When I was 16 years old, I bagged groceries in our local supermarket. One of our most talked-about customers was a woman named Mrs. Longstreet. A former small-time cruise ship dancer and mother of one of my classmates, Mrs. Longstreet always looked like she was ready for Vegas. Sporting a rhinestone top and hot pants, her feet barely fitting into her glittering, impractical heels, she'd embark on her Saturday morning shopping trip. As this Suburban Gypsy Rose Lee strutted down the frozen food aisle for her big number, her flesh sagged like a flag at half-mast. Looking like a container of Pillsbury Biscuits ready to pop out of her attire, Mrs. Longstreet had platinum blonde hair and makeup so heavy that there was a question of whether or not human skin still existed. Jayne Mansfield was losing her head again.
My fellow bagger, a kid by the name of Jake whispered, "What's wrong with her? She's like 50. Doesn't she own a mirror?"
While the tale of Mrs. Longstreet is comical, it is also tragic. Her depressingly low self-image was on display for the entire town to see. However, she speaks to a larger truth. It's the Myth of the Supremacy of Youth. Women receive images from both society and the media that younger is better. Also, with the male midlife crisis as a real threat, women are apt to blame their waning looks rather than the character defects of a cheating partner. That being said, many fear that if they lose their so called looks, they will have nothing else. This fear can be seen in the Mrs. Longstreets on a more ridiculous scale, many women fall victim. Some lie about their age. Others change their hair style. And then there are those who opt for plastic surgery, fixing the outside and ignoring the hole in their soul on the inside.
My mother was a woman who taught my sister and I that we could be beautiful, successful, and confident no matter how old or young we were. A child of the Second Wave of Feminism, she preached the importance of athletics, education, and career goals. She told us if we concentrated on staying fit, learning, and furthering our job opportunities, we would never have an age identity crisis. In her sixties, my mother is not only physically fit herself, but teaches group exercise to people of all ages and is currently writing a book. Equally as inspiring was Nunni Pat, my maternal grandmother. Defying the myth of Supremacy of Youth, she received her Bachelor's Degree in her fifties, after raising six children. A decade later, Nunni began writing poetry. When she passed away at 86, she had published over a dozen times. Gifted with an open, buoyant spirit, she sought adventure in all phases of her life.
Hollywood sells the lie to young women that their late teens and early twenties are supposed to be the best times of their lives. They portray it as an era where we are chased by horn dog men who unfortunately are misunderstood, and yet have hearts of gold. Truth, it was the worst time of my life. At 19, I was living away from home for the first time attending NYU. My teachers told me to challenge the perceptions of feminine expression in the media, but I just wanted a boyfriend because I never had one. Then I accidentally forgot to close my blinds while changing, and the opposite side of the dorm saw my granny panties. As if that didn't make me want to die, the lessons when it came to dudes did. I got an invite by one to watch a movie in his room, I thought that's what we were doing, oops. Another time I drunk dialed a guy I was hot for to tell him I loved him, big mistake. I can laugh because it is over, and no, I don't want a repeat. If you want that time in your life back you are insane.
When I was 26, the fear of aging hit me. Yes, I was still young, but 30 was inching closer and closer like a malevolent phantom. Then I remembered many of my childhood heroes had not peaked as girls, but as women. Mae West took over Hollywood in her forties, trumping her younger competition. Cyndi Lauper and Debbie Harry didn't top the pop charts until their thirties, still outlasting their twenty-something contemporaries. Kristin Wiig and Amy Poehler hit it big in their thirties as well, proving to be not only comedic geniuses, but lynchpin cast members of SNL. All these women are successful and beautiful because they shine from within, therefore reflecting their essence to the rest of the world. Also, they are being true to themselves, and therefore numerical age is just a number. Like my mother and grandmother, they taught me that time is a gift, not a detriment, to a woman.
While my late teens and early twenties proved chaotic, I have enjoyed my latter twenties quite a bit. I don't feel the need to wear cringe-worthy clothing masquerading as sexy, nor do I look like a drag queen did my makeup before going out. While some of my bucket list has not come true yet, I have other dreams happening in ways I had never imagined. As an added bonus, I am also in the best shape of my life. Because I know who I am and can laugh at myself, I have more men pursuing me now than when I was 19 and my wardrobe was so reckless it needed an ambulance. Bonus, I can stand on my own with or without a partner.
Each year I get better, stronger, and more beautiful. Age is not a limitation or a label but rather just a number. Take that, Supremacy of Youth.