Just as younger people are hit with a barrage of negativity in the media about bodies that don’t fit the thin paradigm, we older people are also constantly bombarded with an onslaught of advertising urging us to do whatever we can to look younger than we actually are, regardless of our age.
“Up to 10 years younger in just four weeks”, “ageless”, “fight deep wrinkles for plumped, youthful skin” and “visibly younger looking skin starts here”. Suggestive promises, every one. And they often come with a typically not very realistic visual: smiling, smooth-faced models – sometimes too young to even know what wrinkles are – and ghoulish and unconvincing before and afters.
And then there was this one: “Your lines. Your right to reverse them…”
So many ads for products and services alluding to this idea of turning back the clock in some way or another fill the pages of popular women’s magazines that we all read – some, religiously. And if it’s not that, it’s feature articles in the beauty section headlined “Rediscover your radiance” or some other variation of the same message. As if growing old is not a great achievement and one worth flaunting. But it is. And it’s all 100% natural – unlike all those lotions and potions.
So what is one to do? Submit to the anti-ageing hype, or fight it? When you consider the persuasiveness with which anti-ageing product purveyors put their case – and increasingly for men as well as consistently for women – submission would be the easiest response. But I am becoming increasingly outspoken about the alternative option, and it’s something I’m very passionate about.
So when I was reading the February edition of the Australian Women’s Weekly recently and one of the cover stories was all about learning to love your body, whatever shape it is, it got my attention. Featuring 40-year-old Taryn Brumfitt, who has been described variously as an “Australian body image activist” and a “body positive activist”, it tells the story of how she “decided to challenge social media with what was then a radical Facebook post”.
It continues: “Subverting the classic ‘before and after’ shots of ‘unhappy fat girls’ and ‘new skinny self’, she posted before and after shots of her body-builder physique and the more relaxed self she’d set free after a change of heart. The post went viral…and changed her life.”
According to her and other experts, the key to changing one’s attitude is to reject the advertising spin about our bodies. That, and “connect with how our bodies actually feel”.
For Brumfitt, this involved rethinking how she felt about her own body, from criticising parts that she wasn’t happy with (such as “tuckshop arms and drooping breast”) to appreciating all that it has and continues to do.
Regardless of age, this is a notion we should all subscribe to.
Inspired by her story, I wrote a letter to the Women’s Weekly, and the first part of it was published in the following month’s magazine. I wrote:
Perhaps the most powerful message in “The shape of things” (AWW, February) came from Taryn Brumfitt, when she said “I’m so grateful to my body for all the things it allows me to do. I’ve gone from hating it to loving it.” Those many of us who are gifted with a normal body are far too prone to take it for granted, and not realise what a miracle it is.
Consider the complexity of a car, and how – in almost no time at all – it keeps on breaking down in so many ways, until it ends up in the junkyard after 20-30 years. In the meantime, this amazing body of ours – with its maze of bones, veins, nerves digestive system and all the rest, all working in unison within our marvellously flexible skin – can keep on going, with for the most part just some minor repairs from time to time, for decade after decade, often now into our 80s and beyond with longevity kicking in.
As a 76-year-old woman, not only do I think we need to also consider the second paragraph, but that is only part of what I believe we need to work on as older people when it comes to thinking about our bodies. Especially when you consider that 60-plus is the fastest growing age group in Australia.
And this is not just for us, but for generations to come.
Because, really, the question boils down to how do we want to live this life? Should we flaunt the age that we’ve reached and the body that has brought us here, or cringingly try to keep up with the youth culture by camouflaging that body with lotions and potions and cosmetic surgery?
For my part, starting now, I certainly plan to be part of a movement that encourages older people to love and appreciate and look after and nurture our old bodies, rather than pouring money into the coffers of the cosmetics industries. I’ve earned my laugh lines and my wrinkles (and I would rather have them than pimples).
I certainly plan to be part of a movement that encourages older people to love and appreciate and look after and nurture our old bodies.
Grey is great. And I love the fact that my grandson likes playing with my soft upper arms. I’m glad that my body continues to do what I want it to do. And in return I care for it with a range of daily exercises and a reasonably nutritious diet (that definitely includes occasional treats and indulgences – because if not now then when, really?).
Isn’t it about time we wore our skin with pride? And focused on its many amazing and positive qualities, rather than purely the visual? We are lucky enough to be living at a time when we have the know-how to live longer and healthier than ever before in human history. Now, that is something to celebrate and make the most of.
Thankfully, with age comes the wisdom to know better than to fall for the unrealistic hype that would have us believe otherwise. After all, we can’t all look like Helen Mirren. The important thing about this fabulous time machine that we’re in is to appreciate it, and to like what we see in its well worn state, grateful for all that we’ve seen and done as its passenger.