As I grow older, I’ve become acutely aware of the things my mother never told me—and probably for good reason. For instance, I used to read articles about dye for the ‘hair down there’ and think: Why would anyone want to do that? I mean, how do you prepare yourself for grey pubic hair? After spotting my first one, I’m beginning to understand. Age is one of those things that sneak up on you. One day you think you look fabulous, the next, you catch your reflection and wonder who that old broad is in the mirror.
In my case, one such look sent me straight to the drugstore in search of a face-lifting/firming/glow-inducing serum perfect for the menopausal woman. Clearly, I’m not the only woman in the world concerned about maintaining her looks. There’s a whole industry dedicated to women and aging. And yet, there seems to be a burgeoning negative narrative when it comes to women and beauty.
Recently, a column in the Washington Post reported on a contest by More Magazine where the prize was anti-aging cream. The columnist was incensed over the so-called ‘prize’ and I have to agree, winning a jar of wrinkle cream is somewhat ridiculous. To some.
The issue of erasing wrinkles is more than just skin deep. It’s about being judged for the desire to transform. The worst part, of course, is that much of this judging is by women, themselves—as pointed out by Melissa McCarthy on The Ellen Show. When the eponymous and ab-tastic Fit Mom, Maria Kang, posted a picture of herself with her three kids asking women everywhere “What’s your excuse?” the backlash was enormous. Women were incensed that this woman’s physique made them feel inferior instead of motivated to change. When Kate Middleton stepped out of St. Mary’s Hospital with Princess Charlotte in her arms, my Facebook feed burst with bitchiness: Oh yeah, my hair looked just as fabulous when I left the hospital or Okay, what’s with the heels? and I wonder if she’s wearing those big post-preggie underwear beneath that dress? And so? What if she was?
“There’s a certain amount of voyeurism when it comes to beauty,” says communications and political analyst, Ya’ara Saks. “We uphold certain expectations of others. For example, Kate Middleton could have escaped through the back door, but as an audience we wouldn’t let her. “On the one hand, we feed into this expectation of beauty and give ourselves the right to criticize it; but that doesn’t mean people should get riled up if you want to talk about your wrinkles. Who’s going to change that conversation?”
Who indeed. Perhaps the conversation should be less about what people think of our choices and more about what we think is right for ourselves, whether we’re talking about beauty or any other of our life choices.
When Anne-Marie Slaughter left her high profile position at the State Department to be spend more time with her family—because she felt it was the right thing to do for herself—she took a lot of heat. The notion of work/life balance was hotly debated and criticized, mainly by other women who saw Slaughter’s choice as a failure to cope. After cheering Yahoo’s decision to appoint Marissa Mayer as one of the first female Silicon Valley CEOs, the narrative quickly turned negative when we learned she didn’t want appear on the cover of Fortune Magazine in her third trimester of pregnancy. Sure, pregnancy is beautiful, but those last few months can have women feeling they look like hell—and let’s face it, magazine covers live on in perpetuity. It was clearly Mayer’s personal decision, but again, we women had no qualms about taking her to task for it.
If we really want to change the conversation, we can’t have it both ways. Sure, there is many a pundit who implores us to forget about societal expectations on how we should look, how we should work, how to be unafraid of that drive to succeed. That we should instead talk about kindness and world peace. While we may wholeheartedly jump on this idealistic bandwagon of peace and love and fairness for all, there are still far too many jumping off at the first negative whiff of opportunity. The internet only amplifies this pile-on mentality. As soon as we commiserate with one negative narrative, it seems to give a free pass for everyone else to think it’s okay to comment too.
As Baby Boomers now comprise the largest wrinkle-prone, silver-haired consumer population in the last few decades, eyeing everything from hemlines to crows feet, there’s going to be a lot more conversation about women and aging and the desire to feel beautiful. And that’s okay, isn’t it? For the most part, I don’t have a problem with aging. All those years have lead me along the path to increased wisdom (hopefully), understanding (usually) and more patience (I’m trying). I’ve definitely earned every one of my grey hairs, but isn’t it my right to want to colour them no matter where I find them?
Canadian columnist and broadcaster Elissa Freeman believes pop culture makes the world go ’round. What some might see as fluff, Elissa believes pop culture is usually the tip of the iceberg for creating conversation around important, underlying issues. A communications consultant for the healthcare industry, Elissa lives in Toronto with her husband and teenage daughter.