Laurie and Debbie say:
Cross-posted to Feministe. All photographs by Laurie Toby Edison.
Some photos below may not be okay for office viewing.
We think age is a crucial body image issue, especially in this culture. On the one hand, we have the multi-million dollar “beauty” industry and ad agencies all striving to squeeze every dollar they can out of making us hate our bodies. On the other hand, we have the medical establishment frantically trying to make every human variation into a medical condition. Aging is just about the most fruitful area either of these groups can pick on. Contrary to all of this noise, aging is normal.
Used to be, “aging” started somewhere around the 40s. Now, especially for women, “aging” starts before you’re 30. Since the only definition of “hot” is 25-or-under (and often younger than that), you’re out of the race. (Some of us don’t think we need to run, but for millions of women, it’s terrifying.) Is anything sagging? Is your skin starting to change texture? Toning equipment and skin creams are there to solve your problems.
Not too much later, the doctors get into the act. “Perimenopause” has been completely medicalized, and is basically treated as a chronic condition. Once you’re past it and into menopause, then the complicated question of hormones has to be addressed. Some doctors are starting to recommend that men replace their (naturally decreasing) testosterone as an anti-aging supplement.
It’s not like the corporations take a vacation while the doctors get busy: natural changes in your aging body are subject to both commercial and medical attention. The Botox providers need money, as do the labiaplasty doctors who will make women’s pubes look young again. Cosmetics and plastic surgery for men are becoming more and more popular all the time. Executive face-lifts for both men and women are common. The exercise machine manufacturers and the gyms don’t just talk about health and fitness: they also talk, constantly, about youthfulness. (By the way, this keeps people out of gyms in droves. Many people would exercise more if they didn’t feel like failures because it never makes them look younger.)
Whether or not you follow all these rules, buy all these products, work at looking young, inevitably (unless you are seriously unlucky) you’re going to get to a point where you’re not looking young any more. Then what you’re really supposed to do is disappear (although active versions of people your age will show up on TV all the time, buying Depends, and energy products, and other commodities). A few years ago, we were at a BlogHer session, and one of the presenters asked people to name the identity you felt most uncomfortable revealing. Women were talking about everything from being Jewish to being queer, and everyone was nodding. Laurie raised her hand and said, “I always talk about my age, which is 62, even though it sometimes makes other people uncomfortable.” For the rest of the weekend, women kept coming up to her, thanking her, and telling her how brave she was. Announcing her age in public was clearly a much more transgressive act than talking about sexual orientation.
Everyone who lives long enough ages. Everyone’s body changes as they age. While there’s a certain amount of general predictability to the course of aging, the specific changes are very variable from person to person. Some of them are difficult to cope with; others are not. Some people stay healthy and active into their 90s; others don’t. Youth does not have a monopoly on beauty.
Like so many other body image issues facing us today, it isn’t aging that’s the issue, it’s how we treat aging.