If we’re honest — and some are still coming to terms with that — we will admit that the fountain of youth doesn’t flow forever. Columnist Cindy LaFerle has decided to face the fact, and explains in this essay for BoomerCafé what it cost her.
As a seasoned female journalist in her early fifties, I’ve been wondering what it really means to age gracefully.
These days, the terms “anti-aging” and “age-defying” are used to market products to women who are barely out of high school. Every night on television, celebrities who aren’t a day over 35 are touting the wonders of wrinkle creams, facial peels, and under-eye serums. Even in the glossy fashion magazines and catalogs targeted to my own demographic, I rarely see images of mature women that resemble my middle-aged face or body.
I realize, of course, that fashion models are transformed by top-notch make-up artists. And I’ve seen how production editors enhance photos before their magazines are sent to press. Regardless, I get the message: Aging is shameful and to be avoided at all costs. She who looks youngest wins.
Last month, I tackled this topic in one of my weekly newspaper columns. I admitted that I plan to avoid cosmetic surgery as well as Botox.
“Women can look older and fabulous at the same time,” I announced in the column. Inspired by the latest Dove commercials — and the examples set by role models like Jamie Lee Curtis and Sally Field — I vowed that I would join the campaign for honest aging. As a woman and a writer, I promised to celebrate the beauty of graying temples and applaud the infectious charm of laugh lines.
In no way was I suggesting that middle-aged women should give up on their looks. I admitted that my own medicine cabinet contains a few anti-aging potions, including a back-up bottle of Retinol and an eye cream that promises to perform miracles. But I do believe we need to be more realistic — and less intimidated by the fashion police.
A few days after that column ran in the paper, I received many grateful notes and comments from women even younger than I am. But soon enough, my editor emailed a disturbing note of caution.
“We’re getting complaints from a couple of our advertisers who are plastic surgeons,” the editor — a woman — warned me. “With so many plastic surgeons and cosmetic salons as our advertisers, it’s really important that we cater to them. So I am asking you to stop writing against facelifts and other cosmetic procedures.” She went on to say that she encouraged me to continue to write “about the beauty of aging” and the positive aspects of middle age.” Just be sure you’re still saying that cosmetic surgery is a good option.”
It was the first time — in my 25 years as a print journalist and columnist — that I’d been told to alter or censor my editorial opinions in any way. I was angered by what the editor had written in her email -– but not at all surprised.
Though I’d learned long ago in journalism school that it’s unethical for editors to allow advertising to drive their editorial content, experience has taught me that many publications -– including most women’s magazines -– are highly influenced by advertising dollars. The editor who had scolded me was only trying to keep her community paper afloat. Or, as another writer put it, these days newspapers are on life support, and ad revenue keeps the oxygen flowing.
At 54, I feel I’m at the top of my game as a writer, and I hope to keep working as long as there are markets open to me. More than anything, I’d like to use my writing skills and years of experience to improve the quality of life for other women in midlife.
I know this will be a challenge, given that our current economic crisis is impacting all of print journalism. Colleagues at daily and weekly newspapers around the country are losing jobs right and left, and hardly a day goes by when I don’t hear of another publication that has folded down entirely. In the meantime, too many writers are reluctantly churning out “advertorials” in order to make a living from their craft.
Luckily, I was able to find a new home for my column in a well-respected daily newspaper that doesn’t ask its writers to pander to advertisers. Hopefully, I will be able to continue to write honestly about how hard it is to age with grace in a culture that worships at the temple of youth.
Category: Boomer Lifestyle