Rise up, Old Woman!

Julianne, photo by Nicolas Genin"Well, she is more contemporary," the young lady clarified when I looked mystified. We were at a networking event for filmmakers and actors, and I had boldly raised my objection to the disappearance of older women.  She responded by kindly offering hope that things were changing, and presented Julianne Moore as an example of an aging star.  Thinking hard, she filled out her list of two by including an actress in her 30s.

Her 30s.  And when I looked mystified, she said, "oh, well, she is more contemporary."  It took me days before I recognized just why her comment landed hard on my psyche.  That’s because I’m a little slow now.  Not dumb, but slow.  People who study old brains tell us that while we are slower to retrieve details, we are more able to grasp complexity and deep meanings of things.  For example, I can’t, for the life of me remember the name of the contemporary actress she mentioned but I sure do comprehend the deeper meaning of the word. If youth is contemporary, it follows that people who are old are not part of the present moment.  Their lives belong to the past.

Who can blame this sweet young thing for assuming that the old are done and gone?  Look around.  Do you see appealing old women in the movies?  on the billboards?  reporting the news? I don't, much.  Not unless they are showing us how they have conquered age via creams or cuts.  Here is a subway ad that depends on an assumption that breaks my heart.  

It makes me wonder, really, why the young are so hypervalued, and how age got to be an enemy to be conquered.  Is it that an aging face signals mortality, a generally inconvenient and sometimes nearly unbearable reality?  That has always been true and yet there were times when the old garnered respect.  But now the world is changing more quickly and older people are often falling behind.  We don't bother with the software update, some of us still use phones to talk, and our attention spans do not fluidly hop from text to ping to traffic, which makes us stammer or bump into things and generally slow people down, which is annoying, right?  And surely we contribute to the rift by voicing our nostalgia for the way things used to be, and sometimes our complaints are downright disapproving, which, especially if we are women, might remind the youngsters of their cast-off disapproving mothers.

But I ask you kindly not to throw us away just yet.  There may be something in it for you, little pieces of wisdom that can save you a lot of time.  A lifetime, actually.  Here’s a short list:  We can see that though things seem to change rapidly, the actual pace of change is slow.  We can also see that when things look like they’re not changing at all, they are, and that fosters hope and motivation, which triggers action, which generates change, and so on.  And it's possible, even likely, that we've had a few chats with mortality and learned a thing or two about who we really are.  
Joni on the cover of New York magazine, beautiful as she is!You'll hear old people declare that they no longer care what people think of them.  I'm not sure that is as true as we want it to be.  We're social animals.  We want to be loved.  It takes a lot of strength for an old woman to rise up when the culture is burying her.  Give her a hand.  Let her be the complex human that she is, not an icon or a model, but a whole and vivid beauty.  



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