Jacki Weaver is 63, Cher is 64. Helen Mirren is 65 and so is Goldie Hawn.
Are we ever really happy looking our own age? We have 8 year old girls are desperately trying to look 14 at one end of the spectrum and 64 year old women injecting botox into their faces at the other. Australian novelist Christine Darcas writes
When I was 17 years old, a boy I had a desperate crush on sat in the back of an aeroplane during a major high school excursion and composed a limerick about the size of my backside. It was one of numerous ditties he and several of my other so-called male friends penned that afternoon. Curious to investigate what all the guffawing was about, I wandered back to their seats where, proudly riding his creative wave, Limerick Boy read his collective works to me and everyone within earshot. Because he was gorgeous and popular, I laughed along with my peers while shame and mortification flooded me. When I confronted him later about how hurtful his comments had been, he stared at me abashed. ‘But I thought you knew what it looks like!’ he declared. He never did ask me out
I assume it’s because he thought I had a big arse. I’m five feet, five and a half inches tall. Other than pregnancies and my first uni year when I temporarily expanded to a size 16, my weight has rarely fluctuated far beyond a ‘normal’ 61-63 kilos. But, proportionally, my lower half has always been two sizes larger than my upper one. Whenever I gain weight, my caboose is the first place it lands. Through my teens and twenties, this provoked cautionary comments from most guys I dated whenever I reached for an extra pizza slice or eyed some chocolate cake. I’ve heard larger girls snarl about how silly, even insulting, it is when smaller girls feel anxious about their bodies. I sympathise with both sides because, whether a girl is slender or not-so-slender, society can still manage to make her feel … well … like crap.
By my early forties, I had accepted the womanly breadth of my backside. By then, my bum had cushioned me through years of studying, working, love making, child bearing and rearing. Finally, I realised that the self-consciousness of my younger years had been a waste: I’m me, and me isn’t so bad, derrière and all. And I felt proud that I had finally become secure enough not to allow body-image issues to drag me down.
But no sooner had I embraced this human flaw when another, more uncontrollable and endlessly transforming threat, emerged. It manifests itself in the wrinkles gathering around my eyes and mouth, the sagging of my cheeks into jowls, the clusters of spider veins and brown spots spreading across my legs. Reconciled as I might be to the size of my bum, at nearly 50 years old I’m now confronting the physical signs of ageing and society’s increasing pressure to undergo all manner of cosmetic treatments to look younger.
Rather than wilt under this body-image pressure like I did in my teens, now I’m angry. It strikes me as fundamentally unfair that our world is increasingly equating beauty with youth. It bothers me even more that women are succumbing to it instead of fighting it tooth and nail. Why do we let television and magazines, current or potential lovers, bosses, friends and colleagues make us feel that female ageing and loveliness are incompatible? Why does our physicality matter so much anyway? Surely feminism and women’s achievements over the decades have made a greater impact on convincing society that a woman’s worth is about capabilities much more than looks. Most importantly, how can we credibly criticise the social pressure on our daughters to be model-thin when we allow ageist body-image issues to push us towards needles and surgery?
Because standing up to these forces is hard and getting harder. Salons hocking Botox and the latest in anti-ageing treatments now flourish along my route to the supermarket. Beauty ‘therapists’ promising glowing and wrinkle-reduced skin drop leaflets in my letter box. Hollywood ¾ the milieu that sets the international stage for beauty standards ¾ is rife with ageing female stars who openly indulge in cosmetic procedures. The Cosmetic Physician’s Society of Australasia recently reported that $448.5 million was spent on treatments including dermal fillers and Botox injections in Australia during the 12 months to March 2010, representing a 30% increase on the prior year. It’s as though society has proclaimed that women not only can look younger, but should.
Every day, I encounter women whose plumped lips and waxy smooth foreheads announce their attempt to turn back time. For the most part, they look strange instead of younger and I can’t help thinking that they should have just left well enough alone. Except society won’t necessarily find them ‘well enough’. In addition to the distress of feeling unattractive, the consequences for a woman who refuses to invest in anti-ageing regimes can be financial as she confronts ageist attitudes within the work force. These challenges are highlighted in the 2009 Australian Human Rights Commission study titled Accumulating poverty? Women’s experiences of inequality over the lifecycle, which states ‘While women can be subject to discrimination at any point across the lifecycle, older women face particular barriers to paid workforce participation. This is due to “gendered ageism”, where gender discrimination is exacerbated by age discrimination.’ And with the pension age due to begin creeping upwards in 2017, the employment implications of ageism risk intensifying. Many women may be perfectly able and willing to work into older age … but will the marketplace let them?
So what should I do? Cave into the social pressure to look younger as I grow older, or age naturally on the principle that a woman’s worth should not be judged by her appearance? Because, much to my disappointment, I’m wavering. I want to be the woman with the strength to follow the latter, but I’m grieving my youth, missing my tauter face and veinless legs. And those are just the external markings. Inside, I worry about my loss of potential to achieve dreams I still harbour, not because I’m any less intelligent or capable than I was ten years ago, but because other people might perceive me to be so. Age gracefully? The magnitude of confusion I feel from these conflicting pressures already feels graceless. Although society might prefer to hire me if I were closer to 25 than 50, ironically all that remains of that youthfulness are the body image insecurities I wish that I could have left behind.
Do you cave into the social pressure to look younger as you grow older? Have you let your childhood insecurities go?