I’m A Feminist, So Why Won’t I Let Myself Age Naturally?

When we came out of lockdown, I broke an Olympic record for the speed with which I booked my colour at my hairdressers, so it was reassuring to see Melburnians bang down the doors of theirs when their Premier released them from one of the longest lockdowns around the world.

Ageism has a lot to answer for, proven by a recent study by Australian Seniors that showed the drastic lengths middle-aged women and men go to – from hair colouring to plastic surgery – to remain visible, relevant, and employable.

Ageism has a lot to answer for

Woman with blonde hair blowing in the wind.
Photo by Ayo Ogunseinde on Unsplash

I’m lucky, apart from basic body hygiene, I don’t have to maintain any particular beauty standards for my job, and neither am I high maintenance when it comes to my appearance. That may be why I transitioned so smoothly into living like a slob during our restrictions. Truth be told, living in lounge wear day and night was a dream come true and that extra layer of hair on my legs made the switch from autumn to winter much less painful.

But it was a different story with the hair on my head. Like many middle-aged women, I went through the seven stages of grief as the visible signs of my age crept through my parting.

I was thankful that hats were in vogue, although I do remember one low point (at the Mare Sheehan stage of rootage) when I succumbed to smudging my roots with mascara – not recommended.

In retrospect, though, I handled the ever-widening salt and pepper line down the centre of my scalp stoically, and the return to my mousey roots didn’t bother me as much as I thought it would. So much so, the closer we got to the magical seventy percent vaccination rate required to open up our salons – inspired by all those stunning, mature celebrities who have embraced the grey, Andie MacDowell being an obvious stand-out – I began to seriously toy with the idea of ageing naturally.

Which makes my midnight vigil outside my hairdressers the night before freedom day all the more perplexing. Because, as a feminist, it goes against every follicle on my body to surrender to the blatant gender inequality around beauty standards. And each time I agree to pay through the nose to highlight my hair, I know I’m giving into the narrative that youth trumps pretty much everything, and for any chance of staying visible, I mustn’t look my age.

So why do I do it? Why can’t I give up on this last bastion of my youth?

It’s not like I enjoy the experience of sitting still, staring at myself for two hours, having to pretend that I’m not appalled by the cost of my foils and the special shampoos and treatments required to maintain my hair in some vaguely manageable condition. Not to mention the social anxiety I experience each visit a propos of my hairdresser, a lovely Millennial who has quietly surrendered to my refusal to talk to her – although, I can’t be certain if our unspoken rule around engagement has made our two hours together more honest or more awkward.

I can’t chit-chat confidently about the mundanities of life with a woman whose biggest daily conflict is the straightness of her hair

Other women my age seem able to chit-chat confidently about Netflix shows and their next holiday, but I can’t do it. I have tried, but I cannot pretend to have anything in common with a twenty-something who goes out for the night at the same time I’m going to bed. Perhaps, if she had something to add about vaginal atrophy or grumpy, middle-aged husbands, we might have something work with, but I’m just not that bothered about Tik Tok and online dating at this stage of my life. And this visit, my hell was ramped up a notch because of the amount of rehabilitation my hair required after its four months in the wilderness. Sea water turns turns it into a tangled, untameable frizz, so this time I set another world record for time spent at the sink with a junior who couldn’t adjust the temperature of the water or stop talking.

Evidently, she hadn’t read the memo about my verbal reticence, so while I spent most of the time worrying whether she had removed the top layer of my scalp, the cost of the toner (ka-ching!), and some other special treatment I needed… apparently (ka-ching, ka-ching!), she had talked me through her guide to the best online stores for crop tops. And by the time we reached the only enjoyable part of my hairdressing experience – the head massage – I couldn’t get out of my chair fast enough.

The sad truth is, I can’t control what happens to my face, but I can still control the colour of my hair

I could buy a lot of new lounge wear with that extra $200+, but sadly I like being blonde and I’m not grown up enough yet to come out as an old person. Perhaps, if I was a good feminist or had more confidence, I would feel proud of this ageing body of mine and what it has achieved, see it more like a precious piece of antique furniture that should be valued, rather than a pimped, second-hand car.

But as I left the house, prior to my appointment, and the old man told me how beautiful I looked with my new, natural waves, I knew he was lying and that the comment came from the accountant in him rather than any real desire for me to turn into his mother.

COVID-19 Is All Fun And Games Until You Start To Look Like Your Grandmother

I’m sitting at home, dressed to the nines with nowhere to go.

Dressed to the nines during COVID-19 (?), I hear you ask.

Image of old woman with grey hair and moustache.
Thanks to Far Kew for this wonderfully appropriate image

Well…yes. But I do have two very good reasons for such crazy behaviour: The first is that like many of you, I imagine, the highlight of my week since social-distancing started has become my trip to the supermarket – and… standards. The second is because in recent days more than a handful of old people have allowed ME TO PASS BY THEM in aforementioned supermarket raids or during my “essential” exercise.

I may be paranoid, but I thought it was the over-seventies we were trying to protect (and I’m 54). So…looks like I’m not winning any “how to look great without make-up” competitions anytime soon.

COVID-19 is all fun and games until you start looking like your grandmother.

Admittedly, I’ve looked better. I’ve probably taken this short-term permission to live like a slob that step too far. Added to which, I’ve been suffering from a nasty attack of Rosacea that I’m praying hasn’t been triggered by the vast quantities of pink Gin I’m drinking for my anxiety.

But I suppose there was a certain inevitability about ageing prematurely during this pandemic, when you’re locked up in the house with your husband 24/7. After all, there’s only so much ice-chewing, golf-swinging, and farting you can witness before your body starts to revolt – as I alluded to at the bottom of my last post here.

I’m fortunate to have a son who consistently reminds me that anyone over thirty-five is ANCIENT, but I’ll be honest with you, I thought I looked okay for my age – hence my decision to drop any sort of beauty regime at the first opportunity which turned out to be this virus.

It’s not like I truly believed I was a walking advertisement for how to look good with no make-up, but I thought this new “surviving a pandemic” natural look gave me a Byron vibe. That was until the old man commented on how nice I looked the other day – the day I wore mascara for my last trip to Woollies.

‘What do you mean,’ I turned on him defensively.

‘I don’t know,’ he replied nervously. ‘You’ve got some nice colour to your cheeks.”

‘That would be my Rosacea,” I confirmed with a death stare.

Of course, NC would laugh out loud at my suggestion that I have any sort of beauty regime. If you call putting body lotion on your face at night a BEAUTY REGIME, I can hear her say. My daughter has always been appalled by my complete disregard for “products” and she still hasn’t stopped laughing about the time I used a brow pen as an eyeliner.

I miss my girl.

And in my defence, it doesn’t help that I can’t actually see the massive whiskers hanging from the corners of my mouth, the overgrown hedges over my eyes, and those orange blotches of rogue foundation that I can normally rely on her to wipe away in shame.

I won’t deny that my beauty standards have slipped to “Kathy Bates in Misery” level of late, which is why I’ve called Kurt in to my rescue. He keeps moaning about how we never do anything, so I thought I’d ramp up his Friday night and book him in for a plucking session in the bathroom tonight. I’m ignoring the fact that his latest experiment with his own mop is a Mohican that he’s threatening to dye platinum – mainly because it’s hard to care about anything very much right now other than the path of this bloody virus.

But if I do turn out looking like Lady Gaga in that scene from A Star Is Born when Bradley pulls off her stick-on brows, I promise to post a photo.

Let’s Stop Judging Ourselves By Our Bodies

I went on a girls night to the city last Friday night.

I’m ashamed to admit that it took me longer to get ready than usual because the outfit I had put together in my head that week looked crap when I put it on and I had a confidence crisis, which meant I had to go through every other outfit in my wardrobe until I came back to the original one.

Seriously, I thought that by this age I wouldn’t care how I look, but apparently, I’m not alone – all four of us “girls” that night had our own personal what-to-wear crisis before we met up.

Comments about fat thighs and dog jowls were bandied about, and sadly they’re not unusual. Honestly, anyone listening in on our conversation would have thought we were teenagers on the pull, not a group of middle-aged women praying we’d be home in bed by 10pm at the latest.

Who has done this to us? Who or what has driven a giant bulldozer through the confidence of women when it comes to their bodies? Because you’d think that by your fifties we’d have accepted ourselves for who and what we are, wouldn’t you? And that when we tell our daughters that it’s what’s inside that counts, we’d really mean it?

Sadly, our problem is pretty universal. Check out The Bikini Rant below:

I need to take her advice. I mean it’s highly unlikely I’ll ever wear a bikini again in public, but why do I still care so much about how my body looks at this stage of my life? Who do I want to impress? I should be proud of it. It’s been a reliable vessel to two children, a ton of junk food and a veritable Tardis when it comes to Chardonnay.

And it’s not like the old man ever worries about what his bum looks like.

This week I listened to one of Yumi Stynes fantastic podcasts from her Ladies, We Need To Talk series – during which she discussed this very issue.

Yumi mentions the importance of us having some self-compassion when we think about our bodies. She asks if we would say to our friends what we say to ourselves when we look in the mirror?

Like ‘Shit, Lou! You’d be quite pretty if you didn’t have those three chins!’

But of course, we wouldn’t, because a) It would be rude and hurtful, b) It doesn’t matter, and c) there’s probably nothing that I can do about them even if I really cared.

So, whose standards of beauty are we trying to live up to and judging ourselves by – because they’re not universal standards. Countries such as Mauritania, Tonga and even Fiji embrace a little extra weight in women.

No, they are magazine and social media standards – hello, Instagram – that push men and women to to attain impossible standards of perfection. In the same way that porn influences men to believe that women should be hairless down below, some of them now see a women’s size 6 as the norm.

Kim Kardashian has launched a new range of shapewear called “Solutionware” – a name which has the ‘built-in implication that there is a problem’, according to India Knight of The Times. And Kim’s range isn’t targeting mid-lifers like my friends and I, who are showing the normal wear and tear signs of ageing, they are aimed at our daughters.

Which is why we have to demand better role models for women and our girls. We don’t want our kids fawning over Love Island and Bachelor wannabees; we want them inspired by “real” women – true heroines, whose success isn’t derived from their looks, but from their magnanimity, their intellect and talents. Women such as Ashleigh Barty, Nakkia Lui, Malala Yousafzai, Lady Gaga, Jacinda Ardern or Tiera Guinn, to name but a few.

Historically, women have been prized for their looks and ‘valued for their sexuality’ (Darcy Steinke), because we used to live in a man’s world. But not any more. However, if we are to be taken seriously as equals, we need to value ourselves so much more.

Arty-Fartiness And A Celebration Of The Naked Female Form

image4One of the best parts about this stage of life is having the time, finally, to concentrate on what we love doing; the ability to explore new avenues and discover new passions. And if you’re not one of ‘those that can’, it’s just as pleasurable to appreciate the passionate endeavors of others, stand in their shade, and lap up their success.

I was invited to view an art exhibition the other night. Three female artists (Jane Park, Laurie McKern, and Petra Pinn), and one male artist, Evert Ploeg (whose work is represented at the National Portrait Gallery in Canberra), get together weekly, on Monday Nights, (hence the name of the exhibition), to paint the naked female form. The exhibition included framed pieces, canvases as well as sketches of their experimentation and exploration of the process.

Those of us that can’t draw or paint stood back and secretly wept with envy at the talent on display by the four artists, who had not only depicted the female form in all its glory and strength but had also created an intimate backdrop for the event, with a distinctly South Amercian flavor. As Jose strummed Spanish music on his guitar in the background and a gorgeous life model lit up a makeshift stage – in top hat and garters, and very little else – it was difficult not to imagine yourself in nineteenth-century Valencia.

Sadly, my purse doesn’t stretch to the price tag of real art (that’s the problem with being married to a tightarse/heathen), yet something else stopped me from my typical impulse buy compulsions, and it bothered me. image2

I identified it as I ummed and ahhed over whether it was appropriate for me to approach the young model to ask for her photo. Stupidly, I worried that she might think I was some seedy older woman about to exploit her, in much the same way how I sensed the old man might feel if any one of the images of strong, semi-naked females appeared on a wall at home.

Like many men, he’s not as comfortable with the naked female form, or indeed femininity, as perhaps he should be for a man of his age.

Many men associate imagery of naked women with sex, porn and desire and some struggle not to objectify it. It is an attitude that we need to change if we are to alter the culture of the abuse of women and domestic violence, and perhaps by making art such as this more accessible, we can change that attitude. Another way – of which I am a staunch supporter – is by getting more penises on the screen and in the media, and ahem, fewer under boardroom tables.

image1As a side note, my friend and I were reassured to spot the preponderance of lush female bush in the depictions of the younger models – a sign (we hope) that this ridiculous concept of shaving everything off down below is finally demode.

‘Perhaps that’s because the models are South American?’ she queried.

‘But isn’t that where the Brazilian originated,’ I asked her, confused.

Of course, shaving off your bush is every woman’s choice and thereby wholeheartedly approved of by feminists such as myself; the only caveat being that women are doing for their own reasons rather than for men who struggle with the distinction between real life and porn.

image3

This piece, by Jane Park (Instagram page is at Janeparkart.com), was my favorite of the evening – possibly because it reminded me of how I look in the morning – and I seriously contemplated buying it to hang over our bed to terrify the old man. Had I been brave enough, I am certain that it would have forced him into the spare room, once and for all.