Facing Up To Ageing
You’ve got to hand it to Leslie Cannold (http://www.theage.com.au/news/opinion/our-attitude-towards-cosmetic-surgery-needs-a-sharp-facelift/2007/08/19/1187462081028.html). In ‘fessing up to having ‘liquid’ facial hydraulics she broached a taboo more entrenched than admitting to shrieking regrettables at your children and eating your porridge on the pavement.
Leslie’s right. We should be having the debate on ageing interventions, because the visibility of women determines their worth and more insidiously, their political inclusion. But she and I (quite accustomed as we’ve become) part company on our ‘personal-is-political’ responses.
Does this infer that unlike Leslie I am ‘ageing gracefully’, and have the feminist rectitude to still recognise the self I’ve always known when I catch sight of myself in the cold light of day, unlocking the car, furrowed, slackened, creased and harried?
Hell no. I’m booked in for Thursday.
But the story behind that appointment does offer a different perspective on the intractable contraction of our mortal coil.
Having carried the entire contents of downstairs, upstairs, in preparation for gutting-with-an-excavator renovations, I carried two remaining chairs in heeled boots, slippery from ripping up floor tiles, up the unballistrated stairs. I fell from the 13th step onto my head. The temple of my glasses snapped off and gouged a nasty, jagged gash through my eyebrow. I broke my arm in 3 places and still have an unhelpful ridge across the already irregular terrain of one thigh. And it fecking hurt.
But, I was ‘lucky’. I fell from over 2 metres, which is not uncommonly fatal, and the temple didn’t gouge my eye out, or worse, and the breaks were just green something-or-others that soon healed.
I can notch it up to cat life number 4. There had already been the car accident off a frosty embankment outside Paris, in which we flipped over, and spun around 3 times and when we came-to the luggage was in a perfect arc across the morning field. There was the ectopic haemorrhage I decided was a twisted muscle and slept off. And the blanched Berlin bus driver who braked within inches of the bike, whose handle bars I was perched on with the French artist behind me was whispering French obscenities in my ear, while I swung an umbrella into the spokes of the front wheel which brought us to a rather abrupt halt, me landing on my teeth with the French artist following soon behind and busting one of them.
At least my near-deaths mostly have their origin in reckless hedonism. I didn’t hesitate to have my tooth capped. Indeed, if we are looking for some line between permissible interventions, I rather wish I’d had more ‘work’ on them having sucked my thumb until age 14. Nor did I display much rectitude about the voluptuous visitations of puberty on my skinny child’s frame. I resisted with 7 years of laxatives, 100 sit-ups a day and forms of self-torment that don’t bear broadsheet broadcasting.
Suffice to say, I am every bit beholden to the tyrannous constructs of beauty which took Leslie off to be pricked and plumped. I’ve had sun spots zapped, hair coloured, teeth crowned and invested recently in a tube of ‘wrinkle softener’ which was an incorrigible sum of money. I also do my darndest not to frown, but mothering under contemporary conditions, am often jacked off. I scowl and it shows.
The new scar indelibly imprinted itself as I turned 40, as if to drive home the galloping complications of my gradual perishment. I sensibly thought, it’s time to let go. I shall go one step further than Leslie and break another taboo. I was a pretty woman. Feeling squeamish? That’s because no matter how much time, energy and money we invest in our looks it is strictly verboten to admit to them. I hope I can be forgiven with the appraisal that I’m no longer a pretty woman. Because beauty is a youth designation as much as it is one of race. While I remain anglo-celt, forty is not the new thirty, at least not without makeovers of the scalpel variety.
Is it vanity that told me I was pretty, or is it that I lived under the same perceptual regime that ascribes virtue and talent to beauty, along with better career prospects, upward mobility and bestows all kinds of daily, minute friendly attentions.
Did I misuse being pretty? Yep sometimes. Not half as much I was misused however. If it had capital for me, it had far more for a large number of men, it seemed, who pinned all kinds of status and self-expression to association with feminine beauty and on a daily basis, seemed unable to suppress their thoughts, horns, gestures and other physical responses to the passing sight of a pretty girl.
Frankly those attentions, as the majority of young women will attest, were more than unwelcome, they became thoroughly dull, a pain in the freaking arse, inhibiting of movement, anxiety exacerbating, and on a handful of occasions, truly frightening. I ought to be relieved to no longer excite the three-point gaze: face, tits arse.
Instead I feel loss - of attention, of status, of visibility, of relational worth, of cultural clout, of political inclusion. And I’d venture that I share some degree of that sense of loss with every western and westernised woman. From age 30-40 I wrote a cultural history of what I called ‘feminine visibility’. I theorised the impact of industrialised image production on modern feminine identity and I concluded with a reckoning of my own. I revisted Naomi Wolf’s end question, ‘what will we see’, with, ‘how might women be spectacular subjects’ because spectacularised we manifestly have been since the 1920s. Kevin07, and an ever-widening wake of poll-dancing voyeur political wannabees can now testify to that and be proven ‘human’ rather than misogynist.
Being spectacular women is a condition of not just our possibilities, but of our very existence. Cognizant of these facts, I blithely went off to see a plastic about my scar. Easily fixed. Just a nip under the brow – but then wouldn’t that make my sagging eyelids uneven? Well, while we’re at it … it’s a slippery slide I can tell you.
A week before I was due to undergo the ‘procedure’ of ‘scar revision’ and ‘bilateral blethoplasty’, the ‘clinic’ in Canterbury (where else?) called to confirm and advise me of their separate fee of $1700. Which meant instead of spending $400 on a scar, I was about to blow $4500-ish on my erm eyelids. ‘That’s immoral’ I concluded on the spot and cancelled. That thorn in the consumerist west’s side, those 5,000 children dying of malnutrition-related disease everyday, it dug in … but I make no pretence of virtue. The thorn is pricking the $400 scar revision, but hasn’t pierced my resolve.
The thing is, women aren’t upgrading from wrinkle softener creams to botox to knife-work because they themselves are vain. It’s because for forty odd years their worth has been appraised by their looks. We know that this is unmitigated bullshit, as verily as we know that Kylie’s stellar career rests largely on the glorious talents of her bottom. Yet we still look, appraise other women and ourselves, assessing the ‘max factor’ in McKew’s chances of unseating Howard, the ‘yummy mummies’ with pretty babies we are more responsive to, over-familiarising ourselves with the unvarying features of Paris Hilton with such relentless regularity we actually come to dislike her … no wonder Muslim women find sanctuary under the hijab. Under all this surveillance and scrutiny, it’s a wonder that non-muslim women don’t find relief and comfort in the cultural oblivion of aging. Instead they experience invisibility as loss.
But not those women who measure their worth by who they love and who loves them. Sorry to be trite, but when I see myself looking altered, I take considerable comfort in this maxim. And I ‘reflect’ otherwise, on what a self-obsessed, righteously entitled, angry, self-loathing young woman I was, and would not wish all that confusion and angst on my own daughters – even when the 8 year old tells me that all the lines on my face spell ‘dumbhead’. I ‘reflect’ on how my Mum has aged, and I try not to stray from the thought that I have to model the same equanimity and self-possession for my girls – even when they say they want to ‘piss on my penis-head’.
I ‘reflect’ on who I’d now be if I remained assured of a bewildering array of false attentions - at least it became harder to tell the genuine from the false. Unless the fifth life turns out rather worse than the other four, one day I will be eighty and there will be nothing but pictures to testify to my fair youth. Sure, age interventions wouldn’t make any difference to the ways I aspire to contribute, as a scholar, mother, lover, friend. But it would make a big difference to who I know myself to be, to how I recognise myself, how I face up to aging and ultimately to who I am becoming through that indifferent, unstinting process.
Sound like I’ve learnt my lesson? Like I found some kind of ‘inner-truth’ about feminist/feminine identity that Leslie hasn’t? Nuh. I still experience loss. How can I not after all that gratuitous attention and undue emphasis? Trick is to bear that loss rather than avoid it. And there are times when, yes, it does seem unbearable. This is a measure of ocularcentric modernity and its intensifying appraisal of women’s value, or more specifically, their capitol. I’d like to say we should just shrug it off, to reflect on whether women in Dafur are worried about ageing, but visual identity runs far deeper than we realise. That’s why Leslie’s right to want this debate and can’t be roundly dismissed for getting herself injected. And it’s why I’m getting my scar ‘revised’ on Thursday.