How To Age Gracefully (Don't)

Martha Wilson: I have become my own worst fear
Martha Wilson: I have become my own worst fear

Advances in injectables may help  a woman fit into standards of beauty. But just because she’s more sexually attractive doesn’t mean she’s more personally attractive. A Canadian study asked participants to evaluate women who had been treated with Botox and those who were aging naturally.

The (not entirely surprising) results? Women with the ‘Tox were rated as “cold” and “unfeeling” compared to their wrinkly, saggy sisters. The participants felt more warm and fuzzy towards the women with unadulterated faces, believing them to be less vain.

It’s been noted in the past that Botox affects the way emotions are interpreted. But I wonder, too, whether there’s something about visibly aging that we associate with warmth…in the form of motherhood.

Our own mothers, for example, didn’t have the benefit/curse of Botox. So when they aged, we saw it. Their softening was part of our idea of motherhood. Now, mothers have tools—and pressure—to look like they’ve never had kids in the first place.

What does it say to our children to try to indefinitely extend youth?  If study particpants saw mothers with Botox as cold and unfeeling, do children see mothers with Botox this way too? We already know that infants are affected by their mothers’ limited facial expressions when they use paralyzing products. Older kids have a bigger arsenal of interpretive tools at their disposal (language, for example) but it seems possible that they’re being affected on some subtle level.

Is it better for kids to let the aging chips fall where they may? My guess is yes. But it takes a strong woman to say F*** You to the screaming headlines about her cultural currency going down the toilet.  Martha Wilson is one all-too-rare example. Best known as the founder of NYC Arts’ Institution Franklin Furnace, Martha has a solo show up at PPOW gallery that takes a good, hard, humorous look at the experience of being an aging woman in America. The picture above, “I Have Become My Own Worst Fear” epitomizes Wilson’s In-Your-Face take on the way women are dismissed once they stray too far from the beauty ideal. She also plays with the androgyny of aging, dressing herself into genderlessness and even impersonating Bill Clinton. And then there’s the multi-frame piece documenting the year long progression of her punk-dyed hair transitioning to classic old-lady gray.

The message: There are more options than clinging to the fountain of youth and disappearing, defeated, into cultural invisibility. Maybe we can actually use the process of resisting the overwhelming messages as a teaching tool, to show that if we don’t believe in something, we are free to rebel against it. As one young blogger puts it,

“Is it punk to age ungracefully? Certainly most, if not all, of the male punk musicians have managed to do it. For a woman, it seems like throwing your aging body in the face of the general public like Wilson has done is completely punk. Now I know my plans for when I’m older: forget the botox and bring on the Manic Panic.” That’s always been my plan, too.


[via Jezebel]

[via Hyperallergic]


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