Do Your Looks Define You?
Want to know more about your health and prospects? There’s certainly no shortage of information in today’s world. In fact, for many of us, no matter how many newspapers, magazines or online sources we read, we nonetheless have the sensation of being uninformed or lagging behind in our knowledge of the latest news and opinion. At least for me, it’s a constant scramble, and it’s exhausting, especially if I want to do anything else in my life. That’s one of the reasons I created agebuzz—to give my readers an up-to-date, trustworthy and curated source of news on aging. Otherwise, people like me would feel compelled to try to read every new thing that’s published on how to age healthy and well.
But I must say, as an older woman now working on this “encore career,” the signals I get from the information I read are mixed at best—and even self-deflating were I to take some of these messages to heart. I read that to stay healthy, engaged and mentally intact, and to enjoy this stage of life, I need to stay positive, find meaning in my life, and use my hard won resilience (not to mention exercise and watch my diet). And I try to do that—starting a new business, spending time with new grandchildren, pursuing new cultural pleasures. These all give my life a richness and joy that I feel privileged to possess.
Yet, at the same time, there is not-so-subtle sexist and ageist advice out there about how women my age should look and act in order to be considered aging “successfully.” For example, I recently opened a Groupon email in my inbox entitled “Getting Older Means Feeling Confident In Your Choices.” I had hoped that maybe there might be coupons for some cultural activities, or maybe some pursuits not usually associated with older women (how about learning to fly?) or maybe even travel discounts to places not typically on the baby boomer itinerary.
But no. Opening the email, I see coupons for laser surgery, botox, skin rejuvenation and other sorts of “supports” I didn’t even know existed. Thank goodness I now know what I can do to feel confident as an older woman in today’s world—and here I thought all I needed to do was use my brain and lifetime of experiences to keep me in good standing!
For every article celebrating the advances and achievements of older women (and there is much to celebrate), I find just as many, if not more, focusing on older women who are praised for having figured out how to stay youthful looking- and even literally take up modeling. Even that latest Facebook meme going around—the side-by-side photos some are posting of themselves ten years apart. Those of us who have aged “well” on the outside are apt to be lauded and applauded while those of us who haven’t are likely to be the subject of pity or ridicule. Who’s idea was this? Why don’t we have side-by-side comparisons of something more meaningful than how we look? Is that how we want to measure successful aging?
Flipping through a magazine yesterday (while riding my stationary bike!) I was confronted by an ad with the message, “Lie about your age. And get away with it.” The implication, of course, is that it’s better for older women not to be truthful about how old we are, lest we be taken less seriously. Or not welcome as valuable members of society.
The news stories out there, the advice handed out to older women, the expert opinions we are asked to stay on top of—-it’s a lot to keep track of, and not all of it can or should be taken at face value. Is it “fake news”? Well, that is a part of today’s media environment. But perhaps more important for older women are the false flags of how women can be “successful” as they grow older. Sure, we all want to look and feel our best. And you should be able to have fun and be frivolous no matter your age. But is that the measure of how we want to define “success” in our later years? That’s one news story I choose not to believe.
Connie Zuckerman created a new career as a legal and bioethics consultant in various academic medical organizations. Now, post-retirement, she is using the same iconoclastic approach to create a newsletter and website, agebuzz, providing a curated selection of information we need as we get older.