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The Woman in the Mirror - “Ageing is Not For Sissies” – Part II

... In this era of proud porn watchers, public masturbators, outed sadists, and closeted pedophiles, it is heterosexual women who are paying the price in relationships: there are a LOT of heterosexual women out there, opting for self-imposed celibacy, just because they are not sufficiently insecure and self-loathing in order to turn their sex life into the pervy playground of porn-addicts.

John Berger in his famous quote had it right: “Men look at women. Women watch themselves being looked at… A woman must continually watch herself. She is almost continually accompanied by her own image of herself. Whilst she is walking across a room or whilst she is weeping at the death of her father, she can scarcely avoid envisaging herself walking or weeping”(“Ways of Seeing”)

That’s pretty accurate. Even at their darkest hour, even when they are mourning the death of a loved one, women are still on display. They are still being seen as bodies doing this and that. Not as human beings. Not really. Not wholly! They are forever caught in the beauty pageant that is their life. The beauty pageant they’ve entered unknowingly, somewhere in their teens. While they are crashed and crying for the loss of a loved one, they are being judged on the basis of their age, and weight, and clothes, and hair, and behind, and breasts, and also, as they are crashed and crying, they are at the same time aware that they are being judged on the basis of their age, and weight, and clothes, and hair, and behind, and breasts… Men will watch them obsessively, measuring their degree of hotness, grading their fuckability. Women will watch them with an almost equal hunger, measuring how they compare to them, how threatening or unthreatening they are. Because that is how contests work: they only have one winner. They only have one beauty queen! (And many judges)

We are objects in men's eyes, all of us. And that’s the thing isn’t it? We are constantly, and for the entirety of our lives (not just in our youth), on display: we are being watched, measured, scored, judged, compared, approved, and eventually rejected (“Ay, there’s the rub!”) Our sense of self is therefore largely defined by this impending rejection. Which means, insecurity and fear are constant companions, as our place in this world is not defined by our qualities as human beings, but by the way we are perceived by those who watch us. And if you have a shred of belief in your worth as a an individual and are by some miracle free from the need to find validation in other’s people eyes, then this turn tricky: you experience this as a constant invasion, as a violation, as a prison. As an insult, not as a compliment. But not many women have that. That shred of belief in their worth as individuals. OR the luxury to feel anything other than pieces of meat on display. It takes a lot of work to get there. It takes confidence, and self-awareness, and inner strength. It takes being opened to the realities of Patriarchy too. It takes finally reaching a point when you are finally ready to shout "Fuck You!" That’s how feminists got their bad reputation of not being sufficiently “feminine” (perky, obedient, lenient, hungry for compliments and rings, eager to please, scared of ageing, carbs and bad hair days.) Sooner or later, they reach a point when they stop giving a fuck. Or at the very least, less of a fuck… A life of perpetual discomfort and pretences becomes eventually unbearable. They may not all go Andrea-Dworkin-in-overalls kind of full-throttle, but they are likely to relax eventually into their own selves. Which inevitably means they may finally be ready to say goodbye to self-imposed life-long starvation, high-heels or botox (that translates in getting rid of that old hungry need for men’s gaze and women’s jealousy).

But not many women get there. Insecurity, self-loathing and the need for validation having been so carefully planted in our psyche so early and for so many generations: “You have to be young and pretty (not to mention agreeable), in order to have your worth be validated by a man’s approval, his lust, and therefore eventually, his promise of financial support in the form of a marriage proposal. (For as long as you are still young and pretty and agreeable of course)”, we were told in a thousand different ways by a thousand different sources. That’s the bottom line of Patriarchy. Females are helpless. And in constant need of support. Men are powerful. And in constant need of beautiful sexual partners. So beauty for women equals security. Power for men equals accessability to sex. And by tightly clinging onto our “beauty ideals”, we, as women, also cling onto these patriarchal notions! This is the ugly truth of the matter.

Not many men will care to see “All of you” as the corny John Legend song (that unsurprisingly makes women cry out loud at weddings) goes. Likewise, not many men around, who would not be scared by their wife’s ageing that gradually steals away from her, her looks (as it does to them, but that’s insignificant of course) and at the same time, makes her practically unable to deal with any more bullshit. That’s a lethal combination isn’t it? Being both older AND more brave. That’s some scary shit! No wonder men run away from marriages and wives, as soon as middle age arrives. Nothing prepares them after all, for what it implies. Women are forced by life, by biology, by the realities of Patriarchy (of which they become gradually aware) to finally take a giant evolutionary step forward at middle age. That is why after that first shock that they are ageing (that can last a couple of years, or a whole decade, depending on how many eggs they have placed in that “please-like-me” basket) they usually find their feet and discover a new, braver self. And then predictably, their eyes are opened to the truth of what their marriages were really about, too.

That is why middle age and what comes after it, is a time of revelations, and power, and self-realisation and of rage too, for many women. Rage, not because they are ageing, but because they finally realise that they have wasted their youth trying to become smaller so that they would fit in other people’s (well, men’s mostly) tiny boxes. Trying not to make any waves, so that their husband’ s path would be undisturbed by the mere fact they existed and had needs and dreams of their own. But it is a process: there are a LOT of still delusional, still grasping-on-their-youth-and-their-porn-addict-husbands forty year olds around us. And there are a lot of fifty years olds, slowly finding their lost voice, as marriages are breaking up and old dreams they had to forget, are allowed to resurface. And there is an army of angry, divorced, fierce sixty year olds too, leading the way for the rest of us, as they are rediscovering their integrity and their truth, and their feminism and their rage, which they were forced to swallow, to burry, so that marriages would work and families would not fall apart. The reason it takes so long for a woman to find her power, is because it takes this damn long for her to let go of the need to be approved as worthy of a man’s attention. Once a woman looses her vanity, her fear about her powerlessness, and her illusions about the “importance” and "sanctity” of marriage, once the need for empty compliments and security (she will pay dearly in order to have of course) are gone, a new life begins! That is why sixty seems to be such a liberating age for so many women out there. (And the happiest, statistics tell us!)

That’s how women get to evolve emotionally and spiritually more than men: by their forever changing biologies, by their constantly readjusted navigational system. By their pain. Evolution is forced upon us it seems, from the moment we hit puberty. We can’t escape it. As our body continuously, exhaustingly changes, we change (physically, psychologically, mentally, spiritually) along with it. And as the world’s perception of us changes, we are forced to turn inwards. And we adjust. We adopt (we know the score!) We evolve. And we survive! That’s no small thing!

Men are spared from similar urgencies. That’s why they fall apart at the first news of a health scare. That is why they jump off buildings if they loose their money or status. That’s why they die younger too. It’ s not the actual events that crash them (illness, heart-attacks, cancer, scandals, bankruptcy), it’s the idea that such things can (could ever!) happen to THEM! And it’s the idea that they are mortals! (Who knew?!) It's about the loss of their power and control. Women experience monthly a little death - and countless rebirths in their lifetime! And they are used to heartbreak, failure, rejection, bullying, violence, fighting constantly against the odds, and cruel expiration dates from an early age. They are not that easy to break. Throughout their entire lives, they are soaring past obstacles that continue to come their way. (Weaker sex my ass!)

Men on the other hand, begin their life wrapped in a blanket of love, or at the very least, acceptance. In many cultures they are still considered to be the carriers of names and bloodlines, the special, the “good” offsprings. The only ones that count. Their births are welcome events that deserve celebrations, (while girls’ s births are equated with sorrow, desperation, shame, lamentation, and for millions of them, even murder!) And no matter where they are from, no matter what kind of men they are, most of them will be forgiven for their faults, as children or adults. They will be daily cared for, adored AND respected by mothers, wives, and daughters (How many women can say that about fathers, husbands, even sons? So many, many of them will on the contrary, face violence, even death by their very hands…) Most men are therefore forever stuck in a kind of prolonged childhood where entitlement is seen as a natural right, privilege is unquestioned, toys provided, lenience given, accountability not required, punishment for crimes they perpetrate against women, largely avoided. Where things are demanded, and then, for no other reason than they have demanded them, are granted! Where there is no constant, daily threat of violence. No fear, no voice saying they are not “good enough”, “worthy enough”, “righteous enough”, “beautiful enough”, “young enough”. There are no age-long traditions conspiring against them. There are no entire religions created in order to disempower them. Assuring them they are inferior. There are no laws that discriminate against them for no other reason than they are the “wrong” sex. There are no governments regulating their body and their sexuality. Their bodies are not seen as objects to be bought and sold. There is no entire world rejecting them. Holding flashlights, and magnifying glasses two inches from their skin, counting blemishes, and citing faults. And so, no need to look at mirrors (actual or inner), and therefore, no need to change, adjust, evolve. Middle age, and then old age, are for most of them, hardly reasons for introspection. That is why they predicably tend to turn to a young woman’s body in order to work out their own unacknowledged ambivalence about their mortality and their fear of declining potency (their only true enemies) A young woman’s body works for them you see, as a kind of enchanted mirror, in which they are hoping to capture a glimpse of who they used to be. Because they don’t want truth, they want lenience: the ultimate gift offered by needy young women who can still afford to act impressed, because they don’t know any better. And because they still have time on their hands, and are therefore still corrupted by hope! (That hope that “maybe he is the One”, or that “deep - wayyy deep - down inside he must be a good guy” that corrupts us all) That’s precious for men isn’t it? To have us act impressed. And this is the thing about women over forty: we no longer want to act impressed. We want to BE impressed!

Ageing sucks, yes. Who can deny it? But it is also one hell of an eye opener. And everything comes with a cost right? If you are going to have those eyes opened, you better pay it with crow’s feet… Seems fair actually. Not that it’s easy, since within Patriarchy, a woman is nothing but the sum of her body parts. (And they better be youthful!) So, yes ageing is a pain, but it’ s also a gift. Not to mention, it is the result of living: the more living you do, the more you age. To quote Indiana Jones:“It’s not the years honey. It’s the mileage” , which forms a beautiful equation you must admit! So don’ t be afraid of Time and its signs on you. It means that you have lived. Wear your wrinkles, your altered body, like badges of glory! They are not diminishing your power, they are fortifying it. And they are not only marking your Time on this Earth, but your battles, your inability to compromise, your acts of kindness, your fear, your losses, your laughter, your desperation, your darkest thoughts, your perseverance, your triumphs, your suffering. They were given to you by tough childhoods, and rebellious teen years, and crazy youthful days, and nights that would not dawn. They were given to you, by a pregnancy you hoped for but never came, or a pregnancy that was a nine-month long nightmare. By the pain you endured at childbirth, by the dangers you’ve escaped, by sleepless nights you've spent beside a sick kid, or a sick parent. By the jokes you’ ve told, the love you’ve shared, the kisses you've cherished, the tears you’ve shed, the chances you took, and the tough decisions that gutted you. They are the hopes never realised, and the unanswered prayers you’ve whispered in the dark. They are tokens left by everything you have survived. The agony of hospital waiting rooms, the loss of a friend, the death of a beloved pet, a funeral in the rain. They are gifts granted by the foreign lands you’ve visited; by tiramisus you’ve eaten at cafés overlooking Fontana di Trevi, and pastéis de natas in Lisbon, and syrupy baklavas in Lebanon, and hot, freshly baked bread outside of a bakery in Paris at 5.00 AM. They talk about a kidnapping you’ve witnessed in Moscow, and broken showers in Eastern Europe, open air bazaars in pre-war Syria, dysenteries in shady cruise ships along the Nile, Sunsets at the foot of the Parthenon, camel rides in Giza, Moroccan mosaics whose beauty brought you to tears, beaches on Greek Islands that stole your heart, and snow falling on your hair in snow motion, as you were standing heartbroken, on a frozen lake somewhere in Siberia – or any version of that. They are there, talking about a life lived! A lover you’ve lost, a dream you had to forego, a loss that nearly killed you, a success that was deserving, a failure that brought you to your knees, an illness you've survived, a love that made your heart blossom, a love that crashed your soul. They are witnesses to your joy and your pain, your struggles, your courage, your spirit. They are your battle-scars. They are there, saying to the world that you have lived! That you were forced to adjust. That you’ ve survived shit. And then some. That you came out on the other side alive, and kicking, and still raising hell. Don’t be afraid of change. Don’ t hate your ageing self. You are still you. Everything that happens to your body is still part of you, carrying around the testimony of a heart that has been broken, and stumbled upon, (and because of that, opened!), and of a life that had been lived, instead of made smaller, safer, disciplined, controlled. Carefully preserved. Like pickles in a jar.

Plus, you are remembering it wrong: youth was not just the time when you looked your best and had the ability to metabolise the entire contains of your fridge without that having any serious ramifications on your thighs (though granted, these are great qualities you wouldn’ t mind still having), it was also about being penniless and clueless as well as naive (a lethal combination), and it was about being uncertain about your life, and about bad decisions based on hormones, fear, insecurities, a poor judgement and a lack of self awareness. Not to mention it was about not being brave enough to say NO! when you ought to have, (especially to guys with great abs, who told you were beautiful) and then being led astray of your path for years at-a-time because of it…

But realising all that, is of course a process: ageing carries precious gifts of self awareness, yet it is still seen as a threat that looms over a woman’s life, the minute she turns twenty-nine. Which is mad! Say whatever you want about women of past generations: they may have had fewer rights, but they were at least allowed to age in a manner that none of us are anymore. And it is such a limiting way of living one’s life! Especially since what is seen as “young” - in terms of women only of course - lasts about a minute. Youth was always important and desirable, but never before was ageing seen as such a threat. Women of my mother’s generation were undoubtedly allowed to age! To move through life in a “different” (99 out of 100 cases, bigger) body in each decade. To be marked by Time, and be OK with it! Their ageing may have been unpleasant, or something they faced with a certain degree of foreboding, but it was never unexpected, it was never shocking, and it was definitely never shameful! Life took its course. Like life tends to do, since the dawn of time. It was expected. And fighting it, made you a fool.

When did ageing become such an abomination, instead of a natural part of life anyway? Ageing was supposed to be the time of becoming more aware, gaining in self-conciousness, understanding human nature, knowing yourself, passing on to the next generation knowledge and wisdom and shit. That is why older people no longer need their arsenal of shinning hair and robust limps. Because ideally, they have moved on, in terms of self conciousness and they need something more than someone to pay them compliments and fuck their brains out three times a day, (which is what young love is basically all about). Our world becomes a more complicated place, as we grow older. We carry around the heavy baggage of our past: of lost lovers or spouses, of dreams we had betrayed, and friends and places and versions of yourself we were forced to leave. And this offers an insight into what’s real. It forces us to appreciate kindness, and empathy, and compatibility in a partner, instead of firm bottoms (though granted, they are still appreciated). Sex becomes therefore also the ultimate form of intimacy and trust and communion with another soul, instead of a sport. Or it becomes unnecessary. Or at least not worth the trouble. That’s a possibility too. Because we know of the dangers it carries. Of how it can fog our judgement and blind us to the true realities of a relationship or a marriage and lead us astray for years at a time. We know of the price it demands. And frankly, the older we get , the more we realise that we don’t have that many years to spare… To waste on undeserving men... And it’s kind of a shame: for women at least, contrary to popular belief, their experience of life, or love, or sex, is intensified as they grow older, not blunted. Because they no longer need to prove things. Because they no longer need constant reassurance. Because they no longer care to pretend and lie in order to save face, to validate their partner’s always fragile ego, in order to be seen as desirable and hot and cool, in order to gain a man’s approval, in order to stay safe, in order to stay married. There is no need anymore (and no time!) to silence their own needs. That is why they can get rid of all the unnecessary baggage that used to keep them grounded, and enslaved in relationships that offered nothing more than ego gratification or safety. (Seen through these lens, how is ageing a bad deal?)

Ageing was never supposed to be an extended time of rosy cheekbones, tiny waistlines and eternally smooth skin anyway. It was always about becoming more powerful, so that you no longer needed or cared about your no longer rosy cheekbones, your no longer tiny waistlines and your no longer eternally smooth skin… That was always the deal. That was always our genetic predisposition: You are born. You are a baby. Then a kid. Then a teen. Then you look good for a couple of decades and change. Then you start slowly declining. Then you become properly old. And then you die. It’s written in our code. It’ s not reversible. It’s not negotiable. Each age carrying different gifts. Each stealing something away. Wanting to look like a twenty-year old when you are over fifty (and expecting the world to see you as one, and being gutted when it doesn’t happen), is as stupid, futile, paradoxical, unnatural and sick, as a thirty year old, wanting to look like an infant and trying hard, spending a lot of money and energy and effort in order to achieve that! How fucked up would that be?! So why do we think it is OK for fifty years olds to pretend they are 30 years younger? How come we don’t see this as some form of mental problem? (I guess the answer to that it’s because so many suffer from it…) No matter what you will do, or what your plastic surgeon assures you, no matter how much time you spend doing pilates and whatnot, no matter how many years it's been since you 've eaten ice cream, if you are fifty, you still look like a fifty year old. One who has had a lot of work done, and hasn’t eaten in decades yes, but a fifty year old. So just relax already. Have a desert. Forgo the beauty salon this week. Pull up a chair and take a breath. Show a little lenience to the woman in the mirror for a change! You can still be loved, but maybe not by the guy who is unable to evolve, who will look at you and only see your age (and through that, his own mortality), never your heart, your strength, your ability to love, your sensitivity, your maturity, your struggles, your complexity. But why would you care for such a guy? What does he have to offer to you, other than his approval or disapproval for your body parts, thinking he is entitled to it? And even then, only for a limited amount of time (because no matter how old you are, there’s further ageing along the way…) Forget it. Evolve yourself, so that you will get a chance to be with an evolved sort of guy. And so that more guys will be given the push to finally evolve themselves… And if he is not around, acknowledge the sheer bliss of living a life undisturbed by the constant catering to a man’s needs… (That’s precious too. In fact it is a revelation! Give it go!)

Actually, there are a LOT of heterosexual women out there, who are opting for self-imposed celibacy, just because they are not sufficiently insecure and self-loathing in order to turn their sex life into the pervy playground of porn-addicts. Porn addiction has shoved men back into their primal, dark Neanderthal caves and by that, it has also robbed women from the right to feel like they are more than props for men. Not all women are willing to be humiliated on a regular basis, so that their partner can reenact on their body (and soul) every single creepy shit he watched on his computer screen. And that is not equated with a hate for sex by the way (actually - miraculously -it is not even equated with a hate for men!) it is simply the only choice left that is available to women who want to live their life with integrity, dignity and without violence and humiliation. In this era of proud porn watchers public masturbators, outed sadists, and closeted pedophiles, it is heterosexual women who are paying the price in relationships. After the porn industry has claimed so many men’s lives, there’s just not much place for women who still expect connection, rather than humiliation from their encounters with them. There’s just no place for women who still want something more than see their self turned into a compliant facilitators of anybody’s porn fantasies.

But if you are not there yet, in that place of self-imposed celibacy that is, (though you probably will, eventually, given how porn culture is heading towards some even darker places), whether you are young or old, don’ t expect or wish to be loved for your looks (the one thing you have, that doesn’t last!) Expect and demand to be loved for more! For who you are! Who you’ ve become. Inside and out. Attraction is important, sure! We are all still underneath the layers of culture and education and intellectual analysis, animals after all. But there has to be something more there. The kind of something that lasts longer than an orgasm, that goes deeper than our skin. That can outlast infatuation. That can survive pass our youth. In short, dare to explore other versions of yourself, that don’ t involve your need for external validation. Free yourself from the addiction of compliments! Stop graving random men’ s attention. Stop being in constant need for men for whom you have no interest or desire, to see you as desirable, and for women to see you as more beautiful than them! Step out of the beauty pageant that is your life. End this humiliation! This desperation. This fear. Stop parading in front of sleazy judges of your worth, (on social media or real life) hoping they will choose you over the other desperate, parading women. Stop being a slave to the idea of becoming prettier / slimmer / younger. At all costs (physical, emotional, financial) Because it eats up your feelings of self worth, and it therefore keeps you from being free to explore the endless possibilities that make up who you are, or can be as an individual. It also keeps you from making thoughtful, realistic, decisions about your life: when your self esteem is defined wholly by the way you look, each time another woman tells you you look “great”, you assume she is a friend for no other reason than that, and each time an asshole pays you a compliment about your looks, you again lose your discernment, your ability to cut through the bullshit and see his real intentions – or your own feelings about him for that matter! It won’ t be long before you have talked yourself into believe he is in love with you, and even worse, that you are in love with him. Just because you love the feeling (in fact are addicted to it) he gives you when he says “Hey, you are pretty!” (which is man-talk for “Hey, I’m horny and must have a woman – any woman - now!”) That’s how most loveless marriages came to be, by the way: by a horny guy paying a compliment to a desperate woman, and by her buying it. Making it her life-line.

Time is a great equalizer: we are all on the same boat together - even the ones who haven’ t realized it yet. Sooner or later, we all reach a point when even if we no longer look our best, we still look better than how we will look in say three years… (Three years! Damn!) In fact, we will all eventually reach a point when every year we’ ll look a little worse, until we’ ll go from turning heads, to turning stomachs… You know how you look at old photos in which you look younger or slimmer and wish you still look that good? Well, chances are, you will be looking at photos of your current self, in say, five years time and wish you still looked THAT good… So why not start appreciating how you look NOW, instead of waiting five years, before you do?! Think about it!

Face the realities of ageing is what I’m saying. (Even though admittedly, it’s often easier said than done) Ageing will not spare you, but it won’t make you smaller, if you have found something in this life - other than your looks - that defines you as a worthy human being. In short, even when you are young, don’t feel flattered when a guy validates you for looking young, and when you get older for looking “younger than your age”. Be insulted! Be mad! It’s NOT a compliment! He is telling you that age (yours, not his of course!) matters to him. And that your age defines you. And that what he feels now, has an expiration date. As have you. How is that flattering?! How is it not an insult? How is that not a deal breaker?

Enjoy all your ages. Each steals something away; each gives you something in return. It’s just the way things are. Be proud of how you are ageing and the battle scars age has gifted you. And look for a guy who can see the truth behind this, and love you for it. But be prepared; be fucking OK if he is not out there. Because you have finally reached the point when such costs are damn worth it!

“The Woman in the Mirror - Ageing is Not For Sissies” – Part II" -
Art & Words Copyright © Fanitsa Petrou. All Rights Reserved.
Any unauthorised use – copying, publishing, printing, reselling, etc – will lead to legal implications.

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Art & Words By Fanitsa Petrou

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