Do you feel pressured to maintain a younger persona than your years, and how do we even define younger? Do you devote hours to slimming exercise and drool over food you really, really want to eat, but won’t allow yourself? I’m speaking mainly to the women here. From what I observe, men are okay with pulling their belts down to release their bellies from restriction, while women jam themselves into more and more perverted versions of “shapewear.” Am I sounding sexist here? Okay then, I can live with that.
I recently watched some old black and white movies from the late 1930s and 1940s. One in particular, called Four Wives (1939) jump-started my current train of thought. In this movie, four young women of marriageable age have joined the race to find suitable husbands. Their father is a widower, and his sister, Aunt Etta, is the mother figure in residence, and it is she who inspired this run-away ramble.
Aunt Aunt Etta is an active, vital part of the household, and based on the age of the father and the girls, she must be in her fifties or sixties at the outside. Now clear your mind of any visual reference to anyone you know today in that age group. Aunt Etta’s 1939 physical persona is presented in a dowdy housedress, unsupported breasts hanging to her waist and feet laced into sturdy, sensible shoes. Her hair is pulled into an untidy grey bun, and I don’t think she wore the lightest touch of lipstick. There must have been something very comforting about these motherly, Aunt Etta types, always wearing an apron and fussing about the kitchen, ready to offer a cup of tea or a re-assuring hug. Their place in life was defined, and they seemed content with the status quo. Back then, if an older woman gained a bit around the middle or her hair greyed, no one thought twice about. Make-overs weren’t offered, expected, or requested.
Based on thickened waistlines and the fashion dictates of the 1930s, there was no mistaking a woman in her fifties for a woman in her thirties. With the exception of Hollywood glamour queens, the average woman dressed “age appropriately.” I remember my own trim grandmother passing on a dress because it was “too young for her.” She came out of an era where the mothers and grandmothers believed they’d had their “time”, and were happy to step aside to let the younger generation shine. Sometimes, when I see women killing themselves to look as good as their much younger daughters, I’m not sure if we’ve really “come a long way, baby.”
So who was better off—women in the mid-1900s who were allowed to let their middles expand and their hair turn grey, or women today who don’t look much different at fifty-five than they did at thirty-five? Which generation is trapped by society’s expectations? It’s wonderful that women today stay active way beyond fifty and refuse to be relegated to the bleachers, but I sometimes despair over what is expected of us.
I have to wonder whether the female Baby Boomers and Gen X’ers are looking younger longer because of improved diet, greater sexual freedom, more gym time, and better beauty products, or is it because more and more woman are turning to surgical procedures, hormone injections, and Botox to prove that sixty is the new forty? Aren’t we still sixty on the inside no matter what we do to the packaging? If it takes tummy tucks, liposuction, and kidney-damaging KETO diets to fit into those size 4 jeans, maybe we need to take a collective breath and rethink.
And along those lines, whose fault is it anyway that cosmetic procedures have become de rigor? Advertisers? Men? Hollywood. Not really. It’s an inside job. We all make noises about how no one has the right to criticize what someone else wears in public—Wal-Mart patrons excepted—but we do, don’t we? We nudge, we tip our heads towards the offender and raise our eyebrows. Little comments are exchanged, and we settle into our slim and fashionable superiority as we adjust our Spanx, or wave away that croissant that now we can’t justify enjoying it in public. Do we walk away happy, feeling deprived, or maybe just a little bit ashamed? Do we wait until we’re alone to sneak that yummy treat, only to obsessively exercise away the extra calories? I’m not pointing the finger here, just posing questions. I’m as guilty as the next person of all of the above, and I’m asking myself why.
After all this rambling, what’s become apparent to me is that none of us will truly be as free of societal constraints as we think we are until we stop judging each other. We will truly have come a long way once we accept ourselves, and each other, for being our genuine, individual selves, without peer pressure to starve or slice-and-dice to fit in. Don’t say it isn’t there. It might be subtle, but judgmental peer pressure is alive and well and living among us.
So lovely ladies, whether a size 4 or a size 12, we are the glue that holds society together, and we need to never forget that. Our aging, child-bearing bodies are to be celebrated, and our collective wisdom is our shield against the shallowness of youth, not gut-restricting shapewear or liposuction. And next time someone offers you a croissant, for God’s sake, accept and enjoy it…and sure, go for a run afterwards if you must.
Photos below: My grandmother at 65 and at 92.