According to Perquita Burgess, one of the women who accused former Fox News host Bill O’Reilly of sexual harassment, he called her “hot chocolate,” said “looking good, there, girl” to her backside and grunted when he walked past her desk. If true, O’Reilly’s behavior was disgusting and abusive. Still, a teeny, tiny microscopic part of my persona wishes it would happen to me.
I can already feel the backlash. Feminists: Please put down the daggers, and hear me out. I know this is a terrible, cringe-worthy admission, especially from someone who considers herself a liberated, modern woman.
But when you’re a female in her late 60s who hasn’t had a facelift, the world considers you, well, it doesn’t consider you at all. You’re pretty much invisible. And not just invisible to men. To women, too. I’ve been in more rooms than one filled with women a couple of decades my junior, and while I can’t say they were mean to me, I did feel ignored. They simply refused to engage with me as they did with those of their own ilk.
I’m not looking for pity or compliments (especially backhanded ones such as “What are you talking about? You look great for your age!”). It’s not as though I feel unloved, and the last thing I’m looking for is to have an affair. I have a wonderful husband who after 32 years of marriage is incredibly caring and attentive and still finds me attractive.
But it doesn’t help my self-image that everyone from movie stars to TV journalists to some of my friends seem to be aging backward, Benjamin Button-style. Case in point: I applaud Netflix for renewing “Grace and Frankie,” a comedy series starring Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin. The show features the lives of older women, but have you seen Jane Fonda lately? Fonda (who’s pushing 80), now looks young enough to be my daughter or maybe even granddaughter.
I get it that for many aging Hollywood actresses and broadcast journalists, plastic surgery is practically a requirement if they want to keep working, but I don’t have to like it. Just how can an ordinary woman grow old gracefully when most of the images of older women she sees don’t look like God intended?
When I was in my 20s, I worked as a model. I received a lot of attention based on my outer appearance. Being judged for my looks on a constant basis did not make for the happiest years in my life. Whether I got a gig or not either temporarily confirmed or denied my self-worth, something that did not make for a healthy psyche.
In some ways, shedding my dewy-fresh self for the more mature me has been good. It forced me to develop myself in other arenas. Now, working as a freelance writer, my bosses don’t know how old I am or what I look like. Believe me, it’s waaay more satisfying to create an essay, news story, blog post or an advertising brochure than to be glorified for any fleeting beauty I may have once possessed.
I know I shouldn’t care about the aging process. Maybe having once been a model has warped my perspective. This desire to be recognized as attractive enough to be objectified is ugly, vain and possibly dangerous. Besides, other than my youth, I have everything I really need and want. And seriously, I’m profoundly grateful I’m still here and kicking. All you have to do is read the obituaries (which I now do religiously) to know a lot of people of my generation are not.
I know in my head and my heart that someone who is ogling women or making unwanted advances is exhibiting demeaning, ignorant behavior that should not be tolerated. Still, when I look in the mirror, I occasionally get wistful for my younger countenance untarnished by time, crow’s-feet, spider veins, and anxiety caused by being lucky enough to have lived all these years. If that makes me a terrible person, guilty as charged.
Judy Marcus writes the Opinionated Woman blog.
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