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The Embalming of American Women

I was delighted to see Meryl Streep, Sally Field, Glenn Close, and Bette Midler tonight on the Oscars. I recognized them. And though I am hardly in-the-know about whether or not they have had cosmetic surgery, if they have, they've kept a light hand about it. They are beautiful women past the age of 55 who look past the age of 55.

Which is brave in a society that still primarily values women based on bust size and curve ratio. Particularly in Hollywood, where sex appeal still matters at least as much as talent, the women who refuse to try to look 20 years younger are practically taking a stand.

The majority of women still spend the first 20 years of life learning what the world expects, the next 25 years devoted to families, and finally, finally, we get to ourselves. What we expect ourselves to be. What we now have time to become. But at that exciting moment, with all the time and potential in the world before us, too many women look in the mirror and see only the wrinkles, the gray hair, the softened jaw line, the extra pounds. We fail to inspire ourselves because the reflection in the mirror doesn't live up to society's expectations of fuckability.

As if that's all we're good for. As if that's what we aspire to.

Poor Kim Novak. She doesn't need kissable puffed-up lips, a wrinkle-free face, she doesn't need to look 35 to remind me of her glamor. She could have walked out on that stage with a face that bragged of her 81 years and held our attention. I don't think for one moment it was vanity that drove her decision to hit the botox hard. I don't think it's ego that causes Goldie Hawn to keep going under the knife. It's lack of self-worth. If the only value you've placed on yourself is society's meter of youth and fecundity, then you can't look in the mirror and take pride in the woman staring back.

Sure, the human attraction to fertility has a strong biological basis. But in other cultures, other times, a deep appreciation for survival, contribution, and the wisdom one gains over time have also played an important part. I gratefully traded my flirtatious and slightly wild years for my child-bearing and nurturing years. And now I've traded that role for my next phase. Maiden. Mother. Crone. All powerful archetypes, equally valid.

I'm not saying that one's 50s and 60s can't be vital and exciting. Just that we don't need to look 25 or 35 to experience the benefits. Will I still use my eye cream and my skin tone corrector? Certainly. That's a bit of vanity. But I will also celebrate my laugh lines and every reminder that I am older and therefore wiser. That's self worth.

03 March 2014

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