Baby Boom or Bust? Why Demographics Concerning Women Suck

I was reading Dorothy Sander’s article on the Huffington Post yesterday, and I found myself wanting to stand up and cheer.

Her words speak to one of my most profound concerns – the drama of a woman’s self-esteem tied to appearance, and our diminishing sense of self as we age.

But Dorothy does more than address the midlife crowd. She speaks to all women, and to our conditioning to “keep up appearances” in so many ways. 

She points out the waste, the terrible waste, of our time and energies, not to mention our dollars.

It’s time we change the conversation – not only the women, but the men who love us, who live with us, who work with us. And the parents as well, who do not wish to raise another generation of women who are more concerned with how their bodies look than health or well-being.

I quote from the article:

If you are living, breathing and female, chances are you know there is a war going on in the hearts, minds and souls of women of all ages. We are doing battle with what we perceive to be society’s demands, external expectations and opinions of who we are and how we should look.

Think that’s not the case?

We have only to consider our female obsession with the physical form that all too often siphons off experiencing life.

We have only to consider the onslaught of state-specific legislation, that continues to attempt to dictate a woman’s right to own her body.

We have only to look in our personal mirrors, give voice to the pleasure or the pain – honestly – and recognize that some days are good, some days are bad, and we have far to go in accepting both as part of an ever-changing landscape of life events, evolving self, and consequently, a “new normal.”

Baby Boomers, Doing It All (Doing Ourselves In)

Yet Dorothy’s article is about so much more – a demographic – my demographic – Second Wave Baby Boomers, and even Gen X. We are women who cling to youth with every fiber in our beings. We are encouraged by media (and Pharma) to do so, as they feed the fear frenzy with Anti-Aging products and services. They encourage and use the terror we feel – the powerlessness – of losing our “youth.”

Dorothy writes:

We’ve spent years facing a daunting array of expectations that taught us to look outside ourselves for the answers. In our desire to achieve, we allowed ourselves, knowingly and unknowingly, to be pulled and prodded by these subtle cultural directives. We could only “have it all” if we valued certain things, behaved in certain ways; if we had the “right” haircut, the appropriate dress, the right degrees, the perfect career…

That “do it all” and “have it all?”

It’s virtually impossible. We aren’t made to do it all and have it all - on our own.

The Necessity of Community

Human beings are social creatures. We need each other. We’re made for communities.

We are designed with varying skills and capacities, and in my opinion, do best when we work together to share them. My preferred communities include men and women, children and the elderly, all of us caring for each other while acknowledging our differences.

Let’s be real. We take turns at being young, at living our prime, at aging, and eventually yielding our place on the planet.

Of course we want to enjoy as much as we can for as long as we can! But aren’t we making it harder for ourselves? Why can’t I enjoy looking great for a 50-year old woman, and more importantly – feeling well and contributing? Why can’t I admit that I suffer from aches and pains, can’t physically accomplish what I could at 20, and both are offset by tons of experience to offer to those who are younger?

And by the way, I’m still learning constantly from those who are older – as well as my own kids.

Demographics Don’t Tell the Whole Story

I continue to comb through the reasons for this phenomenon  – for women in the 45 to 65 age group (roughly) – who feel so trapped, so panicked, so compelled to compete on appearances that we feel we must hang on to taut skin at all cost, perky breasts though we risk our health to implant them, and the image of who we were 10 or 20 or more years ago.

I don’t believe this is a simple story. The reasons cannot be viewed in a vacuum. We’re competing for jobs. We’re competing for men. We’re struggling in a society where health care is inaccessible or unaffordable, where jobs are out-of-reach, where men continue to cast a wider net when it comes to potential mates in the “after market.”

There’s no one sector to “blame,” though there are plenty who profit – and profit is not the same as benefit.

I believe there are benefits to self-care at every age. I also believe there are benefits to feeling like we look good. But both of these concepts are different from fighting and denying what is a natural and inevitable process, if we’re lucky enough to live a long life.

And weren’t we – the Boomers – the ones who fought so hard in the 60s and 70s to take center stage, ready to change the world? Weren’t we the ones who insisted on the power of the Youth Culture? As we nudged our elders off the stage, why are  we so unwilling to at least accept sharing the stage with those who are younger?

Our Children, Our Selves

Perhaps, as the conversation suggests, there may be millions of women – and men – who simply go about their business of doing, building, nurturing, loving, striving, struggling, collaborating, and contributing – without concerning themselves with a furrowed brow or a wickedly widening waist.

But are they a silent majority or a silent minority? Are their demographics relevant, or should we be speaking of aging, of appearances, of substance – to all our women, regardless of age?

And shouldn’t we be discussing these issues with our growing children?

  • Why should we be raising our daughters to live in fear of not being pretty? To fear every future wrinkle or sun spot?
  • Why should we be raising our daughters to feel as though they aren’t “enough” if their appearance doesn’t conform to some unachievable standard of perfection?
  • Why must we model our own obsessions with a turned-up nose, a plumped up lip, gargantuan breasts, or the desirability of appearing perpetually 30?

For that matter, I don’t want my sons to believe there is only a single standard for their appearance or the women they may choose as friends or loved ones. Nor do I wish for them to dismiss their elders as soon as the gray and wrinkles appear.

The Drama of Demographics

According to Investopedia, demographics – the study of factors such as age, sex, race, education, and income – serve a variety of functions:

Demographics are used by governments, corporations and non-government organizations to learn more about a population’s characteristics for many purposes, including policy development and economic market research.

It seems we are so busy slicing and dicing our population (for marketing purposes, and eventually the surgeon’s knife?) that we are isolating the various segments that would do better – from a societal standpoint, to find common ground. More than common ground – to band together in cohesive communities. 

Of course the needs of a woman at 50-something or 60-something are likely to be different from those of a 25-year old, but in specific ways, and not so globally as marketing might suggest.

We all benefit from educating ourselves on healthy ways to eat. We all benefit from realistic expectations of combining active parenting with contributing economically. We all benefit from learning relationship skills necessary to connect with our partners according to our value systems.

The young benefit from the knowledge and perspective and stories of those who are older, and we benefit from their idealism, their energy, their new ideas.

Anti Anti-Aging

I’ve gone on my own warpath when it comes to anti-aging trends, which doesn’t mean that I don’t enjoy feeling good and looking my best. On the contrary. I’ve said it before – I take pride in my femininity. I enjoy my sexuality. I love the flirtations inherent in being an intellectually and sensually engaged woman.

I love my liner and my gloss, Vixen on my nails, and Chanel between my breasts. This is for me.

Yet none of these products define me. Nor do I dwell on the younger self I once was; there’s too much “now,” and I hope, a good deal still ahead.

Please read Dorothy’s article now, if you haven’t already. It’s a message for every woman. It’s a message for all of us.



© D. A. Wolf

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Comments

  1. Love this…just last night I saw a commercial that stirred my YOUTH juices. The quint-essential italian young woman – short skirt, endless tan legs, sexy sandals – on the back of a moped. There she was, long dark hair blowing carelessly in the breeze (no helmet of course) while she wrapped her arms tightly around the quint-essential italian stallion driver. My heart did skip a beat as I realized I will never be the girl in that ad, or on the back of a moped clinging to a jaw-dropping 20 something. For about 3 seconds I bemoaned that I am getting older and imagining certain things are still possible for me…getting more difficult. Then almost as quickly I remembered last summer when my husband and I helped each other layer on our safety gear. Each of us fighting claustrophobia, we laughed hysterically as we tried to swing our terribly restricted, but safe selves onto the seat or his new motorcycle. I wrapped my arms around his generous middle and off we went. We rode together for hours…helmets cracking into one another, yelling joyful expletives at the top of our lungs. Then I realized I could still be that girl on the back of a motorbike, but it would probably be an ad in AARP.

    • BigLittleWolf says:

      Delicious! An ad for AARP! Let’s hear it for that, Kristine. (And don’t forget – Antonio Banderas was featured in a recent issue of their magazine. I’d say we aren’t in bad company, all things considered… ) ;)

  2. Jane Fonda is still sexy as can be. So is Meryl Streep. Susan Sarandon. Demi Moore is approaching the age when she could be attractive, if she would just stop starving herself. (Note – I don’t know if I have supported your argument or painted myself as part of the dominating culture, but my intentions are good. Trust me…… :^). All of them seem to be about, either intrinsically or overtly, just being themselves, which of course is the source of the appeal.

    I was having a conversation with a woman (very attractive in her own right) whose husband had left her for a younger woman. My question was “What do they have in common to talk about” and of course her response was that it wasn’t about talk. There are people who can appreciate what every person has to offer, we just have to find them.

    • BigLittleWolf says:

      It’s an interesting discussion, Robert. And I’m glad you joined in. The “appearance” issues don’t only affect women. They impact men indirectly, but also I believe, in different ways.

      As to Jane Fonda, I believe she has had some “work” though as long as she espouses health and well-being, I’m all for it. And frankly, I agree she looks great. I’ve been a Sarandon fan for years, and Meryl Streep is another one who is extraordinary. If either has had a touch here or there, they have done so in ways that are subtle, not horrifying.

      I believe a woman’s body and what she does with it is her choice, but my concern is the culture that once relegated nips and tucks to the very rich or those over a certain age now undermines women who allow themselves to age gracefully – ie, naturally. It also encourages our younger women (and men) to expect body image and appearance to be something that isn’t natural for most of us. That’s a problem. A big problem.

      And what is “aging naturally” to one may not be, to another. I color my gray. I feel better because I do. And I won’t deny that I feel more attractive as a result, which makes me livelier, more confident, more likely to take good care of myself, more likely to participate actively in the world.

      But we have become a nation so obsessed with surface over substance that it is frightening. Not only our physical appearance, but the appearance of success – in relationships, in business, even in our parenting. We need to retool, to refocus, to realize that trappings aren’t the person. As you say, we need to find the people who will appreciate others for who they are. But we, as women, need to value ourselves for who we are first.

  3. “…women in the 45 to 65 age group (roughly) – who feel so trapped, so panicked, so compelled to compete on appearances…”

    Did I miss the vote? Did somebody forget to ask me my opinion? If I wanted a 20 year old or a 30 year old, I would chase a 20 year old or 30 year old. (And probably make an ass of myself.) However, I’m not.

    Turn off the television, set Cosmo aside and forget the youth market targeted by all the major companies. Some of us are quite content with our age and our peer group. Of course, on the other side of the coin, women of the ages you mention above would have quite a bit to offer to a man who is, let’s say ten to fifteen years her junior. If today’s world is a world of youth, maybe the answer is: if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. The world is our oyster. (Wikipedia: Aphrodisiac foods and herbs)

    • BigLittleWolf says:

      Mr. Belle, As always, your perspective is enlightening. (I should be chasing 35 year olds, or better yet, allowing them to chase me? I dare say, that has happened on the other side of l’Atlantique, but only once, in earnest, in These Here Parts.)

      However, upon hitting your link, I find much appeal in the idea of “cow cod soup” as an aphrodisiac, particular as it is Jamaican and I can only assume that one trip to Jamaica would be required to test it out… As for the item which appears 3 bullets below, I believe I’ll pass. And in the meantime, I’ll skip the Cosmo (damn), and pluck up my D. H. Lawrence or Camus instead.

  4. I spent at least a decade (a decade!) worrying about the way I looked, complete with a borderline eating disorder and terrible self-esteem. Now, at 34, I’m finally at a place where I can say, “Screw it. I am who I am, and I’m absolutely comfortable with that.” Are there things I would change? Of course. Are there habits I want to break? Sure. But I wake up every day, and I’m generally happy with who I am and what I look like. Honestly, my biggest effort now is saving my daughter that decade of worry and helping her be comfortable in her own skin, as she is, today, tomorrow, 50 years from now. Every day, it’s a more daunting and crucial challenge.

    • BigLittleWolf says:

      I’m curious, Stacia. Have you found it easier in Europe? I always did. Even now – 3 decades later, when I return to Europe – I feel so much more comfortable in my skin.

      By the way, you might find this of interest, which I just came across on Style List – rather than putting ourselves down (which we do without realizing), it’s an exercise in stating our positives – and with a worthwhile contribution made in the process! (Stop by and see.)

  5. Do you think part of the reason behind the anti -aging movement is because Gen x was/is such a powerful entity behind the feminist movement? That maybe letting go – and aging naturally – breeds fear that all the change that occurred will somehow regress? If so, the fear seems legitimate.

    • BigLittleWolf says:

      You mean the Baby Boomers, Amber? (born 1946 to 1964) I do think it is, in part, from the mindset of being change agents, of being young and part of pushing on doors to make them open. And yes, perhaps being unwilling to accept sharing the stage or even moving over.

      And we already have regressed – at least in my opinion, if you look at the spate of proposed and enacted legislation that is against women having control over their own reproductive decisions. But I think it’s more complex than that. It’s the legacy of divorce (which we were part of) – but in more complicated ways than the obvious, including the fact that there was no infrastructure to support women with one foot in the home and one in the workplace.

      It’s the economy. It’s Big Business – or rather – many sectors of big business, selling what we want to hear – “the hope of eternal youth.” We may not be the first generation to desire it, but before the Recession, certain sectors had access to what they thought it would be (nip, tuck, fill, etc.), and the Boomers, Gen X, and Gen Y are certainly noisy generations, amplified by media and technology.

      It’s health care advances and also medical / surgical advances that are now marketed as more routine than (I believe) they ought to be. For example, cosmetic surgery for reconstructive purposes or “serious” deviations that deeply affect the lives of individuals? (I know. Who gets to decide what’s “serious?”)

      Not a simple one truth answer, Amber. Just like the many other social and political ills that are part of contemporary life. With one difference. We can say no – with our behaviors and choices, by opening our mouths and putting away our wallets. Or rather, using our wallets toward other ends.

  6. Reading your post this came immediately to mind:

    When I am an old woman I shall wear purple
    With a red hat which doesn’t go, and doesn’t suit me.
    And I shall spend my pension on brandy and summer gloves
    And satin sandals, and say we’ve no money for butter.
    I shall sit down on the pavement when I’m tired
    And gobble up samples in shops and press alarm bells
    And run my stick along the public railings
    And make up for the sobriety of my youth.
    I shall go out in my slippers in the rain
    And pick the flowers in other people’s gardens
    And learn to spit

    You can wear terrible shirts and grow more fat
    And eat three pounds of sausages at a go
    Or only bread and pickle for a week
    And hoard pens and pencils and beermats and things in boxes

    But now we must have clothes that keep us dry
    And pay our rent and not swear in the street
    And set a good example for the children.
    We must have friends to dinner and read the papers.

    But maybe I ought to practice a little now?
    So people who know me are not too shocked and surprised
    When suddenly I am old, and start to wear purple.

    Taken from the book
    When I Am An Old Woman I Shall Wear Purple
    Editd by Sandra Martz
    Papier Mache Press–Watsonville, California 1987

  7. Oh BLW! There is so much juicy stuff here today!

    We aren’t made to do it all and have it all – on our own.
    I totally agree. We’re created for relationships…not to live in a vacuum. And in that community mindset lies the support and encouragement women need to achieve and be everything they want to be. But sometimes I wonder if women aren’t their own worst enemy (i.e. fashion magazines where the feminine physique is totally unrealistic and perpetuates low esteem regardless of age.)

    …none of these products define me.
    I believe there’s nothing sexier than a strong, confident woman. One who embraces her sexuality and femininity but doesn’t flaunt it or use it as a power base.

    Nor do I dwell on the younger self I once was; there’s too much “now,” and I hope, a good deal still ahead.
    This is such a fabulous way of looking at the issue. There’s no point in wishing the clock to be turned backwards. When we do, we waste what precious time we have left to be a blessing to others before we leave.
    Wonderful post today (as always) ;-)

    • BigLittleWolf says:

      And there’s so much juicy stuff in your comment, Lisa. I wanted to mull it over and come back. So here I am. Here we are – in this “middle place” in life, making certain adjustments and refusing to make others, constricting our self-image in some ways (unnecessarily?) and expanding it in others (as the poem Gale provides alludes to, there’s something freeing in growing older). And yet we live in a culture that isolates, and we who are / were the Boomers set some of that in motion (unknowingly), in my opinion, as there was no infrastructure to accommodate the sweeping social changes that we ignited with so much idealism in the 60s and 70s.

      There’s so much still to do, to build, to fix, to rethink. All the more reason that this generation – mine – is so frustrated when we find ourselves unable to do so, to contribute in the marketplace. We need our communities in place of isolation, and recognition that interdependence isn’t weakness. On the contrary, it’s strength.

  8. As much as I miss the energy and sexiness of youth, I would never change the wisdom of experience to get it back. I’m trying to age gracefully…that said, I admit I do color my hair! Point is, I’m not trying to look like I’m less than half my age, but I do try to work with what I have and accept what it. I ignore the media and do what feels good to me. I no longer set myself to the standards of other. I also do not let a set of scales dictate my life (I did that in my past) I go by the way my clothes fit and how my body feels. I think there is much sexiness in our generation…maybe I’ve redefined my standards as I’ve aged or maybe I’ve just become appreciative of life stages.

    • BigLittleWolf says:

      “Trying to work with what I have” – yes.

      I think we’re plenty sexy, too. The dilemma is finding men who think so, when bombarded with so many images (and pressure) to be seen with the trophy size-and-shape-and-age.

      I believe the “Good Men” will eventually find the “Good Women.” But it’s hard out there – being single in midlife or older. It’s very very hard.

  9. I’ve been thinking about this – on aging, on being a woman, on getting to a certain age. I am not there yet, but my mom is a good model for accepting, even reveling, in her aging body. At nearly 70, that is no mean feat. However, she, like her mother before her, got a bit lost in those later middle years. Having pursued passions, both changed direction, unsure of where to go or who to be. Neither of their work lives had simple or clear ladders to ‘the top’. Maybe it would be different if there were? I’m not sure there is a road map for success as an older woman. And looks are something we can feel sure about. It’s more solid and clear to the world then our other changing attributes.

    That said, I adore silvery hair. (even the couple that are mine) I see my smile lines as hard won trophies of life lived.

    • BigLittleWolf says:

      Love this comment, Kate. Yes, these “middle years” are so odd. I had a conversation with someone today – an interesting, perspective-gaining conversation, and he clearly thought I was his age. How we feel, how we look, how we reorient – who we have to turn to and share with during these years – as with other transitions, all of that is important.

      A bit lost, yes. But then – as you indicate – sometimes that helps, as in your mother’s case, to another place, to acceptance, to, I hope, something good.

      Thank you so much for adding to the conversation.

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