of course, media debates about female sexuality have focused primarily on the cultural pressure placed on young women to participate in an overtly sexualised “pornified” culture.
But the flipside of our preoccupation with youth sexuality is an entrenched discomfort and rejection of mature female sexuality. Unfortunately women are still being taught that they are only sexually attractive and desirable between the ages of 16 and 35. Equally concerning, men who desire mature women- including their wives- are being taught that they possess an almost pathologised, unnatural “fetish”.
So while it is culturally acceptable for women to lust after aging male stars such as George Clooney and Sean Connery, men are expected to only desire women who fit neatly within a very confined age category- lest their sexual desire be cast as a fetish.
But perhaps the most bizarre thing is that these “fetishes” are not being defined in relation to people’s actual desires. Rather it is those who run the pornography industry who are dictating the standards of what is considered ‘normal’.
According to many porn producers, a desire to have sex with a woman who has allowed her body to be cut and mutilated in order to have artificial plastic balloons inserted into her chest is considered ‘normal’ and ‘natural’, but a man’s desire to have sex with his pregnant wife is considered the stuff of fetish. Similarly disabled people are only considered to be capable of engaging in ‘fetish’ sex.
Equally disturbing, men who are attracted to women who are bigger than a size 8 or 10 are often considered to have an almost perverse framework of desire. What does this mean for the average Australian woman who is a size 14-16?
And then there is the body of the mother. In recent years the figures of the ‘yummy mummy’ and the MILF (Mum I’d Like to F**k) have gained currency. Before this, motherhood was often held up as a sacred, untouchable ‘Madonna’ state. Mothers were meant to give birth- not oral sex- (that role was reserved for the lascivious mistress).
Supposedly, the ‘yummy mummy’ construction changed all that by allowing for the idea that women are still desirable and sexual after they give birth. But in reality the yummy mummy construct achieved just the opposite. Unfortunately this construct actually delegitimizes the sexuality of mothers by teaching them that the only way to be sexy and desirable post-birth is to have a body that looks as though you have never been pregnant or given birth.
Celebrities such as Britney Spears and Victoria Beckham have gone so far as to have early elective caesareans (with added liposuction) to hasten the return to their ‘pre-baby body’. Many other celebrity mums have punished themselves with dangerous dieting and exercise regimes immediately post birth to avoid looking like a ‘natural’ mummy, as opposed to a ‘yummy’ one.
The MILF has also become a fetish theme. The term was popularised by the 1999 film American Piewhere character Paul Finch, a pretentious pseudo-sophisticate, seduces the mother of a friend.
Following the release of the movie, MILF porn- closely associated with ‘Cougar’ porn- took off as a fetish genre. Indeed “Octomum”, Nadya Soleman, was offered a large sum of money to star in a porn film just three weeks after giving birth to her octuplets. It is downright creepy to see the sexuality of mothers (and their vaginas) cast as a freakish fetish in this way.
What women and men really need is to see a range of bodies celebrated as desirable and the desire for bodies that don’t conform to the traditional size 8, big breasted Hollywood norm should not be cast as an abnormal fetish. It would be a nice reminder that people of all different shapes, sizes, colours and ages have the capacity to be sexy and sexual.
What do you think? Does a woman’s sexuality decreases as she gets older ? Is Hollywood responsible for shaping our beliefs on sexuality?