Saturday, November 17, 2007

Why This Youth Obsession?

Crabby Old lady (aka Ronni Bennett) recently posted an article on TGB where she takes Oprah Winfrey to task for the implicit promotion of youth-obsession and age-denial on her eponymous show.

Crabby says,

“That Oprah incessantly harps on youth and beauty is even more unforgivable in light of her enormous cultural clout. Imagine how elders’ lives could be changed, how age discrimination could be reduced or even eliminated, how elders would gain in respect of society if Oprah would get over her obsession with youth and accept aging as the normal and remarkable stage of life it is.”

I’m so glad Crabby wrote this because it’s bothered me for years that Oprah’s vision of women has so much to do with their outward appearance. It’s been niggling away at my brain ever since I saw one of Oprah’s "makeover" shows.

She arranged makeovers of a number of women, including older women (older meaning fifty-ish, so not very old) by colouring their hair (gotta get rid of those pesky grey strands) and dressing them “younger” and “thinner”. There was also some feel-good talk about wanting the women's inner beauty reflected in their outward appearance and that they deserved and owed it to themselves to look better.

Yeah, yeah, I get the whole thing about self-esteem. If you don't feel good about yourself, then you won't have confidence, and if you don't have confidence, then you can't fulfill your potential of all that you can be, . . . . yada, yada, yada. That's not the part I disliked.

It was the insidious and unrelenting message that looking younger equals looking better that really bugged me. The oohs and aahs after the makeovers were invariably about how much younger and/or thinner the women looked. Rather superficial of Oprah for someone who allegedly has loftier ideals.

I have no problem with helping people update wardrobes, improving makeup application and looking their best. Everyone wants to feel attractive. But does looking attractive always mean looking younger? Give me a break! What about a white-haired octogenarian with deep wrinkles and weathered skin? It shows a life fully lived and far more attractive – to me – than a fifty year old with paralyzed face muscles and skin so tight that it looks like a mask. Our definition of beauty has become so skewed and narrow that it would be laughable if it weren't so pathetic.

We are the age we are. To borrow from the military, just be the best you can be whatever your age. My grandmother died at ninety-seven and I thought she looked fabulous – just not young.

People need to get over their continuous obsessing about looking and being younger. It drives perfectly sane women into doing insane things to their bodies. Women are injecting, scraping, peeling, lifting, sucking and enhancing at a younger and younger age. It’s not unusual for women in their twenties to start botox injections. If it continues at this rate, women will spend the last fifty years of their lives trying futilely to run backwards on the treadmill that is time.

I’m curious to see what the current crop of botoxing, nip-tuckers will look like in twenty years. If Joan Rivers is any indication, they’ll be caricatures of their twenty to thirty-something selves – but with oh, so smooth, skin. Is this to be the norm?

It’s like the scenario of a science-fiction movie. There is no such thing as growing old: You’re born. You start preservation and rejuvenation treatments. You die when the silicone and plastic won’t hold together anymore.

I’m an aging boomer who has no illusions about lasting forever or looking twenty or thirty again. Nor, for that matter, do I want to. I like the spirit behind the Diane Keaton ad where she says she wants to age “authentically”. Me too. No nip-tucks or botox for this gal.

As for Oprah’s part in all this youth-obsession, I tend to agree with one of the comments on Ronni’s blog. Oprah is as much a victim of our youth and beauty-obsessed culture as anyone else. No more, no less. But I echo Cranky Old Lady’s sentiment, it would be nice if she grew up and got over it.


turtle said...

Hi Ell,
Thanks for your posts.
I agree with you. People now are so concerned about how they look and how to stop time (which really cannot be stopped). I am a vitiligo patient. I am glad to read encouraging blogs. Thanks a lot. Quoted you in my tumblr account, hope it is okay.
in its nov 27 entry.

ell said...

Hello, penumbra.

I don't mind you quoting me at all. I'm glad you stopped by and took the time to leave a comment.