You can stop dyeing your hair or give up jogging. You can write that book or take up photography.
The problem is that we’re women. And we’re judged by how we look even in middle age.
The 57-year-old classicist Mary Beard was recently interviewed by the Guardian about her new TV series, Meet the Romans. Beard, a professor at Cambridge, author of the TLS blog “A Donnish Life,” and a popular writer of history books like The Fires of Vesuvius: Pompeii Lost and Found, is a likable media personality, who, with her long gray hair and casual style, isn’t capitalizing on beauty.
Surprisingly, her Twitter audience was concerned about her looks. She told the Guardian:
I’ve been getting tweets like ‘Can’t she brush her hair?’, ‘Shouldn’t she be sexing herself up a bit?’, ‘Did she try to look so haggard?’ Lucky I’ve got a thick skin. Sometimes you think they’re writing this after half a bottle of wine, and I feel like writing back after more than half a bottle: ‘Actually, that’s what a 57-year-old woman looks like.'”
Sad, isn’t it? TV audiences are used to models and actors and don’t know, within the confines of the box, “what a 57-year-old woman looks like.”
The actress Ashley Judd, 44, recently wrote an article for The Daily Beast, complaining about reporters’ harsh criticism of her appearance when she was finishing a round of steroids for sinus problems. Her puffy face was supposed to be a sign of bad plastic surgery. She wrote:
I choose to address it because the conversation was pointedly nasty, gendered, and misogynistic and embodies what all girls and women in our culture, to a greater or lesser degree, endure every day, in ways both outrageous and subtle.”
Actors are fair game, you may say. Well, they are and they aren’t. They’re not real people to us, because their business is their looks, But perhaps if they protested more often about the pressure, we’d give them a break.
Fortunately most of us are not media personalities. Nobody is going to worry about our gray hair or puffiness. In youth we manage to be pretty, in our thirties we begin imperceptibly to lose the glow, by our 40s we are plain, and…
Our hormones change.
Life goes on. We can’t compete with our younger selves in the looks department.
So we embrace middle age.