Old Lady Walking

old woman sees young self in mirror

courtesy: Tom Hussey

The other day I perused the Internet for short hair styles that might be attractive on older women. Why? I’m considering a change in style, and I’m willing to concede I might be considered an “older woman.”

Imagine my surprise upon encountering a picture of the lovely Maggie Gyllenhaal among the images. Maggie G. only 37, is an older woman? Since fricking when?

Gyllenhaal told CNN a Hollywood producer deemed her too old to play the lover of a fifty-five year old man. Although the story isn’t immediately verifiable, it dovetails with anecdotal reports from the left coast. Tinsel Town’s ageism is as old as the Hollywood Hills.

So are assessments as to female desirability. Amy Schumer hilariously captures the prevailing mindset in her “Last F**kable Day” video, starring Tina Fey, Patricia Arquette and Julia Louie-Dreyfus. Hard to believe we’re still dealing with overt female-centric ageism in 2015. Where’s the progress?

It goes beyond female desirability. Women over fifty might as well all wear black dresses to the floor, like the nanna few of us ever had. In everyone’s eyes, we’re one amorphous post-child-bearing blob.

Since I’m past sixty, I’m on the lookout for portrayals of “seniors” in pop culture. Trust me when I tell you the difference between men and women remains apparent. It’s not just Liam Neeson and company strutting their stuff. It’s that women are old, done for, vulnerable and over-the-hill. Or they play far younger because otherwise, well, they wouldn’t exist. Two examples among many:

  • On a recent episode of “The Good Wife”, the client was “a little old lady” of 62, played by an actress who appeared to be in her mid-seventies and defended by the lawyer in her mid-fifties played by Christine Baranski, 63.
  • On a rerun of “Law and Order: SVU”, the rape of a woman was seen as especially revolting because she was described as an elderly woman of 60.

Yes, we have a comedy in which two actors in their seventies portray seventy-something characters facing divorce for the first time. The honesty is bracing. The fact that they are played by Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda with gleaming teeth, perfect skin, beautiful necks and all the money their characters require to suffer luxuriously is simply a way to address the issues of female aging without throwing too many wrinkles into the plot, I guess.

Television often casts 49-year old women to play the mothers of 30 year old men. Under fifty, the women can still be rocket scientists, university professors, molecular biologists and CIA agents with advanced degrees who might, if required kick some butt here and there. Given the accomplishments and relative youth among the mothers, I can only surmise there were quite a few on-campus births back in the day as well as understanding employers.

I’ve heard senior women are the latest trend. As AdWeek gushed in early April, “older women are the new ‘it’ girls.” Apparently retailers are belatedly realizing baby boomers hold—and spend—most of the wealth. Wave our wallets at them and watch them come running. We’ll see how long that lasts.

Meanwhile, the truthful portraits of mature females vie for attention with the more popular tropes that older women (except for Meryl Streep or Dame Helen Mirren, of course) have two choices: lift, dye, process, rise, repeat, until you look like something that, as Julie Louis-Dreyfus observes “has been left out too long in the sun.” Or accept your lot in life as a generic sexless thing. You can fight against it; I certainly intend to. It’s an uphill climb. Strong, secure, sexy post-child-bearing women are either terrifying or incomprehensible to a significant portion of the population.

Back to the haircuts: I’m sorry Maggie Gyllenhaal is placed in the “mature woman” category when it comes to style. It could be worse. For instance, I went back to look and came across a style in the “women over sixty” category that interested me: short, curly and low-maintenance. Looks a bit like Carol, the gray-haired warrior from “The Walking Dead”. Wait; that IS Carol; at least it’s a picture of the actress who plays her, Melissa McBride. McBride just turned fifty. What’s she doing in the over sixty category? Is it the gray hair? Or is it that one old lady walking looks just like the next.

This story was originally published in The Broad Side

About Nikki

Author of non-fiction books HOPE IN SMALL DOSES and BECAUSE I SAY SO as well as numerous published essays. Her new novel, THE FORMER ASSASSIN, is due out January 2018.
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2 Responses to Old Lady Walking

  1. Linda Feldman says:

    Further confusing things–have you read about/seen the new trendy thing: gray hair? Huff Post and others have been writing about it. I’ve been waiting years to be trendy. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/04/29/granny-hair-vogue-women-shades-of-grey_n_7170234.html

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