Words and image by Christina Bjenning
“She is fifty-eight,” he said, beaming with pride. He held out his phone to me, reliving joyous moments as he swept through images of himself with his girlfriend—who could have been the love child of Meryl Streep and Jamie Lee Curtis.
“I helped her change her diet and she lost thirty pounds. That’s how we first met,” he said, and I believed him. Lloyd is an infectiously happy purveyor of life-force energy who dances through the city to the beat of his own teachings.
“She is now a model,” he continued. “In fact, we are doing a fashion show together next weekend. It’s a transgender event. I am doing nutritional counseling with respect to hormone therapy, and she is marketing her services as a voice coach,” he says, and I don’t even raise an eyebrow. This is, after all, New York City, and Lloyd is proudly wearing rows of yellow boar tusks and brass skulls, matte calfskin Coach loafers, and a black fishnet tank. Tights tie-dyed to look like snakeskin complete his look.
Lloyd and I met at a weekly artisan and farmer’s market in NYC. I’m there every week to sell my art and he comes by often.
“You know, male-to-female women often want to feminize their voices since the hormone therapy does not change the pitch, so they need help with that; with their inflection and such,” he continued, matter-of-factly.
“Oh, she is a voice gender-bender,” I quip, and he laughs and types it into his phone, saying he’ll totally use that one later.
Lloyd says he’ll be back as he leaves to explore the market for fresh produce grown far away from the city, and I get busy talking to other customers until the market quiets down. With some time on my hands, I start to reflect on my conversation with Lloyd about his girlfriend, a first-time model at fifty-eight, and my mind descends on the intriguing juxtaposition of ageism and agelessness in our society, especially when it comes to women.
If you’ve ever taken the scenic career route, to raise children, take care of family, or just take a breather from the trifecta of a layoff, an ulcer, and a boss from hell, you might discover your career has moved on, without you—especially if you’re in your forties. This is ageism. A world-wide phenomenon. Life once or twice removed from the corporate ladder is red-flagged by HR’s resume-scanning robots, programmed to spot straight-out-of-college, Red Bull-fueled, mortgage-free twenty-somethings with zero salary expectations, happily touting the emperor’s new clothes. And it does not help that your common sense dons a chef’s apron and tells you that job descriptions so heavily laden with acronyms they resemble overcooked alphabet soup will only give you heartburn.
As we age, we find that society views us in a less favorable way.
Women tend to become invisible as we age. The charm of greying temples is a term of endearment reserved for men. Our society is conditioned to equate beauty with youth, intrigue with speed, and attraction with shallowness. And as you age, you realize fewer people notice you. My Aunt Margit kept her stunning figure throughout her life, and told me when she was in her seventies that she curiously found herself appreciating cat calls from men passing her from behind. Of course, she said, the crooning quickly ended once they caught a look at her face, but it made her smile.
I once absentmindedly leafed through a magazine in a neutralized waiting room, somewhere, and happened upon an article in which the author toyed with the idea of what kind of person would best represent the mindset of a country. The author proposed that America is a teenage boy, an image of youth, impatience, and power. France, on the other hand, is definitely a thirty-something woman.
Ironically, most ads for fashion and beauty feature featherweight, extraordinarily tall models from an age group that most often cannot afford to purchase the product they sell. As for myself, weighing in at model weight but a foot less tall and of twice their age, I would much rather purchase something I can envision looking great on me. Realistically.
But it’s still a fall forward. As my soon-to-be ninety-eight-year-old father likes to say, the current shift in marketing, featuring grey hair and mature bodies, lends increased visibility and credibility for the aging woman.
Like Lloyd's girlfriend has experienced, modeling need not end at thirty.
A few professions have long valued experience-gained seniority: I watched today a world expert on Rembrandt, well into his 80’s, elegantly deduce a painting’s provenance and origins, where science and younger minds failed.
This turning of the tide comes down to money, of course. Mighty marketing mavens tap-tap-tapping into a new vein.
Traditional advertising drops aging women in the deep end of Depends, coloring them in hospital beige and waiting-room mauve. Nothing can be further from truth. The vibrant women I encounter are low-slung bells wearing Thelma and Louise, enjoying dirty martinis at Coachella, or performing their own music. Fact is, women live longer, live younger, have money to spend, and continue to consume fashion well into our senior years.
“Don’t wear beige, it might just kill you,” says fabulous artist Sue Kreitzman, a friend from the same city market as Lloyd. Sue and her posse age fearlessly, donning colors that put rainbows to shame, shimmying through the streets of London and New York. And they are definitely on to something: embracing aging adds almost a decade to your life.
At this point, my thoughts are interrupted by Lloyd who hands me a container of macrobiotic radish sprouts and saunters off, smooth as a panther, the city his jungle.
I watch him disappear into the asphalt foliage, thinking how much I love living in a world where a woman of fifty-eight is admired for her beauty, and smooth walking purveyors of life-force energy prevail, and in a world long overdue for a human revolution, how embracing agelessness is a win-win situation for us all.
About the Author:
Christina Bjenning is an alchemist fusing metal with metaphor to the hum of ancient myth. Her paintings and sculptures are enjoyed by collectors worldwide, her research has contributed to improving the lives of millions of patients every day. She grew up speaking a language skinny on synonyms, perhaps that’s why she adores words. When not contemplating words, she thinks and writes about how to prevent her heart from falling off her sleeve.