Thursday, April 9, 2009

Looking one's age

I come from a family where everyone looked younger than their years. Both my parents were considerably older than my friends' parents, but they didn't look it. I remember my father saying how he wasn't going to buy his daily lunchtime sandwiches at a particular deli any more, for he had said something to the man who owned the place about his calling him "young man." It turned out the the fellow was considerably younger than my father, and when he learned that, he was visibly bothered. I'd had the same thing happen to me. When I was a tattooist, I always knew the age of the people I tattooed. They had to sign a release form for the State of Maine, and this had their age on it. There was many a time that I was shocked at how young someone was. In walks someone who I'd peg to be in their 60's and it turns out they are 36. I wouldn't say anything, of course, but when you're chatting with someone, cultural references can often be a dead giveaway for one's age. A silly example is the countless times I've been asked if I liked "the Brady Bunch." Well, I was just a little too old to watch the Brady Bunch. I remember the first time I saw a TV show in color! It was the Flintstones.

So, I've had the awkwardness of women acting a bit jealous, or even angry, when they discover I'm older than they are. I don't crow about how young I look, for honestly, I don't think I do look younger than my age. I see the fine lines around my mouth and the sagging skin that's under my clothing. But besides the physical cues, I'm not given to dressing like an older person. I pretty much dress the same as I've always done, minus the latex and leather that I sometimes liked to fool around with. That, well, I'm too old for that. You can argue, but maybe I've just lost interest. I have taken to wearing some markers of middle age, like shawls, but the truth is, I've always liked shawls. And now, of course, I'm wearing orthopedic shoes, but up here in Maine, they don't look that different than the shoes most people wear. This isn't the style capitol of the U.S.A., not by a long shot.

I didn't do anything to look young. As I wrote, it's just genes. In fact, I could look much younger than I do, if I had lived a cleaner life. Those fine lines around my mouth are probably from years of smoking cigarettes, for I don't remember my mother having any, even at the age of 60 (though she did smoke until she was in her late 30's). I have deep dark circles and bags under my eyes, but a person who is in constant pain usually does. Still, I have a "baby face", though weathered as it is, still gives the impression of youth. The porcelain skin that once was the one thing I loved about the way I look is now gone. I'm fine with that. I do not mind aging. I do mind looking sick and tired.

I came to blog only because there's a wonderful series of articles and a great slideshow on Newsweek's website. The slideshow is called "Youth in a Jar: A century of beauty ads that make outrageous promises." It's worth checking out just for the great old advertising alone. There's a good article entitled "Generation Diva: How our beauty obsession is changing our kids." And lastly, there's a shocking bit of information on how much the average woman, teenager, and child spends on beauty products. No, I was wrong; there's more. Former child-model, Cara Philips has a slide show in which she points the lens of a camera on the cosmetic surgery industry. I haven't looked at that yet, but I'm sure it's fascinating.

The main article, "Generation Diva", while good, leaves much to be desired. Of course, it's only Newsweek, and the kind of in-depth analysis I'm looking for is not to be found within its pages or its website. Susie Orbach, who wrote "Fat is a Feminist Issue", has just put out a new book entitled "Bodies." It's going on my must-read list right now. Here's an excerpt from a review:"Orbach delves into the touchy subject of commercial exploitation of “the body” and explores how modern culture is eroding individual appreciation of the unaltered human form."

Sounds good to me.

I think back to over twenty years ago, when a young woman I knew told me that she was still a virgin at the age of 20, much to her embarassment. She was not afraid of sex, nor was she uninterested. She was afraid that no man could stand to see the acne scars on her chest and back. I told her that no man worth having sex with would notice those scars. I told her that not only was she beautiful and interesting, but that, generally speaking, men didn't notice these "imperfections" that women were so fixated upon. Well, sadly, that was over 20 years ago. I'm afraid that times have changed much over these two decades. Photoshop and plastic surgery have ushered in the age of physical perfectionism. I wonder, is it possible to put this evil genie back in the bottle? I am not sure.

Thankfully, we are not all so shallow. Not yet.

Photo note: The beauty standard of the geisha is rigid. Yet, I am not offended. Why is that? Perhaps it is because it is meant to be artifice. For more extraordinary photographs of geisha, go here.

Addendum: After looking at photos of geisha, I realize that the other reason I am not "offended" by this version of the beauty standard is that I find the aesthetics luscious, gorgeous, and compelling. I can not say that about the American beauty standard. The supposed beauty of tan girls with big boobs, small hips, long wavy blond hair, and horsey features does nothing for me. In fact, it bores me. Please, give me strange looks! The geisha are ethereal, other-worldly. The girl next door is not.

1 comment:

jmcleod76 said...

I'm not offended by geishas either, or drag queens or, for that matter, women who are genuinely flamboyant and derive obvious pleasure from it, for themselves and for no one else. There's something to be said for the Dolly Partons of the world. I could be wrong, but she seems to be having a blast. I may prefer sober shoes and Mr. Rogers sweaters, but I love that there is glamor in the world.

And I think you're right. Men do seem to be getting more critical about women's bodies. Don't get me wrong. I have no problem with a guy knowing what he likes. I know what I like, too. But I remember listening to the Howard Stern show a few years ago (yeah yeah ... I know) and they way they talked about women on there was disgusting! Again, I don't mind some "sexist" talk. It's OK to appreciate women's bodies. I sure do. But they would literally sit a dissect women, part by part, like some sort of science specimen ... "Yeah, she has nice tits, but is that some cellulite around her hips?" It sets up a really ridiculous standard. Suddenly an incredibly physically attractive women is diminished because of a few small imperfections. It makes it all so clinical, like assigning a property value to a home, and knocking off points for a little peeling paint on the back porch.

To be fair, I don't think your average guy is all that critical of women he's actually sleeping with. At least I hope not. But I also think there are lots of guys who may not even get that far with women because the media makes them think that most normal women aren't attractive. They don't even bother looking at women who don't meet that ideal.

Nina Hartley, the 80s porn star turned porn producer and and sexuality educator (who, incidentally, grew up at the San Francisco Zen Center, and whose mother is the former abbess) is an incredibly smart lady. Brad Warner interviewed her last year for the Suicide Girls site, and she made a comment that has stuck with me ever since. She said something to the effect of "A lot of feminists think only women are victims of the patriarchy, but the truth is, most men are victims of the patriarchy, too." That's so true. These unrealistic standards of "perfection" deplete the richness of our sexuality, whether we're male or female.