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 years old (and 98 pounds) 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 five 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 50s, the 60s 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 biceps 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 1918 we have even been 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.
Dr. April Sanders is a physician at Sanders Medical Inc, Vein & Laser in Vernon, B.C. She writes on a variety of health topics for The Morning Star.