Monday, 5 December 2011

Losing your looks

How withering it is to say of someone "Of course she's losing her looks." So many awful implications packed into one short sentence! So many sexist and ageist assumptions so blandly expressed!

What does it actually mean? First, that the person is no longer attractive or sexy and no longer so appealing to potential boyfriends or girlfriends, or their spouse. They'll be struggling to date anyone or stir their partner's passions.

Second, that your looks naturally change from a positive feature to a negative one as you age. As soon as a few wrinkles or a bit of sagging flesh appear, this can't be anything but a turn-off to other people.

Third, that you've lost something rather than gained something. You've been depleted, belittled, made less significant.

Fourth, that you've passed your peak and are now generally going downhill. You're declining, deteriorating, falling apart.

No wonder many women who're told they're losing their looks (or who think it as they gaze critically into the mirror) feel somewhat depressed and alarmed. With the battery of confidence-shattering assumptions the phrase conjures up, it's hardly surprising. They feel they're heading for a dismal future of being ignored and downgraded which they can do little about given the inevitability of the ageing process. The desperate rush to plastic surgeons for a make-over is grotesque.

And how unfair that men are much less likely to be damned with the same phrase. It seems men don't so much lose their looks as become more distinguished and venerable, or even charmingly avuncular. Even if there's hair sprouting from every orifice, they have a pot belly the size of a cauldron and skin like a farmtrack, nobody seems to notice and criticism is strangely muffled.

How refreshing it would be if people were seen as changing their looks rather than losing them, and if a much-wrinkled face was considered no worse or better than a wrinkle-free one. How uplifting if wrinkles were seen as a sign of wisdom and experience and not as some sort of personal disability. How heartening if taut-skinned teenagers weren't so absurdly over-rated and idolised and were given their proper value in the scheme of things.

And pigs might fly.

34 comments:

Macy said...

I haven't heard this phrase for years!
Shouldn't there be a new phrase for when a celeb's face is mutating depending on the skill of their plastic surgeon?

Wisewebwoman said...

As I say always, Nick, follow the money. The culture of ageism is alive and well with the cosmetic and plastic surgery division along with Big Pharma.
Everyone is afraid of growing old when in times past it was seen as honourable and wise.
Middle-aged women are sold a crock of shyte and they're more fools to believe it.
We only have to look at the runway models to see what the ideal is that no one can measure up to.
XO
WWW

Nick said...

Macy - Mutating is the word. Sometimes someone's face changes so much you can't recognise them at all. It's like they've been taken over by an alien.

www - Middle-aged women often look fabulous but they're told they have a hundred things wrong with them. So the cosmetics companies and the plastic surgeons can make a fortune putting it all right.

blackwatertown said...

I agree with you on the changing rather than deteriorating. Some people grow into themselves.

But even worse and more concise than your "Of course she's losing her looks" comment is the single word "considering".

Hasn't he done well. Considering.

Isn't she looking lovely. Considering.

Nick said...

Blackwater - Very true. "She still looks pretty good for 65." Which just means, she isn't a complete wreck and she's still passably attractive from a distance.

Eryl said...

I rather like this going downhill, so much less exhausting.

secret agent woman said...

It is sad, and it isn't just the media/cosmetics industry's fault. I think we've all been sold a bill of goods and have also been actively participated in helping sell it to ourselves. That women (especially) are more valuable young. It's discouraging.

John Myste said...

My mother, 75, tells me how good looking Pernell Roberts "used to be," meaning when he was young.

He probably was, before he lost those looks and found some that were not as cosmetically pleasing.

This is not agism, per se, but observation.

A new car is more pleasing to look at than a tattered one.

Baino said...

Good points Nick. Sadly I doubt things will change. Still I'd rather look the way I do than go to extremes o change it. Worked hard for those 'laugh lines' I did!

Nick said...

Eryl - I can imagine it is. The pressure on young women to look supermodel-perfect is absurd.

Secret Agent - Indeed, everyone's guilty for this warped perspective, even one's friends and relatives (sometimes especially them).

Nick said...

John - A tattered car may not be so pleasing to look at but it still does the job. You don't just stick it in the garage and forget about it.

Baino - Absolutely, they're not wrinkles, they're laugh lines. And even better, the lines of hard experience that have taught you some valuable lessons.

nursemyra said...

I like to think I'm growing into the face I deserve

Nick said...

Myra - I hope not. It might be a ghastly face, to reflect all those dubious things you've done! How about Vanessa Redgrave's face? Intelligent, wise, humorous. What more do you want?

looby said...

Doesn't bother me. I'm 47 and I had a year and a half recently of spending some time with a woman ten years older than myself where I fancied her so much we'd sometimes abandon the meals we had cooked for each other to go upstairs first. It was absolutely great and although it went Pete Tong, I still have to bite my lip and control myself if I bump into her in a pub.

I like middle-aged and older women - they tend to be more confident in themselves (and in sex) and there's none of this crappy girly "romantic" money-orientated rubbish that younger women try to drag you down with once they've got you into bed. You can just make up a relationship.

Rummuser said...

Being 68, widower and male, I guess that what I look for in women is different than what a much younger man would. On the other hand, women looking for men, would find me an odd choice too! The key word to use should indeed be "different" rather than better or worse, but our culture will have nothing to do with it.

Nick said...

Looby - I heartily agree with you on the second paragraph. Not that I've dated any young girls recently but older women have exactly the qualities you mention. And so much precious experience of life that the young haven't yet accumulated.

Ramana - Indeed, the culture is rampantly biased towards nubile, pouting nymphettes. Anyone else is a bit dodgy.

John Myste said...

John - A tattered car may not be so pleasing to look at but it still does the job. You don't just stick it in the garage and forget about it.

I get a new car at some point. As things get older, they tend to wear out. No offense to older things. I love my wife. As she ages, I will still want to keep her, I think.

If I were suddenly single, I would look for the best maintained model I could find, though. I would not look for an old Chevy.

It is unfortunate that things decay as they age. I am doing it also, believe me.

Hopefully years of learning and experience and adaptation to the human condition compensate.

Nick said...

John - I guess comparing a person with a car is not very helpful. We need a better metaphor. As for the best maintained model, a lot of older people are better maintained than youngsters who chain-smoke and binge-drink.

John Myste said...

Nick,

You just compared broken down young people to well-preserved older people.

I intended to compare well-maintained young people to well-maintained older people.

I would never shop for a broken down young person.

heartinsanfrancisco said...

This whole phenomenon does not exist to the same degree, if at all, in many tribal cultures which treat their elders with reverence and treasure them for their wisdom.

I can certainly see changes in my appearance since I was young, but find them rather interesting. As for plastic surgery, I would rather look old than deformed.

kylie said...

i keep stopping here and not knowing quite what i want to say....

i have just passed my 20th wedding annniversary and been looking at pictures of the bride i was. it's interesting that i was a beautiful young woman and didnt think so but now i'm middle aged i think i'm quite attractive. and modest :)

John Myste said...

Kylie,

We need some pictures. This teaser just won't do.

Nick said...

John - I wouldn't shop for a broken-down young person either. I was only saying that young people are not necessarily in better shape than their elders.

Heart - As you say, many tribal cultures have a more civilised attitude to physical appearance and don't see youth (or youthful opinions) as some sort of holy grail.

Nick said...

Kylie - Of course you're attractive, most middle-aged people are. Just in a different way to the over-valued "freshness" of youth.

Scarlet Blue said...

I'm half blind, so everyone looks pretty good if I take off my glasses...even me.
As I've gotten older I've found myself being genuinely attracted by personality rather than looks... but considering how biology works, this makes sense, i.e My body is no longer surging with reproductive hormones!
Sx

Nick said...

Scarlet - My vision's pretty poor too. As you say, everyone looks good when you can't see the detail! I'm not sure about this theory that we're attracted to each other by fertility. I think there's a lot more to it than that. And anyway, how does that apply to gay men and women?

Scarlet Blue said...

Dunno, I can only go by my own experience!
Sx

Nick said...

Scarlet - I envisage a long line of guys doing their best to deal with your surging hormones....

Scarlet Blue said...

Ha! I am older than I look! It's knackering bouncing around the blogosphere pretending to be a 24 year old Barbie, I can tell you!
I actually feel... and probably look... more like Bette Davis in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane.
I am this close [imagine something very close] to changing my avatar to Baby Jane.
Sx

Nick said...

Scarlet - Oh, I wasn't assuming you're still a young maiden (or Barbie). I have that photo of you in your pendant and blue top. Which doesn't look anything like Bette Davis either.

Scarlet Blue said...

Depends whether I put my make-up on before or after I insert contact lenses...
Sx

Nick said...

Scarlet - Vivid image of Scarlet squinting and peering into mirror, make-up being smeared everywhere but where it's wanted....

Liz said...

I am so much lovelier and more confident than I was at 20. Having a husband who tells me I improve with age is helpful too!

Cheese and me, we improve with a bit of ... mould. I think I need to work on that analogy!

Nick said...

Liz - How splendid that your husband tells you you improve with age. Most of us do. We've been round the block a few times, as they say, and we've sussed out a lot of those things that youngsters are still bewildered by.