Sunday, July 28, 2013

30 imminent

Turning 30 is supposed to be this thing for women. So I'd better report, because it's a'coming.

That my own impending 30-ness so precisely coincides with the moment one needs to submit preliminary materials for the dissertation means that I'm far more worried about having not made sufficient revisions in time (surely some of the more substantial ones are advice for getting it published eventually, or this is my impression, or OMG I'm never going to graduate, gah! and no, I didn't just leave a party early out of generalized deadline anxiety, what are you talking about?!) than I am about not being sufficiently nubile to attract lewd texts from politicians. Will it be done on time? Will some not-final version somehow go out to my entire committee? This, then, is where my most immediate anxieties lie.

But a post about dissertation lights at the end of dissertation tunnels is less compelling than one about beauty, gender, and age, so that's the one you're getting. But I take requests - if you want a dissertation-formatting rant, by all means, I could have one ready in no time.

*****

Discussions of female beauty and aging tend to assume a woman who was a pretty little girl, who peaked in womanly beauty at 19. Not only that, but we assume a woman who, at her peak, had men lining up to sleep with, date, and marry her. And... it's not that such women don't exist, but they're in the minority.

A few years spent spectacularly gorgeous is not the universal experience of youth. Most of us probably experience something between Dunham's "Tiny Furniture" alter ego and universally-admired-ingenue appearance. In the cultural imagination, The Young Woman has her pick. In life-as-lived, young women most certainly get rejected, dumped, compared unfavorably with their own peers. In whichever fantasy world of straight middle-aged men that is our entertainment industry, young women are beautiful and passive objects of desire. Which is, as young women know, as not-as-young women may recall, not quite the full young-and-female experience.

Point being, the great tragedy of turning 30 is mitigated for those of us who were not turning absolutely every last head at 16. Gray hair, wrinkles, a slower metabolism, there are plenty of vanity-concerns left even for those of us who were never professionally ravishing. But this is just not about to enter my top-10 list of concerns, whereas perhaps it would if I had once been a young Brigitte Bardot.

The women-and-aging conversation also goes awry when rather than saying that we all get older and the best we can do is take care of ourselves/work with what we've got, we get into these discussions of how 30 is young, with its implied, ugh, but 40 is old, or 40 is young but 50 is ancient, etc. If we just keep trying to push back the age at which women cease to be "hot," we're overstating the extent to which sexual attractiveness is about age, while at the same time denying the extent to which age does impact how one is perceived. Although beauty enters into it less than we think.

If you're hit on the most at 13, it's not because 13-year-olds are, for some evo-psych reason, the most attractive. It's because street-attention is about vulnerability, and 13-year-olds are easier to unnerve. If you have the most dating options at 20, is this because your face is unlined at that age, or because you're in college? And how, if women are supposed to be only attractive until 25, does it come to pass that the age at which it's easiest to meet a spouse is often closer to 30? Could it be that life is less about what we look like in a bathing suit than we might think?

So I'm not going to greet 30 with a declaration that I don't look 30. I'm 29 (but barely) and I venture that I could pass for 30. (Also, I suspect, 29 or 31.) I'm not going to promise an entire lack of vanity, either - sunscreen and exercise seem a bit more... interesting than they once did. (There is kale in the refrigerator, along with the best of intentions.) I will go on watching old sitcoms at the gym, comforting myself with the knowledge that I was born after they aired. I look better than I did at 8, or 14, and am likely to do so for quite some time. Which will, I suppose, have to do.

10 comments:

Petey said...

"sunscreen and exercise seem a bit more... interesting than they once did. (There is kale in the refrigerator, along with the best of intentions.)"

Beware! Despite what you may have read, kale is not an effective sunscreen.

And happy pre-birthday! Birthdays are good. They're your very own personal holiday. Also, fun fact of the day: aging is a gradual process and doesn't accelerate around base 10 birthdays.

caryatis said...

"In the cultural imagination, The Young Woman has her pick. In life-as-lived, young women most certainly get rejected, dumped, compared unfavorably with their own peers."

It's a good point that, by and large, young women are competing with and comparing themselves to other young women. But I do think that there's a special younger woman/older man dynamic. I feel this way with older coworkers...they see I am under 30, and don't bother looking past that fact to notice I am not very attractive.

Petey said...

"It's a good point that, by and large, young women are competing with and comparing themselves to other young women. But I do think that there's a special younger woman/older man dynamic. I feel this way with older coworkers...they see I am under 30, and don't bother looking past that fact to notice I am not very attractive."

Yeah. I really do think it's close to impossible to argue against the concept that in the hetero world, the mythical median 19yo female has more selective ability compared to the mythical median 19yo male, and that this dynamic completely reverses at some more advanced age...

caryatis said...

There's also how attractive a person is versus how attractive she feels. The median 30-year-old is probably much more confident than the median 19-year-old, right?

caryatis said...

Or is it just me? I can't wait to be 35, rich, and intimidating as fuck. I will wear suits, no one will be attracted to me, and life will be as it should be.

fourtinefork said...

I was finishing my dissertation revisions around my 30th birthday as well. (Degree was officially conferred six months later.)

Having both of those things happen sort of around the same time meant I had a great excuse for a really fantastic birthday/PhD dinner. Party like it's 1999! Whoo!

And, 30 year old me was way better looking (and more confident) than 19 year old me. If only I had known about the beauty-conferring qualities Terre de Feu back then...

Britta said...

I think the cultural narrative about youth and beauty is only as relevant as you make it to your life. The ability to attract desirable men is 80-90% attitude and confidence. Without that, a beautiful face might attract slightly more men, but they'll almost all be arrogant creeps who are attracted to passive women whom they perceive to have low self esteem. Attracting men in quantity without some filtering mechanism for quality is extremely scary, and not what any woman actually wants.

There are a few superficial dating circles where at minimum women demand men with 7 figure incomes and men demand former beauty queens, but it's hardly representative of most people, despite media portrayals to the contrary.

Phoebe said...

Petey, Caryatis,

Re: the "mythic" 19-year-old, I suppose in a world of aesthetics only, the men and women alike considered most universally appealing would be the ones who are best-looking around that age - fully adult, but not yet showing any signs of wrinkles-and-paunch (or for men, the receding hairline). (Are male models 40?) The difference may well be that men are encouraged to find younger women attractive above and beyond the extent to which they might otherwise, whereas women are thought to be somehow perverting the maternal/provider-seeking role if they find a younger man physically ideal. But this may well change as more women are in positions of professional power, and what with Harry Styles. Women may well just be socialized to prefer men who are past whichever 'peak,' part of the socialization that asks women not to care about men's looks, period.

But the important thing is, we-as-a-society spend so much time thinking about the theoretical possibility of 19-year-olds stealing all the men from 40- (or 25-) year-old women that we forget how little 19-year-olds have to do with anyone other than 18-22-year-olds to begin with. A 19-year-old woman heartbroken over a breakup with a 19-year-old man finds little comfort in her theoretical appeal to 40-year-olds.

Re: the power of simply being a younger woman... sure, I suppose? There's status in it for a man to be with a younger woman, independent of what this woman looks like/whether he's more attracted to her than he would be to a woman his own age. So that must have some impact on social dynamics.

Re: 30-year-old women and confidence, there's an alleged "sexual peak" - which for men is apparently college-age and for women, early 30s.

Phoebe said...

Fourtinefork,

If only the lipstick would arrive! I opted for free shipping over immediate gratification.

Britta,

"There are a few superficial dating circles where at minimum women demand men with 7 figure incomes and men demand former beauty queens, but it's hardly representative of most people, despite media portrayals to the contrary."

Yes, exactly. There's this one tiny segment of society where very young, conventionally-stunning women mingle with wealthy, much-older men, but that pattern doesn't replicate itself elsewhere. Nor is it even clear that most rich middle-aged men want to be with 20-year-olds (Bloomberg and others that come to mind seem not to), and it's plenty obvious that very few pretty young women go that route - most are more interested in pretty young men, and/or other pretty young women. But for ordinary men and women, there are so many reasons why 40-year-old men don't appeal to 20-year-old women, and why as much as 20-year-old women appeal to many 40-year-old men in the abstract (as 20-year-old men might appeal to 40-year-old women in the abstract, at the beach...), the life-stage mismatch would prove challenging.

Petey said...

"I can't wait to be 35, rich, and intimidating as fuck. I will wear suits, no one will be attracted to me, and life will be as it should be."

As Phoebe alludes to, this is not as simple as it seems.

Given that men's sexual peak occurs early when they have less selective ability, and that women's sexual peak occurs later when they have less selective ability, the whole plan seems rather unfair to both genders, to my way of thinking.

In short, when you are 35yo, the mythic median female should plan to experience the same frustration that the mythic median 19yo male experiences...