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Thursday, 15 June 2006

On Wearing Shorts, Aging, and Beauty
Topic: Body Image

A few weeks ago when the subject of wearing shorts came up, someone quoted Oprah as having said that no woman over 40 should ever wear shorts. At the time, I expressed my vehement opposition to that opinion, ending with something to the effect that Oprah and the fashion police could kiss my asparagus, I was wearing shorts in hot weather.

Now, that should have been the end of it. But it's been gnawing at me since then. When I was trying on shorts at the store, when I was rubbing fake tan on my legs, when I was deciding between the longer or shorter shorts, it would come back to me, "Oprah said..." and I'd get irritated all over again. So this morning when I was shaving my thighs in preparation for wearing shorts, I tried to work out why I couldn't just let it go, and I think I've figured it out.

It's this whole idea that youth is more beautiful than age. Who says so? Well, "everybody." Our concepts of beauty are arbitrary and culturally-driven, but so pervasive that it's easy to forget that they differ in other societies and in other eras. We think it's the TRUTH, the way it IS. But when I think of how much wiser, steadier, more insightful, self-confident, and capable I am now than I was when I was in my 20's, it doesn't seem to me that my age is something I should want to hide. I think we've got this one upside-down. I think that young people should be dying their hair gray, wearing false bifocal lines in their glasses, and painting blue lines on their legs and age spots on their hands, to look more like us.

What's really awful is that this cultural adulation of youth is so pervasive that we older people believe it ourselves. We think the signs of age are ugly and try to hide them. It reminds me painfully of the way that before the "Black is Beautiful" campaign of the '60's, many African-Americans had so internalized the idea that Caucasian looks were more attractive that they straightened their hair and tried to bleach their skin with lightening creams. I think we need an "Age is Attractive" campaign, so that we can begin to see our wrinkles as badges of honor to take pride in, not something shameful to erase with botox injections.

Personally, I see many older faces that I think are indeed beautiful, and I often wish I were I sculptor so that I could capture that beauty. If I were a sculptor, my statues would be of old faces filled with character, not of callow, vacuous youth. So I think it's tragic when someone who wields such influence as Oprah Winfrey does, and who is herself over 40, perpetuates the idea that their is something inherently so ugly about the aging body that we should be ashamed to show our legs.

I will go on wearing my shorts and work on overcoming the cultural concepts of beauty that I have internalized which tell me my blue-veined, baggy-skinned legs are ugly. Power to the old people!

Posted by whaledancer at 1:37 PM PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Monday, 26 June 2006 2:00 PM PDT

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