Mirror, Mirror On The Wall. What Do You See Looking Back At You?

“One ticket,” I said to the woman sitting at the entrance booth to the Minnesota State Fair.

“Adult?” she asked.

Pregnant pause, because I was momentarily confused and thinking what other ticket type would I qualify for?

It took a couple of seconds to figure out she was gently inquiring whether I would qualify for the “senior discount.”

I stepped back and looked up at the sign listing the various ticket prices. The senior tickets were for people 65 and above.

I stepped back to the booth, made eye contact with the woman, who I guessed had a good 15 years on me, and said, “That would be one adult ticket. ”

Quickly realizing her faux pas, she sheepishly said, “You know 65-year-olds are just looking younger and younger these days.”

I gave her a weak smile, and took my ticket. I was not amused. My two clients, a millennial and a 35-year-old, got their tickets without any questions.

Like many women my age, I live in a delusional bubble that I don’t look like a woman in her sixties. I experience irrational exuberance whenever someone says, “I’d never guess.”

But, this was not the first time a ticket-taker had mistaken me for a senior.

My previous encounter occurred last winter. I had gone to a matinee at a discount movie theater with my friend Susan. I bought my ticket first. When Susan went up to get her ticket, she said with some glee, “I’m a senior.” She handed him a five dollar bill, a dollar off from the “adult” price.

I was eager to save a dollar as well, so hoping that this was one of those theaters that started offering senior discounts at age 62, I enthusiastically exclaimed, “Oh, maybe I qualify!”

Without missing a beat, the ticket-taker said,”No worries, I already gave you the discount.”

Now, it’s one thing for me to take advantage of a discount because I meet the age requirements, but it’s entirely a different matter for a perfect stranger to assume I am old enough to qualify for said discount. At this theater? You have to be 65 to save a buck.

I’m thinking to myself with righteous indignation, ‘Hey bub, this is me, Elana. No one thinks I look my age. No one. You can ask them. They’ll tell you. ‘

I didn’t say that, but evidently in my stupor at being called out as a senior/elder/retired/old person, I must have blurted some dribble, because the young man’s comeback was, “I just assume that anyone who comes to a matinee during the middle of the week must be retired.”

The movie ticket guy was a millennial. The ticket-taker at the state fair was most likely a member of the generation ahead of me. To both generations I plausibly looked like someone who could pass for 65.

They were ego-deflating moments.

I am not alone. The more I googled, the more I realized that my need for people to tell me that I don’t look my age is archetypical behavior. There are lots of boomer women who are regularly being told they don’t look their age. And if I may infer, like me, are grateful/pleased/smug about the visual interpretation of our chronological age.

To test my theory, I ran an unscientific poll on the Stilettos@Sixty Facebook page. Of the people who responded, over 90% said they had been told they looked younger than their actual age. A couple of things could be going on here: only people who believe they look younger, volunteered to take the poll and/or the general population is clueless as to what a sixty-something in 2014 actually looks like.

For many, Aunt Bee from The Andy Griffith Show, is the quintessential sixty-something. First_Episode_Aunt_Bee_10101 Frances Bavier, the actress who played that role, was 58 when the show started.

It seems that the topic of women in their sixties who don’t look like they are in their sixties and/or who the editors seem shocked that look good at all- is the stuff that journalists love to ponder.

In 2011, The AARP Magazine did a photo essay entitled This Is What 60 Looks Like.

Then, The Huffington Post ran a photo essay in 2013, called “Gorgeous Celebrities Over 60.”

Big Presence Steinem by John Fluevog. When I was in college,  Gloria Steinem came to campus. She made a huge impression, as did her most famous quote."Some other editors at Ms. magazine were throwing me an omelet party at some restaurant in the neighborhood for my 40th birthday. And a reporter said to me, kindly, "Oh, you don't look 40." And I said, just off the top of my head, "This is what 40 looks like — we've been lying for so long, who would know?" Age really was a great penalty for women."

Big Presence Steinem by John Fluevog. When I was in college, Gloria Steinem came to campus. She made a huge impression, as did her most famous quote.”Some other editors at Ms. magazine were throwing me an omelet party at some restaurant in the neighborhood for my 40th birthday. And a reporter said to me, kindly, “Oh, you don’t look 40.” And I said, just off the top of my head, “This is what 40 looks like — we’ve been lying for so long, who would know?” Age really was a great penalty for women.”

In April 2014, The Daily Mail wrote a feature about sixty- year- old women who don’t look their age from their backsides. The gist of this article was, you can’t control the wrinkles on your face but you can have a nice tight bum, see Do You Have A Strong Butt?

Earlier this year, New Zealand photographer Jenny O’Connor published “Visible: 60 women at 60.” In a Skype interview, we talked about the book and lessons learned.

The reason I did the book is that when women hit 60 you realize the future is shorter than the past. I felt this transition was bigger than other milestones. I feel more certain who I am and how I feel about certain things. At the same time I also feel vague and uncertain.

Jenny said she wanted to know how other women were feeling about this transition. “How do they see themselves now? How does society see them? How do they feel about what lies ahead?”

The result is a book featuring the pictures and stories of sixty, 60-year- old women.The words are their own.  The only requirement Jenny made  is that the photo had to show their entire body. The decision what to wear was entirely left up to the women.

Women of our generation are a lot more visible than our mothers and grandmothers were at this age. And yet, when we hit 60, many of us believed we were going to be just as invisible as our mothers and grandmothers.”

For a peek of the 6o women, check out Jennys YouTube video.

copyright (c) 2014 Jenny O'Connor

copyright (c) 2014 Jenny O’Connor

17_MG_0014-Jan Beth-final-260-2- web

Copyright (c) 2014 Jenny O’Connor

 

Copyright(c) 2014 Jenny O'Connor

Copyright(c) 2014 Jenny O’Connor

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Now that the book has been out for several months, Jenny says one of the most frequent comments that she gets is:

These women don’t look sixty.

 

Yeah, heard that one before.

 

 

 

But the old ladies…OMG![…] They were totally different sizes and shapes, some with huge fat boobs and others with  just flaps of skin and nipples like drawer knobs, and bellies like the skin on top of boiled milk when you push it to the side of the cup. I used to play this game, matching up the hostesses with the old ladies in my mind, trying to imagine which young body would turn into which aged one, and how this cute breast might wither into that sad old flap, and how a stomach would bloat or sag. It was weird, like seeing time pass, but in a Buddhist instant, you know?

A Tale For The Time Being, Ruth Ozenki

3 Comments

  • Reply September 13, 2014

    Judy Rothschadl

    I’ve found that most women have low self-esteem, especially regarding their appearance. Ironically, as the years go by, my looks matter less and less to me. After age 55, I figure, ‘Who really cares that much anymore?’ It’s very liberating. I have a lot more energy to focus on other things, such as hobbies and visiting my niece & nephew.

    • Reply September 13, 2014

      Elana

      It’s funny. I’ve always thought of “my looks” as a euphemism for “being pretty.” I’ve never thought of myself as “pretty” or “good looking” and certainly after I had shingles and it paralyzed the left side of my face, those feelings intensified.

      Since I never thought of myself as a “looker,” when/if people happen to compliment my looks, the compliments go in one ear and out the other, because I don’t believe that about myself.Is that low self-esteem or a realistic view of myself?

      I am not someone who feels they have to have a full face of makeup to go to the grocery store. More often than not my hair is pulled back in a pony and I am walking around without makeup.

      So while I was not a pretty girl- a 95 year old aunt of a friend pulled me aside at a family get together and offered up “You’re not a pretty girl, but you are handsome” — there is a part of me that still wants to think there is something attractive. Maybe,I was jealous of all the pretty girls after all.

      For me, my best feature has been my skin – I’ve been blessed with great genetics. I come from a family that doesn’t seem to wrinkle much, and because of that, many people assume I am younger than I am.

      What you are helping me realize from your comment is that in my mind, “You don’t look 63” is really code for “You’re pretty.” And “you’re pretty” is code for “you’re not invisible!”

  • Reply September 14, 2014

    Judy Rothschadl

    Just a quick note to say that I can confirm Elana has a lovely porcelain complexion with not a wrinkle in sight. She has big brown eyes and the high cheek bones of a classic beauty. She also has had to overcome physical disabilities that could taken down a grown man. But one of the loveliest things about her is her contagious, easy laugh. I think a sense of humor is one of those intangible things that draws people to us. Maybe it doesn’t turn us into a Charlize Theron or a Zooey Deschannel, but it can make us beautiful and even irresistible to those who love us.

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