Recently I saw a 60 Minutes Australia interview with former supermodel Paulina Porizcova talking about aging. Hugely popular in the 1980s, Paulina was the face of Estee Lauder and on countless magazine covers, including the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue. She was young, beautiful and everywhere.
Now she is 57. Still beautiful, but she looks like a woman in her 50s. She said after she entered her 50s, she began to feel invisible and dismissed by the world. It was a gradual process of small things. She didn’t get served quickly by bartenders. She no longer sensed men on the street checking her out.
Despite this, Paulina has decided to embrace aging instead of fighting it. She’s had no Botox, fillers or surgery. She likes that her life experience shows on her face, as does actress/author Justine Bateman, who was also featured.
Watching this opened my eyes. Since turning 50, I have struggled with the aging process. I’ve experienced many of the things Paulina and Justine spoke about. What stood about to me is how positive they are about getting older. Instead of resisting it, they are embracing it. This is no small feat in our youth-obsessed society.
They reject the unwritten rules women are given—that we better not look old. If we do, we will be diminished, criticized or ignored. The last one is the worst. It says after a certain age, you are no longer relevant.
Considering Paulina has always been beautiful and made a living off her looks, I admire her for not going down the well-trodden road of having “work” done. Surely many of her former model friends are doing so, so she must stand out by comparison. Yes, she is genetically blessed and still gorgeous. But that can make women even more insecure about aging, not less. The stares and compliments they’ve accepted as standard are suddenly gone.
And then there is Justine Bateman, also 57. When they first cut from Pauline to Justine, I felt slapped by own bias. As a woman in my 50s who has experienced Ageism. I’m empathetic and supportive of older women. At least that’s what I tell myself. Yet my first thought when I saw Justine was, “Gosh, she looks rough! She and Paulina are the same age!”
It made me wonder how many other insidious lies I’ve accepted about aging. Here are some:
Lie #1: “You look good for your age” isn’t a compliment. I’ve cringed hearing this, thinking it means I’m less now. It’s like telling a woman she looks today. So what about yesterday?
The truth: Someone is trying to be nice, but my brain has been slowly eroded by the premium American culture puts on youth and beauty. We are so Ageist, “beauty” and “youth” are synonymous. I reject the idea that because I don’t look like I did 25 years ago, I’m not attractive. Instead of wincing, I’ll just say thank you.
Lie #2: Looking my best means looking younger. Do a search on YouTube and you’ll find titles like this:
Six tips to look younger.
Fashion mistakes that make you look old.
How not to look frumpy and older than you are!
Five rules to look younger and more beautiful after 50.
Anti-aging doctor’s key to looking younger (more on this later).
The message is I can only be at peace with my appearance if I look younger than I am. It begs the question: what is wrong with being attractive in my 50s, 60s or 70s? Telling women we must look like we did years ago perpetuates the myth that only the youthful are beautiful.
The truth: I accept myself as I am, regardless of age. Do I want to look my best? Yes, and I’m fine with my best meaning I have lines and wrinkles because I am 58 years old.
Lie #3: Anti-aging products will keep me looking younger. To reverse the signs of aging, I need to buy expensive skincare products with vitamin C, retinol, hyaluronic acid., etc., or I need cosmetic procedures.
The truth: there is no such thing as “anti-aging.” Despite what cosmetic companies tell us, nothing I buy will reverse the aging process. We are biologically designed to age. This is how the good Lord made us. Can we hydrate our skin and make it look better? Yes. But let’s call a spade a spade. It’s won’t undoing aging, and neither will Botox.
Lie #4: I must be “age-appropriate.” Sounds reasonable, right? How many of us have snarked over middle-aged women wearing midriff tops and miniskirts. “She looks desperate.” Or even worse (gasp), an older woman who brazenly wears a bikini. The horror!
Years ago, I was at the beach with my sister-in-law (in her late 50s), when a 60+ woman walked by wearing a two-piece swimsuit. No cover-up, bodily imperfections visible. My sister-in-law said, “You know… It’s hard but women need to accept that after a certain age, they just can’t wear a bikini anymore.”
My 50-year-old, bikini-wearing self thought, “Shoot. I probably only have a few years left.” And later I told my husband, “I think your sister took a shot at me.”
The truth: I can wear whatever I like. One of my favorite sayings is, “What you think of me is none of my business.” I can make my own fashion choices, even if you think they’re inappropriate.
I believe telling a woman she’s too old for certain clothes is veering into ageism. Would you say that about a 25-year-old, even if she looked bad in those leggings or tiny shorts? Probably not, because it would seem rude. So why do many people (women included) think it’s ok to say it about an older woman?
Lie #5: Menopausal women are a good punchline.
Our hot flashes are comedy fodder. (The Golden Girls made a whole show out of it.) Our real, often debilitating symptoms are dismissed by many doctors with a shrug as “menopause.”
Once you’ve been labeled with the big M. The world dismisses us as asexual grandmas well past our prime. We are no longer perceived as sexual or alluring. At best, we are “handsome” and “well kept.”
There is such a stigma to the word menopause that some women, me included, will do anything to avoid it. I was once in an important business meeting when I was flooded with intense, horrible hot flashes. I felt my face turning red and sweat trickling down my sides. I scurried to the bathroom, took off my shirt and doused myself with cold water.
When I returned, a female coworker asked me if I was ok. I felt… ashamed. “Oh yes, I’m fine.” I said. “Just felt dizzy for a minute.”
No way was I telling this 35-year-old pipsqueak about my hot flashes.
The truth: Menopause is a life stage like any other. It’s no better or worse.
Lie #6: Men get distinguished. Women get old. I’ve heard things like this:
About ordinary people
She needs to get rid of that gray. It ages her.
I love his salt-and-pepper look.
His smile lines are so attractive.
She needs Botox.
What is she doing with a guy 10 years younger? She’s trying too hard.
His wife is so young and pretty.
And it extends to celebrities. Gray-haired George Clooney looks great. Jamie Lee Curtis needs a color. Colin Firth and Denzel Washington’s faces have character. Sarah Jessica Parker looks haggard.
The truth: If it’s ok for a man to age, then it’s also ok for a woman.
My list aside, aging women are dealing with more than myths about getting older. They are facing a systemic, subtle form of discrimination. Consider this from the AARP:
Nearly 2 out of 3 women age 50 and older say they are regularly discriminated against, and those experiences appear to be taking a toll on their mental health, according to the latest “Mirror/Mirror” survey from AARP
The poll of 6,643 women paints a disheartening picture of discrimination affecting women of all ages, ethnicities and races, with significant implications for their health and longevity. (Discrimination based on ethnicity/race/skin tone, weight, gender and social class was also widely reported.)
I believe female age discrimination results from society’s negative portrayal of menopausal and post-menopausal women. And I am not saying men are the sole offenders. Women play a part in this too, directly or indirectly. In fact, I’ve heard it said that women are the most critical of other women. This is anecdotal, but I believe it’s true. To a large extent, we’ve been socialized to evaluate ourselves and other women based on appearance.
Unfortunately, considering my reaction to Justine Bateman, I’m no exception. I had to rebuke myself and force my mind to open as I watched the rest of the video. I asked myself: if she is confident and happy about her looks, why do I have a problem with it? Why does anyone?
Below are a man’s comments from the YouTube video of Justine:
Get a good surgeon and get a decent mini lift, fix that neck and mouth area and get on with life. Just one procedure and some good skin care…. i didn’t make the rules honey…. don’t blame me. She’s got the loot and plenty of good surgeons in her wrinkled neck of the woods.
No, he didn’t make the rules. We all did.