[EDITOR'S NOTE:] A new story has been posted at blogher.com this morning titled Wine, Foie Gras and Women's Longevity.]
AARP sells a lot of different kinds of insurance to its age 50-plus members and some critics argue that its lobbying efforts (it supported the Medicare – Part D prescription drug coverage legislation) have less to do with benefiting members than maintaining and increasing its product revenue.
That’s worth considering whenever you read that AARP supports one political position or another and I have sometimes disagreed with policies it advocates. On the other hand, I frequently rely on the excellent research they produce on a vast array of elder issues and I enjoy some of the stories in the magazine and Bulletin. Aging is what AARP concerns itself with and here is part of how they say they see their goal:
“AARP is dedicated to enhancing quality of life for all as we age. We lead positive social change and deliver value to members through information, advocacy and service…
“AARP celebrates the attitude that age is just a number and life is what you make it.”
It is not unreasonable to assume from that mission statement that it is in AARP's DNA to respect aging and elderhood, and that they hold themselves up as an advocate for elders, a bulwark against ageism.
That would not be unreasonable, that is, until the most recent issue of AARP magazine arrives in your mailbox.
There is a photo on the cover of 61-year-old actor Helen Mirren. Although the photograph appears to be airbrushed to look 20 years younger than the same woman I saw on television a week ago, it is a good tradition of AARP to always feature old celebrities on the magazine cover. No other publication does.
But then, that cutline up there on the left of Helen Mirren’s head pops out at you shouting: Look Younger Now. Erase 10 years (or more).
It is the same old ageist language that appears all over the media every day perpetuating the same cultural insistence that age is bad and everyone must do everything within their power to look as young as possible unto the grave. But this time it is worse coming, as it does, from an organization that says it represents elders. Or maybe they represent only youthful-looking elders.
The story accompanying the headline is a monthly staple of teen, beauty and fashion magazines: large, full-color photos of impossibly beautiful women. The only difference in this case is that they are age 52 to 75 selected, says writer Gabrielle deGroot Redford,
“…during our Faces of 50+ Real People Model Search…”
Real people? There is not a single neck wrinkle, eye sag or jowl among them. Their teeth are as perfect as a runway model’s and they all have professionally styled hair.
These women are as real as a movie star, as closely airbrushed as Helen Mirren’s cover photo with just a crow’s foot or two here and there for some minor authenticity.
The story also hypes dermatologist Leslie Baumann, M.D. and her latest book, along with brand-name cosmetics she recommended for each woman during a two-day course in skincare.
Since any sentient being knows there is no skincare that can undo in two days what nature has done in five or six or seven decades, readers are being addressed as idiots. These women are either Photoshopped into perfect smoothness, have better genes than most movie stars or have had cosmetic surgery.
Contrary to what the youth and beauty police believe, smooth and unwrinkled are not the only criteria of facial attractiveness. Years ago when I lived in Texas, I worked with a woman who was then in her late sixties. She had grown up on a cattle ranch, had married a wealthy rancher and had, from the age of five or six, ridden a horse every morning for an hour or so – as she continued to do when I knew her. She had the weather-beaten skin of an old-time gold prospector and she was strikingly beautiful. Why are such women as she not held up to us as ideals?
As this article shows, the cultural coercion to reach impossible standards of beauty that begins in pre-teen years now extends clear into old age - and this time by a publication that says it “celebrates the attitude that age is just a number and life is what you make it.”
[Hat tip to Judith Benenson.]