From the moment we can process our consciousness, it’s ingrained in our minds that aging is something you do with grace. On the big screen you see poised forty-somethings with their lines filled and maybe a wrinkle or two between their brows. She’s had 3 kids and is toned with a palatable spray tan; she exercises every morning and is seen as a symbol of sensuality and maturity. Of course, however, this forty-something is played by a thirty-something, just as that thirty-something is played by a twenty-something, and as is any teenage character.
We who consume this media internalize it. Teen girls take it as the woman they aspire to be, while adult women who’ve aged past their twenties take it as expectations that are impossible to fill.
The adult women we see on screen are the manifestation of male fantasies about the mother-like wives they expect. When met with the reality of a matured woman, they’re shocked to understand that more often than not, they cannot fulfill those expectations. They age like any man; their wrinkles and blemishes accentuate with age, their skin will sag and their hair grays. But rather than being something to embrace, older women are bombarded with anti-aging serums and cream, botox and face lifts. When women start to look their age, the media scorns them. On the contrary, many men “age like wine”.
Last week I went to the mall with my mother. Before we went in she had been talking about why she stopped wearing makeup completely. “I feel invisible,” she said “I’m past the age of looking beautiful.” It's something so many hear from their mothers, a self degrading comment about their appearance, about how lovely their youth was and how they wish they’d have cherished it. I know I’ve heard many times over about standing straight with confidence, that when I get older and lose my worth as a woman I’ll regret the shyness of my youth.
As Princess Nokia, American rapper, puts it in her Genius interview for her song “G.O.A.T”, “My small breasts, and my little frame, and my sweet little girl voice. It exudes something in people that is extremely passionate and tantalizing. I swear to God all your men fantasize about me and probably wonder what it's like to be with someone who is as small as I am.” Strange to see a grown woman (29) saying this about herself, yes, but she actually—unconsciously—hit the problem right on the nose.
From adolescence women are seen as sexual. See the lolita subculture (based off of the infamous Vladimir Nabokov’s, Lolita) that is ever so common in modern media. The idea of a young, innocent, bubbly girl is enticing and exciting. It's inherently sexual as it's seen as that time before your entrance into womanhood, before your entrance into an independent world. When you’re young, you need people to rely on, people who you can look to for support and reward in affection. This is what men look for when they prey on young women. They are looking for someone they can look down on and control, and someone who sees them as a godlike figure who can care for them. But after their time of self actualization, after they come to realize their first relationship with a man who was a decade above their age bracket was poor in nature, their worth is running out.
By this point, they’re older and smarter. They are financially independent and show their age through their appearance. They don't submit to control via a more successful man and they need no assistance. Just like that, their worth is gone.
These social stigmas are rarely recognized in our day to day life. A degrading comment towards a celebrity who’s showing age will be thrown on twitter, cruel kids might poke fun at their teacher’s saggy arms. It's so integrated that it takes a moment of self searching to understand and confirm that we have this existing loathing for any image that doesn’t fit society’s standard of the modern woman.