How 40-something years of female objectification leads to the creation of a beautiful bubble.
"How old are you?" asks a handsome fellow at a party, who has been admiring me with smiling eyes.
"I am 38," I answer, wondering why I said that lie, and why I broke my promise to myself -- no, my declaration to the world! -- that I made only five, maybe six years ago, that I would never, ever lie about my age. Saying I am three years younger than my actual age has actually made me feel old. And when he tells me that he is 36, I feel worse. Now I am a lying, "past it" married woman, trying to conceal her age in order to feel liked and accepted by a younger man. Cringe.
I don't always lie, however. In fact, most of the time I stick to my promise and (with a somewhat forced sense of pride) state the truth. Yet even when I do, it never feels as satisfying as it should. This is probably because I know how society regards women at different ages, and also because I know how my own body and mind have changed over the decades, sometimes beyond my own expectations.
The older a woman becomes, the less empowered she feels, at least on some level. Most women my age that I know, still feel as though they are in their 20s. What lets us down is our physical appearance, the hard evidence -- regardless of expensive creams, flawless makeup and beautiful clothes we try out -- that we are not, indeed 20-somethings. In fact, as 40-somethings, we are only going to grow older, and even less "worth" respecting/admiring/caring about to our world.
According to the gushingly broad and widespread mentality on our planet, it matters little that by 30-something or 40-something the majority of women may have accomplished an inordinate number of feats, discovered their true inner self, or developed singular skills, hands-on knowledge and an individual synthesis of wisdom to help make the world a better, more functional place -- if only they were given the chance to be of use as they'd like, rather than being faced with a closing door that could lead them to positive and new beginnings.
You see, as a woman ages, her naturally fresh, taut, glowing skin begins to wrinkle, sag and dull. Her bright, expressive eyes become smaller and less brilliant. Her body, even if in her mind, throughout her life, was never perfect, begins to betray her even more -- it takes on directions, dimensions and textures that she cannot herself fathom, sometimes overnight. Her overall energy and hope and sense of enablement begins to wane -- perhaps due to the experiences she's had, the "reality" she's discovered about life and herself within its context, the heartbreaks, her diet, her long hours at work, the miraculous yet physically overhauling process of pregnancy and birth and much more.
In her 20s and up to her early 30s, a healthy woman can't help but walk tall, she is fuelled by her youthful energy, her natural stamina. But as time passes, what once came naturally starts to become an effort, and if she's not up to trying -- either because of sheer exhaustion, lack of time, or because of a budding low self esteem -- she won't, she will start to give up and watch herself age at higher and higher speeds.
It is not surprising when a woman begins to give up, considering there are so many messages about a female's value within our various societies, and most of them are stiflingly, blaringly negative. When I finally decided I was ready to stop being the completely carefree child star in my life and ready to become a parent, in my late 30s, I was inundated by such messages. By now, women and men alike (but mainly women, I am loth to admit) said, having a child was risky, dangerous, volatile process for "a woman of my age." This approach felt obnoxious to me. I mean, I can fully comprehend the basic facts about human physiology, but I also believe that fear mongering runs rife in our world on every strata of our existence, and that the biggest wave it rides on before crashing onto the shore of consciousness, is ignorant, fanatical generalisation.
I also am a firm believer of the concept that what we fear will more likely manifest if we hold onto the said fear and dwell on it, something like when one is working obsessively to realize a goal. While on the opposite scale, if we recognize our fear and trace its roots, decide to let it go and consciously choose take on life with hope, excitement, a tender heart and confidence, we are more probable to succeed (and enjoy the process of what we're aiming at, instead of stumbling through it like a blind, injured, victim trundling through an endless tunnel). So I ran out the office of a gynaecologist with 20 Harvard and other officious framed degrees on his wall, who was around 68 years old (and as a man, of course his age bolstered his authority), a doctor who mumbled in yawn-inducing medical jargon to me that I would need to undergo at least six types of complex and expensive tests to establish whether I was even fertile or able to conceive, who spelled out plan A, B and C, who killed my enthusiasm and filled me with negative ideas about becoming a mother.
As I fled the office of The Prophet Of Doom, I had no idea that I was already three weeks pregnant. When I discovered the happy news I found a female gynaecologist who practised traditional medicine but also used holistic techniques and who never once, throughout almost 10 months of a fortunately pleasant pregnancy, mentioned my age or the 'relative dangers' associated with it. I had regular scans and we were in close contact (in Greece we see our gyno at least once a month), plus I had already heard them from anyone who could pipe in with their pop-knowledge, old wives tales and media-induced wisdom, so I didn't need any more scaring, thank you very much. Being 39 and pregnant was not at all frightening to me, because I was fortunate enough to be healthy, and furthermore I embraced and trusted my body, intuition, life experience and doctor. As I watched my figure grow and change in complete awe, I focused on eating well, resting lots, doing enjoyable things, meditating and looking forward with great excitement to one day cuddling the being who began as a dream and was forming into a complete tiny human. I never once felt old, I felt vibrant and wholesome, mighty and phenomenal, and absolutely refused to superimpose the staid social ideas about age on myself.
Now, as the mother of a 15 month old boy, there are days when I feel really old. In those brief moments when I feel I can't get out of bed in the morning, or can't run around the park chasing a ball, or when I think I look fine but catch a glimpse of my face in the mirror and see bags under my eyes, unruly hair, a not-so-flat tummy, I feel horrible, as if I have let myself down. This, despite knowing deep down that my aged looks come down to tiredness, and that if I were taking my beloved yoga class every other day, eating more fresh fruit and vegetables rather than just coming up with cunning ways to feed them to my son, having a little more fun, indulging in long massages once in a while and so on, it would definitely show in my looks.
On those days when I allow my horrifying Virgoan judgement shove me into a stinky corner, and feel rotten about myself, I have to remind myself that for God's sake, I'm a mother, my body is still trying to click back into place, I'm sleeping three to four disrupted hours every night and hardly rest at all throughout the day as I tidy up, cook, keep up a cheerful, patient, positive and loving attitude for my baby's sake, write and edit my blog, meet my work assignments, stay in touch with friends, family and work contacts, keep it together. Above all, I am very, very grateful for what is in my life, for where I'm at, for my overall health and freedom! Does it really matter that I don't look like a top model? Don't most of those models and actresses who look amazing three weeks after giving birth reach that quest by killing themselves working out, starving, having lymphatic massages, good genes, six nannies, an on site energy healer and being photo shopped anyway?
At the end of the average day I lie on the sofa with my husband eating a healthy meal I've had the unbelievable motivation to whip up from scratch and sipping a big glass of velvety red wine, and we put on a TV show to relax and let our brains run on white noise. And there it often is -- some kind of corrosive, demeaning commentary in the form of a direct joke, or image, or innuendo -- about women my age. The message is: women over 40 are of lesser use to our world; they are generally past it, sad, desperate, stale (like the TV housewives both real and fictional but based on reality), and should have to prove themselves, or at least get a tight butt, flat abs, a job as a kickass detective or be the puppet master behind a giant empire. And despite if they prove successful in their work, or have brought children into this world that they are doing their best to raise well, or offer to the world in any other way, they still pretty much deserve to be the object of derision because they can no longer be 'young' and are no longer sex objects.
The (patriarchal) social diatribe concludes with the following theory: When they were young, women's value was based on their capabilities, but not without those capacities being directly and tightly bound, like a broken leg tied up with the healthy one straight after an injury, with their firmer breasts, their younger eyes, shiner hair, smoother skin, more easy going, cheekier, easier to manipulate or mold, naiveté.
Tina Fey's frumpy but hilarious character Liz Lemon from 30 Rock was a fantastic parody of the female-oriented ageism cult, and there are some more noteworthy protagonists, but definitely not enough. When you see so few women in leading positions in politics, media and science, and when the women you do see everywhere are unnaturally beautiful, as in distorted by plastic surgery and still unable to conceal their dulled, disappointed gaze, that's nothing but an obvious sign.
My main point of exasperation is what I already hinted above -- that it is later in life that each of us, men and women both, finally establish who we are and what we can offer to the world, and yet it is exactly at that point that we are spurned from doing so. Job openings, competitions, film roles, powerful positions, are few and far between, and often require a woman does something to distort her true self in order to get them.
For me, the way out is to remain very much connected to the word at large, but to also have created my own rainbow colored bubble, that I can happily step into at will and enjoy the true beauty of life beyond idiotic ideologies propagated by corporations and institutions that prey on our vulnerabilities in order to keep cashing in. Is that good enough? It has to be, because perhaps in future generations will look back at our times and scoff at how backwards and shallow we still were when we thought we were knowledgeable and progressive, but for now all I can do is write a blog about it.