Tired of image pressure on women of a certain age? Here's the antidote
August 3, 2015 2:36 PM   Subscribe

This recent guest editorial (hopefully the first in a new intermittent column) is a cri de coer from an educated, intelligent and caring middle-aged career woman and mother For most women in the public eye their outward visual image is the most valuable currency available, and the booming cosmetics (and aesthetic surgery) industry banks - excuse the pun - on this. As a senior political staff writer this lady has spent many years in - or at least no more than a door away from - the corridors of power. Here she proves that the pen is mightier than the scalpel.
posted by kairab (31 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
I feel like there will be zero pressure on me to get work done, because people in my income bracket/ social circles don't do that. I have friends who are in their mid-50s, and none of them have even mentioned plastic surgery, botox, fillers, etc. There may be some pressure to dye my hair once I start to go gray. I still haven't decided whether I'm going to do it. Part of me thinks I'll say fuck it and let it go gray, and part of me thinks I'll say fuck it and dye it purple.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 2:45 PM on August 3, 2015

ArbitraryAndCapricious: "part of me thinks I'll say fuck it and dye it purple"

Fuck it and dye it punk rock bright purple, or fuck it and dye it church lady pastel purple?
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 2:59 PM on August 3, 2015 [1 favorite]

Bright purple. I look good in purple. Sadly, there's that fucking "when I am an old lady, I will wear purple" poem, and some people may think it's a reference to that. But it's really just that I want purple hair.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 3:00 PM on August 3, 2015

My suggestion is to dye half of it (left-right OR upper/lower) purple and leave the other half as-is.
posted by Greg_Ace at 3:08 PM on August 3, 2015 [1 favorite]

Purple hair is pretty bitchen but most hair dyes that last won't take on unbleached hair so you might have to bleach the grey first, alas.

Source: my purple-assed grow out of a bleach pixie cut last year, the purple transitioned me back to brownish
posted by bitter-girl.com at 3:38 PM on August 3, 2015

The weird thing is that older female celebrities who get plastic surgery, it's so obvious that plastic surgery face is just another signifier of "isn't as young as they used to be". It's not pretty and doesn't make them look younger. It's just sad, that we can't accept people's natural faces, or accept that women are people.
posted by bleep at 3:42 PM on August 3, 2015 [9 favorites]

I have purple hair. Just highlights and only tint so it doesn't last as long as my regular highlights do. My hairdresser suggested it. He chooses the color and placement and I let him do whatever he wants. I did ask for touch ups on it recently since I'll be going to a mini-family reunion next weekend and, after all, the tattoos and piercings are so five minutes ago, I have a reputation to uphold and the purple highlights are perfect for that! (at 55, I'm the youngest member of my generation).
posted by janey47 at 3:49 PM on August 3, 2015

I'm surprised she doesn't mention Angela Merkel. Everytime I see pictures of the G7 summit or see her meeting with other leaders of EU nations I always want to applaud her. She looks powerful and in control, and she does it with her no-nonsense hairstyle and minimal make-up. She is so obviously a woman comfortable in her skin.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 3:57 PM on August 3, 2015 [10 favorites]

I actually like my gray hairs. They're not gray, they're blinding white, so it looks like my hair is sparkling and I really like that.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 3:58 PM on August 3, 2015 [7 favorites]

While I agree that the pressure on women as they grow older is toxic and horrible in every way and while I 100% support women who stand up to it however they choose, I also hate the just-below-the-surface nastiness that often seems to get thrown at women who choose to get botox or plastic surgery or whatever. When I was younger I was ALL ABOUT beauty at every age and empowerment and whatever, and don't get me wrong, I still am, it's just that the older I get, the more I really understand the mindset behind what drives someone to get things done.

I actually think I started to enter my prime years in my late 30's - both personally and professionally - but try telling that to the rest of the world, where either looking older or just my age number itself will often put me at a huge disadvantage in ways that have real-world consequences. I would love to be stand up to it with real conviction, but it is hard, especially when no matter how good my own self-image may be, it means fuck all to a society who is going to label me however they want regardless of how much I embrace aging. As I start to find myself thinking more about things like creams and peels and fucking marionette lines. I do my best to take care of myself the best I can and I definitely don't want to contribute to a culture that makes it harder for other women to grow old gracefully; but yeah, I think I get it when other women kind of just say "fuck it". And jabs about collagen and bee-stings help about as little as framing women growing older as either "moms" or "grannies". Women who have had plastic surgery or botox or whatever aren't the actual enemy here and framing them as such when they're doing the best they can to work within a horrible system is also pretty bad.

This doesn't even touch on the intersections of women aging with both race and class issues, which are definitely there. I think aging is a very underexplored topic in feminism in general without even starting on the obvious intersectional issues.
posted by triggerfinger at 4:06 PM on August 3, 2015 [40 favorites]

I actually like my gray hairs

Me, too. My gray hair, that is, not yours (which I'm sure is awesome). My hair is awesome, and I get a ton of compliments on it. Although half the reason I get so much attention is that most women my age are covering their gray, and if that wasn't the standard, I wouldn't look so unusual.

The funny thing was when I went to Spain a few years ago: I was the only woman with gray hair. Even the grannies had dark hair. But I guess Americans are ahead of the curve, compared to some places.
posted by suelac at 4:06 PM on August 3, 2015

I will have to start dyeing my hair this autumn, sadly. Also sadly, it will have to be a natural-looking colour. I audition for opera regularly and perceived playing age is a factor; I also have to look right for any historical period. Workplace requirements; hardly worth it for the tiny amount of work I get, but I understand that this is what I have to do if I want any chance of getting hired at all.

I find myself resenting in advance the time, expense and inconvenience it will take to colour my hair regularly for the rest of my working life. Greying hair, like extra weight, should not trip a lever in the observer's mind that says "undesirable/doesn't have control of her own appearance/no self-control at all really/unreliable/person of low worth." As we age, or as our figures expand, so increases the pressure to present ourselves in a hyperfeminine manner in order to be deemed "acceptable". Given a couple hours' prep time, I can just about achieve Voluptuous Siren mode (though the boundary is perilously thin between Voluptuous Siren and Madwoman Who Can't Get The Fucking Eyeliner Right.) Voluptuous Siren is socially and professionally acceptable in a way that plus-sized me in sneakers without makeup somehow isn't.

It absolutely shouldn't be so. People in the performing arts are expert at manipulating perception through the calculated management of our appearance, but we can see all the more clearly what total, utter, complete bullshit it all is.
posted by Pallas Athena at 5:06 PM on August 3, 2015 [9 favorites]

I too am a vuluptuous 50 year old. I live in one of the plastic surgery hot zones. I admit, I've considered a nip and tuck, but finally decided that my fear of surgery was greater than my vanity. Also 50k is a stupid amount of money just to soothe my fears of eventual demise. That said, it's getting harder to land new contracts, whereas my male peers, with less experience, some of whom I trained, seem to get more respect, rather than less, as they age.
posted by dejah420 at 5:21 PM on August 3, 2015 [2 favorites]

Thank you, triggerfinger. I was trying to figure out how to word that clearly when you I saw that you already did it better.

Ageism is a very real and very prevalent thing, and it's extra bad for women. People talk to you as though you're actually becoming stupider and less experienced somehow as you age, and that affects your career, the quality of service you get, your healthcare, and just the general attitude of those around you.

You know how frustrating mansplaining is? Now imagine that everyone does it.

I'm not going to fault women who try to stave it off for a while with Botox and hair dye.
posted by ernielundquist at 5:23 PM on August 3, 2015 [6 favorites]

ArbitraryAndCapricious: "part of me thinks I'll say fuck it and dye it purple"

My forty-something wife has purple hair this month. Next month it might be pink. Or blue.
posted by octothorpe at 6:30 PM on August 3, 2015 [1 favorite]

It's not pretty and doesn't make them look younger.

I think this kind of commenting on it is weird and gross. I mean, I get the impulse to combat _pressure_ to get plastic surgery, but commenting on their appearance doesn't seem to be the way to reduce pressure on appearance. And not everyone who gets surgery does it to look pretty or younger to other people. It should be an individual choice and neither pushed upon one nor judged by others.
posted by thefoxgod at 6:40 PM on August 3, 2015 [7 favorites]

I wasn't talking about average people who do all kinds of things for all kinds of reasons I don't know about. Theres pretty much only one reason older female celebrities do it and I do think it's sad, for them, for their industry that doesn't respect them or me, for how it makes average people feel, for everything.
posted by bleep at 7:23 PM on August 3, 2015 [1 favorite]

This piece is a bit clunky, and not just because I don't get all the UK-centric references; it could have used some editing polish. Not so much a cri de coeur as a UK-version Erma Bombeck column with a bit more feminism sprinkled in. Which isn't necessarily a bad thing.

But I'm happy to see more of a push away from the mandatory pursuit of youthfulness. I have noticed lots of women wearing less makeup, much as they seem to have given up pantyhose (thank god) and perfumes. In fact, we had a new woman transfer into our department at work who wore full makeup, and she looked so odd to me! She felt out of place and quickly started wearing less, but that made me think about how long it had been since I'd bothered with such a thing.

Hair dye is becoming more playful; I see a surprising number of older women with purple or pink or blue streaks. An old friend of mine showed up on Facebook and her brown hair was now a bright white. She looked magnificent. I haven't covered my gray yet, though I watch it slowly spreading with some interest. I might. I might not.

Plastic surgery: well, I have sometimes thought a boob lift might come in handy when they sink too low, but that's less vanity and more getting them out of my way.
posted by emjaybee at 7:30 PM on August 3, 2015

Still, commenting on women's appearance by expressing what you personally think is pretty is one of the things both men and women do to celebrities, politicians, businesswomen, etc that creates the whole situation.

I mean, would you really feel differently about the pressure to have plastic surgery if it did make them look pretty to you? Or if we did a survey and 90% of people thought it made them look better? Isn't that beside the point?

Lots of people think plastic surgery makes people look better. Lots of people think it doesn't. Whether it does or does not seems irrelevant here.
posted by thefoxgod at 7:34 PM on August 3, 2015 [1 favorite]

I reckon we need to sort out our own feelings on how to age gracefully and what that means without slamming on plastic surgery, because that entire field of medical technology has advanced by leaps and bounds that the best results are often invisible and the recipients merely look very rejuvenated (and yes, extremely expensive, so this is very much still the domain of the elite. And not just limited to female celebrities. There is no human way Tom Cruise is at his age currently without work done). pretty soon the only ones who look like they've had work done would also be advertising how little they could afford it.
posted by cendawanita at 10:00 PM on August 3, 2015

From W Magazine earlier this year: Forever 21: 'Thanks to a steady diet of lasers, lights, and needles, middle-aged celebs look younger than ever.'
posted by cendawanita at 10:03 PM on August 3, 2015

Also from that W article: "Part of this shift is due to the fact that our culture is allowing women to be sexy and youthful into their 40s, 50s, and 60s without judgment."

Yes, it's ALLOWING us to be sexy and youthful WITHOUT JUDGMENT. It's not, say, pressuring us to do so, or forcing us to pay for continuing to be perceived at all in public spaces by impersonating youth. And what is this bullshit assumption that we're just going to gloss over your equation of youth and sexiness?

Yeah, I want to be allowed to be as old and raddled (but sexy) as my male peers without judgment, thanks.
posted by gingerest at 11:18 PM on August 3, 2015 [5 favorites]

EmpressCallipygos: "I actually like my gray hairs. They're not gray, they're blinding white, so it looks like my hair is sparkling and I really like that."

You and me both. After my Reed Richards temples went ambitious in my mid-20's, that is. Whole head though. So overly ambitious, I suppose.
posted by Samizdata at 11:55 PM on August 3, 2015

I just don't want to end up in the penalty box. "Two minutes for looking so good!" - older Canadians may understand.
posted by srboisvert at 5:03 AM on August 4, 2015

the usual correctives apply.....would we feel the same if a male celebrity was held to the same standard?

one of the comments above really resonated with me:

I've lived in Spain, Ireland, Germany, UK, Italy & France and the most ferocious pressure I've felt to look younger than my age has been in Italy & Spain.

I had a colleague who was, probably still is Hands-down the most beautiful woman I have ever met, from symmetrically beautiful features, wonderful warm personality, bright, professionally successful, literally THE most beautiful woman I have ever encountered.

and I was invited as the rep of the Irish EFL industry to the ASEPROCE annual meeting in San Sebastian. This was her home town, and everyone there knew her, although she worked and lived in Madrid.

she was 45 and clearly had been turning grey for some years but dying it a dark colour, so she felt comfortable enough to go controlled grey for these days: the kickback was horrific: I was embarrassed for my sex and really resented the !!Ai, Que vieja te veo!! comments of my colleagues.... NONE of the men commented, it was her business and she listened to the majority of female agents there who felt it made her look old, she went out that evening and the next day she was back to black.

i felt I learned a lesson and not a good one. She was BEAUTIFUL either way but I thought the reactions said more about the insecurities on those commenting. and what galls me the most is she was a single professional female in Spain in her 40s: I KNOW if she had back up from a partner she might have felt confident enough to stick with her decision.
posted by Wilder at 1:12 PM on August 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

also just FYI, this is someone who write THE most emotional speeches an Irish Prime Minister has even enunciated, the apology for the Magdalen women was a turning point in Irish life, a whole country was moved to tears.

I get many people may not understand the very Irish references in her speech, especially to her daughter but as a professional Irish woman living the ex-Pat life this just crease me up:-

'Dead Body"

"over my dead body are you wearing those heels!" I LOLLED!
posted by Wilder at 1:18 PM on August 4, 2015

actually this reminded me of the pressure on sopranos or ballet dancers

so I thought....
of Placido as a young man

Older -Grey Placido

OR completely SILVER (cos that's what men are called when women tend to be called completely white.)... how OLD! completely white Placido sustaining a second rate tenor (!) cos that what old folks do!

posted by Wilder at 1:45 PM on August 4, 2015

the older I get, the more I really understand the mindset behind what drives someone to get things done.

Eh don’t tell me. triggerfinger, you really nailed it. I was about to write a rant but you nailed it perfectly.

Why should we be so worried about how women "should" age gracefully, really? All this preaching about not getting cosmetic surgery, isn’t it also part of our constant obsession on how women look? I wish it wasn’t even an issue.

A while ago I was looking up stuff about Frances McDormand after watching Olive Kitteridge and I came up with several recent interviews about her choice of not getting any work done. Now, I do admire her for that, for not giving a crap about her wrinkles and ageing face, she doesn’t even seem to wear makeup, and she’s awesome, but come on! This is a fantastic actress who did an incredible job in a lot of films and played an incredibly difficult and complex character in that miniseries, made her sympathetic and human and relatable despite all her insufferable awfulness, she’s a unique talent in the acting world and she sounds like a really cool interesting person too and ALL a journalist can think of asking her for like 80% of the interview is... her choices about looks and beauty treatments and cosmetic surgery? Really? Shouldn’t a journalist person feel ashamed of even asking her such a question?

I get why the author of this guest editorial wants to applaud Judi Dench and Hillary Clinton for inspiring her "to become empowered by age not intimidated by it" as the blurb says, I have nothing against that, I feel the same, but agh a part of me also cringes that in doing so we ARE still reducing two major talents and public personalities in their respective areas to their appearances and choices about appearances. I really wish this wasn’t even a topic at all.
posted by bitteschoen at 2:06 PM on August 4, 2015 [6 favorites]

I guess for me that reason would be that this subject is so gendered, as bitteschoen says, what a waste of an interview to spend so much time wondering about appearance when Harrison Ford and Jack Nicholson never get that.

Interesting that in making that point, the writer is making people more, rather than less comfortable about not questioning the double standard because it does a disservice for women who've chosen otherwise. It's almost as if it is now not acceptable to do so without being the "mean girl' again! Wow!
posted by Wilder at 11:40 PM on August 4, 2015

Can you imagine an interview with Jack Nicholson where 80% of it was on how he maintains his famous smile, and what kind of stomach crunches does he do, what's his juicing regimen....
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 1:54 AM on August 5, 2015 [1 favorite]

Glad to see this generated so much comment and thought! I appreciate how an added overlay of ethnicity/skin colour and possibly gender identity will complicate matters further ... perhaps it is ultimately about how individuals' personal choices are being perceived: Wise/unwise, jumping on a bandwagon/sticking up a finger, never mind having the money for it, or not. We really should stop pussyfooting around discussing this issue - admittedly it's not quite as fundamental as making choices in dying (which is currently on the media radar in the UK), but still ...
posted by kairab at 2:21 AM on August 5, 2015

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