Wednesday, May 6, 2009

What Does it Mean to be 44?

As anyone who lives anywhere near Los Angeles is painfully aware, you are not allowed to get old here. You must wear the same tight jeans as your daughter, look the same from the back, and if possible, only appear about 10 years older than she (if she's around 13 or 14)from the front. Now of course, that isn't easy, but that's why we have Dr. Ourian at the Beverly Hills Surgical Center, who champions the famous 60 minute facial re-do that will take off all those unwanted years. Get rid of that divorce, that bankruptcy, husbands' infidelities, kids who disappoint you, friends and relatives who die or abandon you; all that leaves traces on your face: those sunken eyes, saggy chin skin, soft jaw line, wrinkles around your eyes, oh the horror . . .

Don't let anyone know that you have lived longer than college, that you have experienced loss and failure, that you have parented a child or children, that you see history repeat itself and then repeat itself again. Here, in this part of the world, we want you new and shiny. We don't like experience in women; that makes them "cougars" and "bitches", and we all know how--in the end--a 44 year old will always lose to a 20-something on reality TV; and reality TV is the driving force that defines our culture, our, well, "reality". Never mind that there is nothing further from real than those canned, cheap shows that pretend to tell us who we are and what we care about.

So it is with a certain obvious bitterness that I start my 44th year (or do I start my 45th?). I don't feel that a particular age "belongs" to me, but everything around me is more than willing to assign me to a category. Is this the year I stop fighting, or do I give in and visit the posh offices of Dr. Ourian? I am not above it all, not able to simply say, "yes, I'm middle aged, and I'm proud!" Middle-aged women are not the object of desire in our culture unless it's a joke or a fetish. I'm just not ready to give up youth and desirability in the name of some nebulous "maturity" that seeks to define me through our twisted lens of what's "appropriate" for our age.

As a culture, we are very leery of a woman my age. We are not old enough to be written off as crones or grandmas, stripped of our sexuality. We are not young enough to be considered "hot" and worthy of pursuit. We inhabit a gray area, too smart and experienced to play the naive little thing that everyone wants to bed, too aware of ourselves and conscious of the gender wars to be the airhead, the starlet, America's sweetheart, or any other role that demands a lack of worldly experience along with a willingness to be the sex toy of any persuasive young man. I am not saying that I desperately want to be the airhead or the starlet, nor am I affirming my interest in young men bedding me; I don't want my sexuality defined by my age, whether I'm 24 or 44. In fact, I don't want the media--who utterly controls our culture in So Cal--to define the parameters for desirability in general. Judy Dench is sexy as "M" in the Bond movies. If people find that funny, uncomfortable or disgusting, then that shows to what extent we have all bought into the myth of youth=desire.

So where do we fit in? We don't. We need to stop asking the question. I don't think L.A. culture knows what to do with the woman of a "certain age"; it tries to convince us to plump up or faces, erase our wrinkles and tone our asses in the hopes that perhaps we can play the 20-something just a little bit longer; then, when we hit 50, it's truly all over and we can start playing the grandma or the bitch; you choose. In any case, the message is: you make us uncomfortable, so either disappear or pretend you're 20 years younger. We'll play along, but at some point, we'll have to dispose of you or ignore you completely.

You understand.


Frosty said...

I'm not a Madonna fan, but I think she's doing a pretty good job of redefining everything you just wrote about. Also, I think Helen Mirren is one of the sexiest women alive. True sex appeal, true beauty has nothing to do with age and everything to do with who you are. Even the media gets that.

Kitty said...

OK, but I just wanted to vent some bitterness. I feel much better now! And thank you for posting that great pic of Ms. Mirren!!

Anonymous said...

Happy Birthday! maybe you need to get out of LA. someplace where your mind is valued more than your looks. like Berkeley. why not, what have you got to lose? you hate ure superiors, you're not living up to ure full capacity, ure favorite hobby is the paranormal. why not???

Luke said...

I will never wear the same jeans as my daughter. I leave the reasons why as an exercise for the reader.

Also: I think Susan Sarandon is hotter than Helen Mirren, but that may be my ageism: Sarandon is 15 months younger than Mirren.

Scrumpi-D said...

It is not easy being green, when pink is the preferred color. Remember being 3? did you even bother looking in the mirror back then before hitting the door? did you care if you puddle whomped and your pants were wet to the knees? not if you were still warm!

I suppose one doesn't have to be happy with the who you are. But as you ARE most wonderful, embrace that, if you wake up feeling like you are four, embrace that, play there if only until it's time to teach... or play some more!