Monday 31 March 2014

Aging for Men Vs Women: the scary truth

Pierce Brosnan. 'Nuff said.
My friend Bob writes a column called ‘Guyside’ on a blog that is primarily about women in the menopause years. He provides a male perspective on aging, and I really enjoy his posts. He wrote one last week that threw me off, though, and it took me a while to understand why.

Bob talked about male body image in relation to aging. I found myself sneering as I read his heartfelt words. I figured my far-from-menopausal cycle was affecting the portion of my brain responsible for empathy (this really does happen to me), but upon further consideration, here’s what I came to realize:

I don’t see how men have self-worth issues as they age.

As a man gets older, he may lose muscle tone or hair, but there’s no expectation for him to cover these things up with makeup, dye, and the elusive ‘flattering’ outfit. Indeed, men perfected the suit hundreds of years ago, and never looked back. The only real change to the perfect male look seems to be the width of ties and the length of facial hair. Men of every age seem to have women who will happily date them. Not so for women. Why? Because as men age, they gain other ‘gold stars’ in life: a career, professional honors, possessions, emotional maturity, and stability. Oh, and of course, there’s a desirable mature male aesthetic as well: the ‘Silver Fox’ look.

Meanwhile, as a woman ages, she hits her glass ceiling at work, realizes her salary won’t ever match those of her male colleagues, sees that she’s lost momentum during her time raising kids and/or caring for elderly parents, has been accused of losing her emotional wherewithal through the menopausal process, and is never considered as ‘stable’ as a man, financially or mentally.

Yes, this is a generalization. Bear with me; we’re looking at a broad issue here.

David Duchovny. This is his headshot from a list called
"Foxy over 50". I'm telling you, a woman in a tee with
no makeup in this lighting would never get the
same positive attention. But his look is attainable
for an average guy: tee, hair cut, stubble,
and some pushups.

This is how older women are 'sold' to us: perfect lighting,
airbrushing, professional photographer. If Diane had been
caught in that same scene with David above, it NEVER
would have been used as her 'Foxy over 50' picture.
Worth noting: the list of Foxy 50+'s was all men; I haven't
seen a list that long of 'foxy' mature women. Can you think
of 50 women revered for their looks once they're over 50? I can't.
Few of us will look like
Claire Underwood (Wright)
as we age.
As I was thinking about the issue of male aging, I realized that I could reassure Bob with many examples of Silver Foxes who show that aging can be incredibly sexy, inside and out, for a man. Pierce Brosnan, George Clooney, Denzel Washington, Hugh Grant, Colin Firth, and what seems to be every Baldwin man…these are all examples of men who just seem to improve with age. But when I tried to reassure myself with similar images of older women, I could think of virtually none. Ellen Degeneres? Sure, though I see her as a bit of a one-off. Helen Mirin? Okay, if you want to set yourself up for impossible self-expectations…because the chances of your ‘Change of Life’ leaving you shaped like Mirin is about as likely as Gerard Butler showing up on my doorstep, today, and begging to marry me.

I waited a minute to see if it would happen. It did not.

The reality is, even outside of the celebrity world, I have a hard time picturing what the female equivalent of a Silver Fox would be. We just don’t esteem mature women the way we do men. This is a bit terrifying now that I’ve realized it, because I have a much better understanding now of why there is a gap in my mental projection of myself: I can picture myself at 35 (cute hair, tall boots with a skirt, heading into an important meeting before I take off to my afternoon yoga class), and I can picture myself at 70 (crazy silver dreadlocks, arts-and-crafted house with a wild medicinal organic garden, running a workshop in a small town where I upcycle vintage furniture), but I have no idea what I look like for the 25 years in the middle.

So while I can understand Bob (and other men’s) fears of aging, I think they’ve got a lot more examples out there showing them that aging men are still a desirable and productive part of our culture. Meanwhile, the closest thing I’ve got to a real-life role model for my 50’s is a handful of ex-supervisors wearing uncomfortable polyester pantsuits, sporting that standard puffy short haircut, wearing coordinated jewellery sets, and catering to male bosses’ whims by spending their lunch hours seeking out the right Keurig cups.

I think you’ll be fine, Bob. But you’ve certainly got me worried now.


  1. Emma Thompson, all the way. Love her, adore her. Julianne Moore. Jodie Foster. Helen Hunt. Helen Mirren (big crush), Meryl Streep, Annette Bening, Michelle Pfeiffer and the list goes on and on. I think they're stunning, they have awesome careers and I can also see myself also identifying with some of those women who are in their mid forties right now.

    And IRL, I have a friend who just hit the 'big' 5-0 and man is she awesome. She's witty, loves theatre like it's nobody's business, she likes funky jewellery, dresses up or down depending on the occasion she's lead an interesting life (I've known her for a decade now) and I hope that when I reach fifty I'm just as awesome as she is.

    And then there's my mom. Lates fifties, she's blossomed over the last ten years. Got her motorbike license, 'kicked' her three kids out of the house, managed to fix her marriage (her and my dad almost divorced at some point), she plays piano, she's managing her career with an iron fist (she's a geriatric doctor who has her own practice and visits her patients at home) and she's already planing her retirement and all the good stuff that'll come with it. She keeps in shape and bikes and walks the family dogs every day and she's all over awesome. I think she's done pretty good for herself, all things considered. :)

  2. Oh, not Hugh Grant. NO. Not him. Anyone else.

    On a more serious note, I am really happy that something I wrote poked you in the brain enough to make you write this thoughtful post, because your perspective broadens mine. Isn't all this about learning, anyway?



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