How to Act Your Age and Other Ideals of Should

beautyideals11Who defines how one should ‘act their age’ or what one should be doing at a particular age?’ For instance, who or what decrees that, when we are 40, 50, 60 and beyond, a woman ‘should’ dress, behave, be, or not be sexual or sexually attractive, as in fuckable?

Russell Crowe’s recent “Act your age” comments in the December 2014 Australian Women’s Weekly, have stirred up the whole idea of ‘appropriate roles and behaviours for — and I hate this expression – ‘women of a certain age.’ While Crowe’s comments were about how actresses should go after age-appropriate roles and stop wanting to play the ingénue (which actresses would do if there were age-appropriate roles for them to play), his remarks highlight the confusion, the mixed messages over all the ‘shoulding’ when it comes to being a middle-aged or older female. Over a month later Crowe’s remarks are still generating a buzz. There’s more buzz to add his his buzz, because women over 40 — Laura Dern, Julianne Moore, Patricia Arquette, and, of course, Meryl Streep — have all been nominated for Academy Awards, so amazeballs  that Hollywood has noticed, right?

Sort of.

What do I mean by shoulding? I mean those acts and behaviours, and expected roles for women, such as maiden, which is THE ROLE Hollywood embraces and clings to for portraying Ideal2females, as well as wife, mother, and the cougar, the old crone, the old hag, the crazy old lady — those stereotyped, secondary or bit-part sexless roles that Hollywood sets aside for older women. When you look at the big picture, there aren’t really a lot of those cardboard cut-out roles.

And, Russell, that’s what all the fuss is about and why it’s a big deal that stories have been told with mature women as central characters.

Shoulding. If you are a female you are expected to age gracefully, only as you age, be sure you don’t let yourself go. However, if you attempt to keep fit know you may be ridiculed for trying to stay in shape, and whatever you do, don’t look old, but don’t be mutton dressed as lamb either because miniskirts look bad on old sheep. We know there is a cult of youth wrapped up in the ‘achieving a perfect, ideal beauty, ‘but the picture of ‘ideal beauty’ changes over time, or sometimes circles ‘round again. If you haven’t noticed, big bushy eyebrows from the ‘80s are suddenly back in vogue. It’s best to remember, once you are over 40, keep your eyebrows tidy and let your beauty shine from within; have a great personality. If you don’t have a great personality, then you better cultivate one.

beauty1Does beauty, true beauty, comes from the inside? I’m inclined to say yes, as a shitty personality sure can make a person look quite ugly. If beauty does come from the inside, then perhaps that’s something that could be embraced, and taught, and reinforced, as DC Baxter suggests in January 7, 2015 The Federalist. Girls and boys could be instructed about seeing inner beauty in others, especially since there is far too much emphasis placed on outward appearance, which fosters the shallowness in our culture. Humans, on a biological level, are programed to find symmetry, clear skin, and good teeth attractive in others, as it indicates, at least on a surface level, that the individual is disease-free and no threat to anyone’s safety. The programming makes sense, yet that clear-skinned, disease-free caveman with all his teeth and straight nose, might have had an asshole personality. Maybe then inner beauty is ‘ideal beauty.’ Or maybe it’s really a combination of inner and outer beauty that makes for what’s ‘ideal.’ Yet the combination is problematic, both are double-edged swords suggesting that older, as in wrinkles and sagging bits are ugly, that outer beauty is impossible once things begin to show any sign of age, which is treated as a disease, and who wants to fuck a diseased person?

In the December 7, 2014 Sunday Times, Camille Paglia says that an older woman is “measuring herself against an impossible youthful ideal.” Her case in point is Madonna and her recent topless photos spread in Interview Magazine, which downgrades feminism and pits the younger women against older women in a struggle for power. Paglia likes to talk about power and exerting power, but I find her argument a little muddy. For me, fifty-six-year-old Madonna, in her decision to have topless photos taken, is exerting her power (as Madonna always has), as a woman and as a sexual being—because middle aged women are desiring and desirous sexual Beauty3beings. I do not see Madonna as measuring herself against an ‘impossible youthful ideal.’ Madonna is simply defining what she wants to be, how she wants to be seen, and presenting that there CAN be a new middle-aged ‘fuckable’ ideal. She is not acting like a younger woman; she is recognising her power and embracing her inner beauty by being herself, something she has always garnered criticism for throughout her career.

You know, if you look closely, kids, Madonna’s Interview topless photo isn’t topless at all, unless you count that her top is a top with boobs on it.

So back to ‘ideal beauty.’ Despite there being so many differing versions of what is ‘ideal,’ why is there a misconception that ‘ideal’ is only applicable to younger, that keeping fit, and wanting to look attractive at any age over 40 is somehow impossible, and anyone who does their best to maintain what one has is therefore a delusional, inappropriate, mutton-dressed-as lamb who’s not acting her age? Why is a middle-aged woman, like Madonna, acting in these powerful ways a target for ridicule and disdain? Why must a woman, middle-aged or older, keep her focus on her inner beauty alone? What the hell does ‘acting your age’ mean anyway?

I have my own ideal for myself, and that’s how I wield my power. I’m a smartassed grown up and I’m gonna run, keep fit, wear mini skirts and short dresses until my knees look like shit. I DECIDE when my knees look like shit, not you, Russell Crowe, Camille Paglia or anyone else.

And that’s acting my age.

2 thoughts on “How to Act Your Age and Other Ideals of Should

  1. Fully with you there, Sandra. Mentally, I don’t feel particularly any different than what I did when I was 25. I’m still me, not some old, staid version of me and I’m going to keep doing the things I want to do because I don’t need somebody else’s opinion telling me what I should be like at this age. I don’t want to be an age, I just want to be me.

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