One rainy afternoon, wanting distraction, I leafed through a typical women’s magazine. You know the kind. Fluff about fashion where the models are 15 yrs. old (and 98 lbs.) and a pair of shoes is an entire week’s salary. I was attracted to an article entitled, “Makeovers: 2013”. On the glossy photo spread there were 5 tired women set to be remade into modern beauties. Paired “before and after” photos represented a woman of each decade; the ingénue at 20, the office worker at 30, the supervisor at 40, and the professional at 50. Having just turned 60, I looked for the rest of the article but that was all that there was. I was just too old for this magazine to be interested in me, and, by extension, whole generations of women were thus rendered redundant, invisible.
The fifties, the sixties and beyond are the age in life when, in my experience, women come into their own. It is a time when they are free of the constraints of raising a family. It is the time when they have mastered their job. Often, they have settled with a partner that they can live with and at some future time, die with. Often, for the first time they look in the mirror and ask themselves, what do I want to do with the rest of my life?” or, “what do I need that is just for me?” It is a sad reality that just when women feel they have arrived, society feels their time is up.
We still live in a world where a woman’s power is influenced by her appearance. I recall a supermarket tabloid with the lurid headline, “Hilary Clinton without makeup”. The most powerful woman in the world was being panned for her missing mascara while negotiating a deal for peace in the war torn world. Whether it is Michelle Obama’s guns or the late Margaret Thatcher’s purses women are reduced or lauded based on their appearance in spite of their economic independence, self-determination, brains, education, bravery, leadership and accomplishments.
Prejudice against women goes back to the foundations of western democracy. The end of the Middle Ages divided democracy into two spheres. The public sphere was defined by the rules of liberal democracy, universality, equality and reason. This was the exclusive territory of men. The private sphere was governed by inequality, subjection and emotion. This was the realm of women. For centuries women’s place was in the home where they were governed by the rule of “the man in his castle”. Women are no longer the property of their husband and since 1914 we have even be granted the vote, but we are still judged subjectively, and part of that is how we look and by extension, how old we are.
Is it any wonder that women seek cosmetic enhancement? As women age the power attached to their youthful appearance dwindles and they are judged harshly for it. I see many women my age and older who are wondering what they can do to regain their youthful appearance. They do not want to be someone else; they want their power back in a society that does not consider them worthy of a magazine make over. They want to move from the world of ghosts into the world of the relevant.
Well said April. If not already found, check out missrepresentation.org. You may find a kindred spirit in Jennifer Siebel Newsom who, like you and many others have shared a voice in some of the still current craziness out there and the judgement of women and their appearances vs. their abilities.
Will look her up, Catherine.
Thank you, April! I have just started noticing how ‘invisible’ I have become. Men no longer look, sales clerks look past me, car salesmen try to sell me a vehicle that would be ‘good for a woman’. I arrived in Uganda this year on International Women’s Day and it was interesting to see how other cultures treat their matriarchs and more importantly how they regard themselves. Many women had taken the day from their daily chores and spent it with family or going to the market. They are the caretakers, breadwinners and foundation of the family. Initially I saw the women there as regarding themselves as less than equal to the men, eventually I came to see them as the very platform on which their families were built. Maybe it is not for society to give us back our power, but for us to give ourselves permission own the power and recognize it. Is it society that makes us feel we should all be young and supermodels or it is us that is not allowing our own superpower to shine through?
Great analysis, Rhonda. How was Africa?