It makes sense, I guess, that an industry built on visuals would insist that its female visuals be pleasing to its customers, although I could make a case for the beauty of a face lined with the experiences of a lifetime, like the total babe at the bottom of this post, whose hands were soft and smooth as peony petals. You had a grandma—maybe you are a grandma—you know what I mean.
Or I could talk about movie demographics. I could tell you that 31 percent of the population is aged 18 to 39 and buys 36 percent of movie tickets, while 35 percent of the population is over 50 and buys 25 percent of tickets—but that the numbers in the younger age bracket have been shrinking while the numbers in the older age bracket have been growing as the Boomers move through the demographic pipeline. I could tell you what Rebecca Pahle reported in 2014, that 52 percent of moviegoers are female but that only 15% of the main characters in the Top 100 grossing films of 2013 were women.
Small wonder so many people stood up and hollered "You go, girl!" when Jessica Chastain announced in February that she was launching Freckle Films, a production company with all-female executives. Chastain (who credits her grandmother for her career), Queen Latifah, Juliette Binoche and Catherine Hardwicke have joined the production company We Do It Together to produce films and TV that boost the empowerment of women, including Women of a Certain Age. Women like Doris. Like me.
Empowerment is good, because most people—women, especially—are afraid of getting old. I get that. It’s tough to acknowledge that your buns of steel have turned into buns of bread. It’s disappointing when, after a couple of babies and a couple of decades fighting gravity, you have to trade in a handful of silk for an industrial-strength brassiere because your boobs look like the ones in National Geographic. My brother knows what I’m talking about.
But I think it’s not being old that scares people. I think it's getting old after being young first, especially in a country that warehouses the old and the frail so we don’t have to look at our own future. A young-sounding reporter on a March 25 Wisconsin Public radio broadcast of This American Life titled “It’ll make Sense When You’re Older” stated, “There are a lot of things that make sense when you're older, as in a grown-up. And then there are things that make sense when you're actually getting old, when you start to make sense of losing things. That is what I'm sure most of us cannot fully grasp until we get there ourselves, to know—to really know—there is no path back.” The reporter on this piece conveyed a distinctly mournful attitude toward getting older, maybe because she saw her own future in the folks she interviewed. It's tragic, because older people are brimming with wisdom.
But I do understand the fear. Aging is sneaky. Once you're an adult, time passes so slowly, day after day, year after year, that it feels like nothing will ever change. Then, one day: Pow! Men notice their hairlines receding. Women notice for the first time that when they smile, those lines at the corners of their eyes don’t smooth out. You see something shiny in your hair, but when you yank on it, you find out it’s not a silver lamé thread from a sweater—it’s a gray hair.
This is the point at which people who have spent the first part of their lives chasing things outside themselves—education, jobs, relationships, career advances—slow down and say, “Holy crap, I’m getting old!” They buy Rogaine and hair dye and face cream. They join a gym. They try to stop time, even though youth isn’t anybody’s to keep forever. You only get a little bit for a little while, and then you get the bum’s rush: Move along. Nothing to see here.
But something I have noticed as I've edged closer to my own Good Night is that I...actually...like getting older. The pressure is off, in so many areas of my life—and apparently, plenty of other people feel the same way. According to psychologist Laura Carstensen, getting older is when your life actually gets better because “recognizing that we won't live forever changes our perspective on life in positive ways.”
Carstensen’s research shows that older people are actually happier than younger people. According to Carstensen, “When we recognize that we don't have all the time in the world, we see our priorities most clearly; we take less notice of trivial matters; we savor life; we're more appreciative; we're open to reconciliation; we invest in more emotionally important parts of life, and life gets better.” You can listen to Carstenson’s fascinating 11-minute TED talk “Older People are Happier” here.
Carstensen validates what I’ve felt ever since I retired: I am tickled pink to be exactly where and who I am, a female dancing along in my own Doris shoes. My income is (mostly) sufficient for my needs, so I don’t have to punch a time clock to make ends meet. My body and I have known one another long enough so I can tell whether it needs a session on the elliptical or a square of chocolate. Either or both. If I want company, I can find it, even though I’m an “older lady,” like San Francisco’s Donnalou Harris sings about (if you haven't clicked on a link yet, pleeeease do yourself a favor and click on that one). Harris sings,
“Well, I ain’t 16
Not a beauty queen
And my eyes are baggin'
And my skin is saggin'
And if that's the reason that you don't love me
Then maybe that's not love.”
Betcha a bright, shiny nickel that Donnalou still gets The Look, and so do I. If made an effort, I could have all the companionship I wanted.
I don't make an effort. I'm perfectly fine spending time on myself, quenching my own thirst. This, too, has gotten a green light in the larger society; apparently, being alone relieves stress, boosts confidence, and makes a person more creative.
Travel? Yes, please. Challenges? Yes, always yes. Time enough at last? Well...I know I won't get the 500+ years I'd need to write all the books I have in me or read all the books that make me tingle all the way to my toes, but I'm having a ball going for it anyway. When I was a teen, I read columns by Sydney J. Harris in Chicago newspapers. In one column he said, “The primary purpose of a liberal education is to make one’s mind a pleasant place in which to spend one’s leisure.” At 16, I decided that meant I should stuff my eyes with wonder, like Ray Bradbury says. So that’s what I did. That's what I do.
I think I learned to appreciate where I am and what I have from my mother, who at age 84 is still the life of every party, and from my paternal grandmother, Bessie Woodford Peterson, who reared eleven children during the Great Depression, who sent a fiancee to World War One and a son to World War Two, and who grew up in the horse-and-buggy days but lived to see a man walk on the moon. She was the foundation of a very big family and a woman who taught everybody in it how to grow old with grace.
For me, so far, getting older has been as great a gift as being born in the first place. If I can hang on for a few more years, I might even become a Grandmother of a Certain Age.