Monday, May 17, 2010

When did “older” become a bad word?


We at OWL are often told that we should get a new name. In 1980 when OWL was founded, it was called The Older Women’s League. As years passed, the name was changed to OWL, the voice of midlife and older women. But, even with that change, women objected to being called older – lots of women, and not only those in their 40s, but also those in their 50s, 60s, and 70s.

When did we decide we didn’t want to look good, we wanted to look young? Why would we spend money and risk infection to stretch a wrinkle off our faces? Why do we want to deny the years we have lived? Who has made us ashamed?

I am reminded of a society that convinced African-Americans that their hair should be straight and their skin should be lighter to be attractive. Or convinced gays and lesbians to be ashamed to come out of the closet.

It is time we pushed back. Older women need the equivalent of a “Black is Beautiful” campaign or a Gay Pride Day. It is time 50, 60, and 70 year-old women stood up and said, “Take a look. This is what “older” looks like and I like it!” No more pretending we are something we are not. No more trying to go back in time to the “good-young-days” which probably weren’t that great anyway.

Fifty is older! Face it. There is nothing wrong with being older. In fact there is a lot to say for it. You have probably accomplished quite a bit through your work, raising a family, helping your community, etc. You have collected experiences that have made you wiser, whether you acknowledge it or not. And you probably have a better sense of what is important to you. All this is because you are OLDER.

But changing our perceptions of being “older” is not something we can do alone nor is it just an individual decision. We are all affected by societal images and our culture. For older women to be free to say we are older we need to join together, stand up to the media, come out together, and show our pride in who we are.

3 comments:

Viana said...

Hi Ellen,

Here's my two cents worth;

I find the article bringing up the thought that those of (us) who are older want our image changed. Is it we don't want to be the next in line to be extinguished from the face of the earth or is it we want the rest of the world to view us as we see ourselves inside and not necessarily physically? I find myself reminding myself on different occasions that (this is my new normal).

In order to change the image of the world viewing older as better, you have to use the same workbook that those who brainwash most of us use. This is directed at the audience who are vulnerable to change by watching,reading or listening to public media. This is a force who holds the paint brush on the canvas to most of our lives.

You will need a cast willing to open up their everyday lives, the good, the bad, and the ugly (could be the name of the new OWL)to be viewed by the masses. Then you will need a director with a good sense of humor.They will have to put these things together to articulate the lives of the normal Joe (maybe Jane.)It will have come across as an appealing way to live with a desire to those watching to want to be like you...even if it is older than they are. Most of us are attracted in the media to those who are younger than us with the things we have lost through age or never had the guts to do ourselves. You would need to wet the appetite of the masses to aspire to the fact that, aging is the better alternative to not getting older....or something like that.... writing this reminds me that older also means more winded because I think someone may actually be listening to my opinion.

Donna said...

Yesterday in Maryland we had the Governor's Leadership in Aging event to honor elders and Older Americans Month. A terrific dance team from the Waxter Senior Center was the entertainment (and one of the award winners). This group put on a provocative,sexy and well choreographed show. One of the dancers wore her oxygen tank on her back color-coded to blend in with the black and white 1920's vintage outfits being worn. Another dancer used a cane to help him keep up the beat and the moves of the dance. All of them were proud of their talents, happy to be entertaining the several hundred people in the room and the Governor, and 'in your face' about their age, their zest for life, humor and enthusiasm. Old age wasn't slowing them down a bit. Their message "this is what old looks like -- and it looks good" was clear to everyone in the room.
These are the images that we need to confront the stereotypes of old. IF you got it, flaunt it as the saying goes.

Anonymous said...

Old = bad or wrong or not good enough or to be avoided.......

Just another off base attitude currently prevalent in our oh so intelligent and balanced society.

I could list dozens of other equally nutty ideas and I bet most of you could too.

I am 66 now, and frankly did not feel like I truly fit into my skin until I hit 60. But I was fortunate to have role models on my mothers side, and European family on my dad's side.

My maternal grandmother was the oldest of 9 girls. Her mom died in the influenza epidemic of 1918. She raised all of her eight sisters. Four married. And married or not, all of them lived into their ninties proudly enjoying each year and they were my heroines.

Not to mention my grandmother who had the gumption to actually have two of her own children (one my mom) after raising her eight sisters. She was indafatiguable! And she could do virtually anything. Hell, she could juggle three 20 yr olds with one hand while turning out beautiful clothing for me or cooking gourmet meals or you name it. God, I loved that woman! And she played a mean hand of poker.


So I looked up to the older women in my family. And I really wanted to be just like them.......OLDER!

As for WHEN older became a bad word, my husband's theory is that may have happened when gay fashion designers tried to make women look like adolescent boys (ie Twiggy) and ANYONE old was anathma. My gay friends tell me this is slanderous, but has a grain of truth in it.


My European family just says the bias against older "mature" women is part of the American preoccupation with infantile everything. Lack of sophistocation, lack of discrimination and lack of true intelligence. Who, they ask, would want an unseasoned little thing when they might have a scintilating and comfortable and TRULY beautiful mature woman. Not them. And not anyone with an ounce of sense.

Being older has brought such amazing freedom. I no longer have to endure the often annoying male testosterone runs that they seem conditioned to make at any woman younger enough to rate one.(and who knows whence their rating system derives?)

And I truly want to shake women who fear age and the changes it brings. Who botox and color and plastic themselves into caricatures of their youth. Look at Vanessa Redgrave. I just saw her in her last film. Totally her real age, and totally beautiful.

Truth and reality ARE beautiful. And when I am truthfully and really who I am, all 66 years of me, I am confident in myself. I am COMFORTABLE in myself. And THAT, is always beautiful. And if it isn't to some self deluded faction, well, I'm sticking with it.