This guest post is by Danielle Hughes, who runs a branding, marketing, and copywriting agency for businesses and solopreneurs that counts many major American corporations as its clients. She earned her BFA in Advertising and Graphic Communication from Washington University in St. Louis, but realized she was a much better writer than a designer. Danielle lives in Forest Hills, NY, with her 13-year old son. This post first appeared on the Amazing Community blog.
I’m not a vain person. Yes, I take care of myself and I like to look good, but I’m pretty low maintenance as a “typical” (stereotypical) woman. I go out most days with unwashed hair and no makeup. I can often be seen donning one of many baseball caps. My go-to outfit is workout clothes or joggers and sneakers. That said, I do like to wear makeup. I do get dressed up and I can accessorize like no one’s business.
As someone who once weighed 235 lbs, I’ve had a long struggle with acceptance and appearance. Now, much fitter (I’m a 5-year CrossFitter), weight isn’t much of an issue for me, but at 46 years old, other things are. Grey hair. Wrinkles. Loose skin. Sun spots. I’m fairly “young at heart,” again another stereotype, but compared to most other women, or men, at my age, I’m pretty fit and healthy. And this is where the issue rears its ugly head — “compared to.”
At Amazing Community’s Inclusion by Design conference on October 24, the dynamicanti-ageism activist Ashton Applewhite gave a talk entitled, “Aging While Female.”And frankly I hate her now. Ok, not really, but I have always prided myself on the above. On these comparisons. I loved telling people my age and have their jaw drop. I thrived knowing that I was not your typical 46-year old, whatever that means. And Ashton has taken that away from me…but with good reason.
Because her impassioned keynote demonstrated to me, that by boosting myself up, I had to also be tearing others down. That this myth of beauty and youthfulness was perpetuated by society and mostly, let’s be honest, by white men, to keep women fearful. To keep women in line and desperate for attention and validation. Because if you are so focused on looking good, you can’t possibly notice that opportunities are being denied to you, that you are being held back and that you and other minority groups are being persecuted.
Heavy stuff, but it was like a gut-punch. The glory hound in me wanted to say “screw you, Ashton,” let me have my youthful looks and energetic spirit. Let me revel in being told I look 35. Let me gloat in how good I look for my age. But that’s just it. What do people my age look like? They look like, well, whatever they look like. There’s no barometer or benchmark. You can’t look good or bad for your age, because you are simply you. That is how you look.
It’s not a competition, though society certainly wants us to think it is. Without competition, the beauty industry wouldn’t be a $445 billion industry that preys on insecurity. All that money spent to look good, to look young to preserve youth. And, for what? Would we do this if we weren’t told to from a young age? If we grew up without media, would we be buying countless creams, lotions and products to keep our skin supple and wrinkle-free? Would the idea of dying our hair even cross our minds? Would the idea of injecting a disease into our face to smooth out lines?!
I’m not saying you shouldn’t want to look good. I still plan to work out (for my health and my physical ability as I age), wear makeup and color my hair, but we need to redefine what “looking good” means. And more importantly, we need to be ok with the fact that what one person does, shouldn’t affect what another does and there is no wrong or right way to age. No judgment. If you want to color your hair, great. If you don’t, great. So long as you are doing it for you, and not for validation and not because society makes you think you have to. We, as women, need to stop defining ourselves by our appearance. We are so much more than that. We are smart and industrious and talented and creative and passionate and strong and just simply amazing.
As we recognize this and support each other more, while belittling each other less, we can even the playing field and recognize the true beauty in every woman at every age.