Aging In Place

The truth is that older women are more beautiful than conventional wisdom would have you admit. Time makes the contours of a face more pronounced. For many, it becomes easier to grow the gorgeous lumps defining the marble statues of idealized women in museums. Veins on hands begin to tell stories with or without a pen.

Most of all it’s the sheer fucking luckiness of having made it, of being alive, that makes older people, and especially older women, more beautiful.

This is convenient for me to say at age 34, when I have become an unmistakable target of the drug store creams to fix the nature. It is growing increasingly clear on Facebook — where pictures replace shared experiences as the currency of relationships — that some of my age peers have begun to use plastic surgery. Seeing this is a struggle.

Like everyone else, I have grown up in a culture where we devalue women who don’t live up to impossible ideals, and then dismiss the women who take extraordinary measures to do so as shallow. Aging presents one of these most classic damned if you do, damned if you don’t scenarios, and from a modern feminist point of view that honors the individual lived experiences of women rather than attempting however earnestly to provide a blueprint that everyone must follow to sidestep oppression, I think I’m not supposed to care about another woman’s plastic surgery. And really, as it pertains to that other woman, I don’t. Making value judgements about someone else’s beauty regimen is one bad jam.

The struggle comes in elsewhere. Like everyone else, I have grown up in a culture where women are encouraged to compare themselves to one another in superficial ways. So seeing all this plastic surgery makes me wonder: Yes, I’m comfortable aging in place today, but will I be tomorrow? I would like to think that when gray hair comes I’ll embrace it. But I say that a time when my appearance gives me no real reason to fear being written off as yesterday’s news. So I am sitting with this ambivalence and uncertainty and honoring it.

The longer we live, the more we know people who have died. If you have made it to a point when aging is considered a concern for your age group, it means that you are supremely fortunate. I wonder why that keeps getting lost, especially for women, and what we can do about it.

Teaching Consent

Consent is this empowering, sexy, terrific thing. Your body is yours. It does not belong to your boyfriend, your girlfriend, your dad, your mom, your preacher, your religion, your government. Your permission must not be assumed, implied, or revoked. That body is yours, lady! And it is awesome.

Consent is the linchpin of the life I want for my daughter.

I have been particularly haunted lately with a handful of memories that make me want to go back and give myself a big hug (and spit in a few faces). I had comprehensive sexual education. I knew that no was supposed to mean no, and sadly, that no means yes is a punchline. What I didn’t learn was a good working definition of consent, and how to wield it: Not just how to say no, but how to say yes, and how to insist your own body is treated with the respect it deserves — by others, and also yourself.

There are many negative consequences stemming from the fear of youth sexuality,  as well as the fear of female sexuality. One thing that happens is not teaching our girls about sexuality in a realistic way. Sexuality is more often taught to girls as something to be guarded against as sinful (it’s not) or a source of contagion (an unhelpful frame). As a culture we don’t even teach our girls to accept themselves, much less their bodies, and we certainly don’t teach our girls to accept how their bodies might care to be or not be sexual. Instead we need to give our girls a meaningful understanding of how sexuality is something to be accepted on your own terms.

These days my daughter is young, just over a year old. When I think about trying to do a better job teaching her consent than life taught me, I think about honoring her wishes not to be held or touched by other people when she makes it clear she doesn’t want that, and I think about responding to her nods “yes” and shakes “no” as much as practical.

What have you done to help teach the young girls you know the concept of consent? Respond in the comments.