I don’t want to make you “younger”
This morning I read that 17,000 people had signed up for Sadie Nardini’s latest course:
First, I like Sadie Nardini. She does Sadie. She’s a brilliant business person, she’s been asking good questions and being how she wants to be, whether people like it or not, for a lot longer than most people would have the tits to do. Good on her. This isn’t about her. This is about that, up there – that image and message, and everything that’s confusing about it.
Does “over 40” have to look like that?
Can women look like that outstandingly fit woman in the photo above? Of course. I mean, that is a real woman. I’ve been that woman, I know lots of women who work out constantly and watch what they eat and sculpt their lives around their fitness goals in order to maintain that kind of body. And I say GREAT. Anything that gets people moving, healthy and happy and isn’t causing harm is great in my books. So you go, Sadie. Congrats on a successful course that’s addressing a market. You go, badass model in that photo. I know exactly how hard it is to get a body like that, and I admire your dedication.
Here’s what I really want to talk about, though: Why do women want to be younger, toned, tightened, to “transform” our bodies? Really, though – why?
Let’s first parse out the idea of healthy movement and lifestyle from the deeper, more insidious issue here. Clearly, I support movement. I dedicate my life to encouraging people to move, be present, feel great, embrace life, take risks, play, learn, challenge themselves – you know, LIVE. Wanting to be healthy and happy is awesome.
It’s this push for “young” and “youthful” and “younger” that I’m over, and I think we all need to interrogate.
Why do women want to be “younger”? What does that mean? Where is that desire coming from, and how is it being fed?
I asked myself this question recently: What does it mean to want to be “younger”? Younger than what? I’m 41, and I’ve wasted a lot of energy the past few years anxiously watching laugh lines no longer disappear when I’m done laughing, or seeing my hard-earned toned butt get lost under increasingly ‘stretchier’ skin. All my life people have told me what they notice and value by saying things to me like, “You don’t look [my age]; you look way younger” (and they mean it as a compliment). For 20 years I’ve heard that and thought, “Oh WHEW. Good! That’s good.” And now I’m thinking, Is it, though? What happens now? Now that my wrinkles and my grey hair and my ‘relaxed’ skin are part of how I look. If I don’t look “younger”, then what?
It seems trivial, and in the face of most of the world’s problems it is of course. But women spend an exorbitant amount of time on this issue, and an even more money and energy chasing after this youthful ideal. For that reason alone it’s time we sat down and took a good, hard look at what this is about, what we’re doing, and how we can change our minds.
Why do women need to be younger?
There’s a male equivalent to this anxiety around youth in terms of virility, ability, strength. But a glance at photos of the Fortune 500 CEOs will tell you that being “youthful” and “looking young” aren’t priorities for men when it comes to their success, recognition, power, or ambition. When men are in shape past 30, it’s usually admired without being required.
But women? Well, don’t get me started on how a glance at the photos of the current Fortune 500 CEOs will reveal only 6.4% of them are women (and Fortune will tout that as an accomplishment, because it’s the highest number in the “63-year history of the Fortune 500.” Yay? But that is another post.). When women cease to be youthful, what happens? If you listen to the verbal drool of society, women who age “let themselves go” (blame), aren’t “taking care of themselves” (shame, blame), get fat, frumpy, lazy, past their prime, unattractive … all labels that might just encourage a woman to not want to do this aging thing. And what do we as women learn will happen when we cease to be youthful?
Well, I call bullshit.
On all of it.
Embracing Our Age
You know what “younger” is? Superficially, it’s an artificial, well-marketed opinion about what “beautiful” is: tight (usually white) skin, perky breasts, a toned ass, no belly fat, lots of energy for running around with flowing (usually blonde) long hair in the sunlight (which you are actually avoiding in real life, of course, because you want to keep all of the above and your beautiful wine-grape self will turn into a California raisin in that blistering sunlight). Youth is beautiful – apparently.
I recently tried a meditation technique where I was able to distance myself from this filter of alleged “beauty” standards. And you know what? All of that negativity around my own body WENT AWAY. I actually like my hands’ landscape. I like my strong legs wrapped in softer skin. I don’t actually care at all that the baby fat has left my face.
In fact, once I was able to see myself the way *I* see myself (and not how I’ve learned to scrutinize myself against this alleged “ideal” of “beauty and youth”), it seemed creepy to me that anyone would want to make me younger. It’s infantilizing, dismissive of my intelligence, and disrespectful to me as a human who has experience and value to bring to the table.
Why would I give a shit about someone who would rather evaluate the tone of my ass than the thoughts in my mind?
Why would I allow that kind of script to run in my own head?
Well, I don’t. Not anymore.
What would happen if you lost all of these alleged markers of “beauty” that come with youth? Think about it. Would your partner stop loving you? Then I’d suggest you’ve got some serious thinking to do about why your partner loves you, and how that’s going to go as you get older. Would you lose power? Then, love, you’ve got a problem because this is an investment with diminishing returns. You’re only going to get older. You’d better start thinking about your own power, how you attain it, whether you have it or it has you, and how you can change your relationship to it so you become empowered. Because if you only have power from your beauty – you’re in a very precarious position. If you say you’re “empowered” but you’re terrified of losing your youth, you aren’t empowered. You’re letting an external judgement rule your life.
What “youth” actually is
Women, hear me –
Youth is what you are when you don’t know anything. When you’re young you’re naive and innocent, easily influenced. You know – kind of dumb. Youth is when you’re full of enthusiasm and you think older men know shit and are fun and love to ‘help’ you! It’s when you’re trying to suss out your sexuality so you’re trying all kinds of dumbass shit to see what it feels like and what reaction it garners. You don’t feel powerful, so you’re easily intimidated. You don’t have power, so you want get close to it to learn it, learn from it, benefit from it, the way a child hugs the leg of an adult to feel their strength and safety. Youth is when you don’t have a good job, you don’t have YOUR career yet, you’re not yet taking care of yourself so you’re relying on banks for loans, credit cards, and sometimes other adults for lunch or rent or new shoes the way your parents took care of you as a child. Youth is when you think there’s something called a “free ride” that’s actually free.
It’s when you don’t yet know who you are, what value you can bring, or what the fuck you’re doing that’s got any meaning.
Youth is what you should grow out of in your twenties. Because it’s fun, for a while. It’s adorable, for a while. It’s an important learning phase, for a while.
And then it’s just infantilizing.
When society, when men want you to be “youthful”, what do you think they mean? Just “beautiful”? Well, that’s already troubling; why the fuck do they have the power to tell you how they want you to look? Fuck that. And youthful as a state of high energy? Sure, ok. Again, that’s really got more to do with being healthy. You can be any age and have great energy.
Beyond beauty, then, what does being “youthful” mean? It means you’re being valued for being devoid of thought or position or wisdom – you know, for being NICE and AGREEABLE and SWEET. You’re more “fun” when you leave the hard stuff up to big daddy and just giggle at his jokes and let him have his way with you. Relax, daddy’s in charge. Be sexy!! Be great in bed!! You’re beautiful when you let a man “be a man” and you expend your incredible, powerful energy on being thinner, cuter, quieter, sweeter, more helpful, supportive of his/their needs – on being less, on being there *for others* rather than fill your rightful space as ambitious, self-driven, powerful, and self-centred (you know – what men are encouraged to be and what we’re supposed to love them for yet despise in ourselves). You’re youthful when you don’t have your own agency, so you rely on (usually) a man to pay your bills and give you an allowance. Why get grey hair stressing about silly little finances, right? It’s all “too hard” for a little thing like me! Youth is when you’re expendable for the next young little thing.
Get older, as soon as possible, please
Consider what it is you really want, who it is you really want to be. And then I hope you begin to embrace your age, not in some kind of resignation but as a deeply-felt freedom and long-awaited relief. Free from the shackles of “youth”, you can finally say what you want to say, stand up for yourself, earn your own way, reclaim your inherent agency over your life, stop playing into the empty fantasies of people who are holding you – and themselves – back with regressive wishes and insecurities. You can finally be the hero, complete with all of the struggles and strength-building challenges that make heroes worthy. Finally, you can be comfortable in your own skin. And finally, you will like yourself, understand your value, and take up the space you’re entitled to in the world. You’ll be able to influence others in positive ways, as an empowered role model. People will love you for more than what you do for them. You will love you.
I for one can’t wait. I want you to be fully you. There are a lot of people in the world who long for you to stop trying to be something you’re increasingly not, to let go of this outdated way of being, and get on with being your fabulous self. I can’t wait to meet you – the real you.