Tuesday, July 17, 2007
Age-orexia: the new anxiety

It was with some alarm that a month or so ago I picked up the Observer Woman magazine and came across this cover story: 'My name is Christa. I'm an age-orexic'

Great! I thought. As if women (and men these days) don't have enough hang-ups about their appearance.

Weight of course, is a perennial intellect drainer. When we could be spending brain power on how to halt global warming, or cure diseases, or spread resources more equitably, we instead spend our brain cells obsessed with bits of ourselves that are too big.

It's boring. And now it seems the absolute fear and obsession around aging is catching up with our hang-ups about weight. Boo - I say. Even as you've read this sentence you are closer to death. Where you will be in the ground. Rotting. And eaten by maggots. We can't escape it. Life reminds us that we must come to an end through the changes that appear on our faces and our bodies.

So you can botox all you like sister, but the reaper ain't fooled by your botulism filled forehead. We all get picked off in the end.

D'Souza in the Observer writes of her obsession:

"I'm not alone in thinking the idea of being 50 is an absolute outrage. I'm not alone in believing middle age happens only if you are ornery or slovenly enough to let it. Here is clear-cut, concrete proof that, up and down the country, it's all pretty much the same. We are now, amazingly, more obsessed about being young than we are about being size zero......In other words, if you want to insult the average British woman, don't guess her weight, just guess her age."

Cripes! She really knows how to make things hard for herself - doesn't she?

I must confess to a spot of age-orexia. There was a time (a while ago now) where I used to be asked for my ID at the pub. And at the pokies. And buying matches. And seeing an R-rated movie. Each instance made me bristle with injustice. How dare those trunk-necked bouncers think I'm 16. Big hair and loads of make-up, climbing in the toilet windows of pubs, carrying a copy of Investment Property: A User's Guide, were some of the ruses I tried.

Then one day they stopped asking. I was let in without questions. I was aging and, well - the process goes on. And on. And now on bad days I look like I've slept on jagged rocks.

I haven't been asked for ID for quite a while and although I haven't reached the point where I have to start wearing foundation makeup, that day is not too far away.

That is why my parents are such a breath of fresh air. They have been staying in London for a few weeks and have had a grand time. Could it be the museums, the walking holiday in the Lake District, the art, the culture, seeing me - their only daughter? No - it's the senior discount.

As newly minted 60 year-olds they have been shouting their ages to the roof-tops.
'We're sixty!' they tell ticket-sellers at the theatre without any hint of embarrassment. 'Do we get a seniors discount?'

'Oh god - have you no shame?" I murmur. " The seniors aren't my parents.." I say to no-one in particular.

To bus-drivers they cheerfully disclose their age and are not even asked for proof of their ancientness.

"Aren't you worried that he believed you were that old?" I asked.

"Not really, " says my mum. "We get to travel for half-price - you don't."

But if you are getting old - then I am getting old, I reasoned with them. So stop it! Now!

But on reflection I reckon Christine D'Souza and all age-orexics, should meet my parents. They reckon turning 60 is great. It halves many of the costs of expensive old London and entitles you to seats on public transport.

As for botox, they can't be bothered. Before dinner every night mum has a brandy and dad a beer. They sink into the couch at my place - tired from walking all day.

They look relaxed and happy. And you know what - when you are relaxed and happy, you don't look so old. Maybe that's the cure for age-orexia.

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Friday, June 8, 2007
The Plastic Surgery Myth
I was but a spotty teen in 1991 when The Beauty Myth, by Naomi Wolf was released, yet I read it with interest and not a little alarm.

It said women are damaged by the pressure to conform to an idealized concept of female beauty and the beauty myth is political, a way of maintaining the patriarchal system. She claims that this system keeps women under control through their own insecurities.

Fifteen years have passed and surely Wolf must survey our current preoccupation with a homogenized beauty ideal, with alarm and also depression.

In 1991 Wolf used the example of women having cosmetic surgery as an endgame of sorts, where women so insecure with their own appearance, so afraid of the aging process, so vain, self obsessed and unhappy, resorted to the surgeon’s knife to cut themselves into the shapes society deemed as acceptable.

Her vision of women pouring dangerous chemicals on their faces to remove layers of skin, filling the place where their breasts used to be silicon and injecting their foreheads with botulism (used previously in the treatment of cerebral palsy) was apoplectic – a nightmare scenario that back in the 90s seemed a bit overblown, almost hysterical. Surely Wolf was over-egging the pudding to get a few column inches to promote her book.

But cut to 2007 and her worst fears have been realised. Invasive, dangerous and ultimately vain and pointless cosmetic procedures have been accepted and normalized through shows such as Extreme Makeover and trash-bag celebrities whose chest sizes inflate as their waist measurements contract.

There has always been the element of the freakshow about those celebrities and the makeover shows and I like to think that there’s always been an element of caution in some sections of the media in relation to plastic surgery.

That is why I watched horrified on Wednesday night as the BBC aired a show called How Young Can I Get.

It wasn’t just that the 41 year-old presenter's stomach was hung before the camera, flapping in a matter of fact way, after it had been disattached from her body in a Malaysian hospital (where surgery is half the price of an op in the UK, and yippee, there’s a 5 star holiday thrown in!) but that the person presenting the program purported to be a journalist and there is something that made me feel distinctly uneasy about seeing the journalist being cut open on camera because she was feeling fat.

There was not a whole lot of balance or caution in the program. The presenter was, in the end, delighted with her flat new stomach. Her friends cooed, and even her mother – who seemed like a sensible sort – looked vaguely approving.

It is through this process and these shows, that surgery becomes normalised. This is how an ideal of beauty becomes standardised. This is where journalism – which should be an independent, impartial and balanced arbiter of the facts, becomes perverted.

I didn’t think the journalist looked better at the end. She had botox, fillers, a chemical peel and the surgery. The smile was rictus, the eyes had a grim, desperate please-love-me gleem, and her stomach was flat. So what.

We all have a different ideal of beauty. I think the people who are the most beautiful are the least self-obsessed. This doesn’t mean that they don’t care about clothes or grooming, but they are the people who accord themselves a certain measure of energy and them have enough left over to spread around to everyone else.

It’s a simple equation. The more time people spend on Project Self (excessive amount of time, money and energy into their own appearance) the less interesting they become. I’d call them beautiful bores if I thought in any way unnecessary plastic surgery makes people more beautiful. But it doesn’t.

And it is those that have fallen most heavily for the beauty myth.

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Welcome to the diary of a reluctant exerciser. Having previously shunned fitness regimes in favour of bacon sandwiches, Brigid Delaney vows to finally shape up, get fit and eat more healthily. Over the next three months read how she gets on in a brave new world of gyms, exercise classes and no bacon sandwiches.
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