Yes, the perfect, almost preternaturally youthful woman (or the perception thereof) is still the ultimate American obsession — but the power of that young, thin, white woman to sell stuff and entertain us is truly beginning to wane. Looking out at the media landscape, it is a little hard to tell, but the signs are there; sustained, regular critiques when women's faces and bodies are Photoshopped; nonwhite, older — and plainer — women in better, more interesting roles in movies (especially television); less rigid fashion and beauty dictates.
Not surprisingly, this has all happened during a time when women are achieving more in the public sphere than ever before, living independently, taking leadership positions, graduating from college and advanced programs in greater numbers (and more so than men), and taking the career and personal risks that are the foundation of many an American success story. As women gain power and prestige on their own merits, the perceived value of all women — including unique, traditionally unattractive, or otherwise non-ideal women — grows too.
So I'd argue that aging, for the American woman, is less awful than is has been at any time in the past, even if it's still not equal to what men experience yet.
I've been reflecting on this especially of late, since I just had a birthday. I'm no longer a young woman, and I don't want to live in a world where older women are invisible once they hit 40 (a disturbing state of affairs that I've heard women lament since I was a kid), whereas older men are seen as powerful, wise, and even sexy. Part of that change begins with me, so over the last few weeks, I have gone out looking for video of women I admire talking about how they feel about aging, and I've highlighted my favorite quotes below.
Watching these accomplished women speak about how they felt about getting older inspired and emboldened me to "act my age" in the most positive ways.
"As you get older, step into your grace. Step into it. You can't be 27 and be a Queen." — Tori Amos
"I really feel happy about aging. I love being older." — Gloria Steinem
"It's an unconscious thing, your youth. In my 30s, its all this realization ... I'm more conscious [now]. I've softened and become more vulnerable." — Rain Phoenix
"Do it if you can. If you have a choice, choose the 80s. I mean it. If you've been caring for yourself, you know, moderation in all things — even moderation in moderation; don't get too much moderation — when you get into your 80s ... you think: I'm glad I got this far." — Maya Angelou
"Ultimately ... it touched on something so woman-based. As soon as a woman gets to an age where she has opinions and she's vital, and she's strong, she's systematically shamed into hiding under a rock. And this is by progressive, pop-culture people. My crime is ... not dying?" — Sarah Silverman (4:00)
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