I have just had a birthday and am now of an age where it’s impossible to grumble about it without someone feeling the need to tell me that ‘age is just a number’. Although this is factually correct it is rarely meant just as a statement of fact. It’s an admonishment usually delivered by some smug 20 something who would rather be dead than imagine life beyond 50. Or by one of your elders who at this point has forgotten what year they were born and is essentially treading water.
My worry is that I’m losing my edge when it comes to risk-taking. Every year I try to take on new projects that scare me. In the past I’ve done stand-up, written new shows, taken up adventure racing, tried the trapeze. In 2017 I lost my nerve a bit and nothing really stands out.
It’s a lot easier to be brave once you’re properly old. If you’re 80 and feeling good then why not give hot air ballooning a try? What do you really have to lose if the wicker basket goes up in flames? But at 52 then you’re neither young nor really old but you are heading towards the valley of the shadow of death. (I suspect the writer of that psalm was in his early 50s too and glad of the advice to have a lie down in green pastures for a bit of a kip). I fear that I might be on the cusp of taking up a pottery class or joining a book club.
52 is a particularly interesting age because there are 52 playing cards in a desk and there are 52 weeks in a year. Coincidence? This goes to prove that there are definitely other things in the universe that also have the number 52 in them. Just think how poignant that would be if I died at age 52 on the eve of my birthday during the 52nd week of 2018 clutching a deck of cards.
My one and only joy of getting older is being able to transpose the birthday numbers and either look back or forward. Some years are better than others. 51 going on 15 was sort of fun to reflect back on and I celebrated with a few Marlboros and a Cinzano and lemonade. 52 makes even more sense as I am currently working with two 25 year olds. It’s a little strange to work with people who are more than half your age because at the back of both of your minds is the idea that you could be their mother and the temptation to pass on life lessons from the 1980s can be overwhelming. Fortunately, being British, my old person foibles can be passed off as cultural differences and snobbish pretensions. Cropped top? Yeah that’s how we say it in England, crops are things we grow in the fields. Dumbass.
But I am glad to have the chance to work with millennials, if only to disprove most of the generalized myths about their generation. Fortunately my two are about as interested in seeking a life of meaning as I was at 25. And as money hungry and consumerist as I was, and still am. Not that I would want to go back to the anxiety of my 20s. It’s been a while since I had to take the morning after pill. And Jeff Davison has been happily married for at least 25 years.
But going into 2018 and my 52nd year here’s an incomplete list of reasons why turning 52 is far more pants than 25:
I’m moving ever closer to taking a women’s only kayaking or hiking the Himalayas trip.
Starvation is the only way to stay at my current weight.
I sometimes consider popping into ‘Michaels’ craft store, just to BROWSE.
I have had disturbing thoughts about buying a ‘statement blazer’.
When my 25-year-old employees are my age, I will be 79.
I will probably only own 2 more dogs, at most.
I will never ever use Snapchat.
Cardigans will soon outnumber any other item of clothing in my wardrobe.
I am at my maximum height.
At least 4 of my idols will die in the next 12 months.
If not vigilant, I could end up embroidering my life story in 10 easy-sew panels.
I’m softening up on long and proudly held family grudges.
No-one gives a toss how wise I am. They’ll still google it.
We’re heading towards that most hideous time of the year. The annual christmas party. Sorry, holiday party. My bad. I must now self-flagellate with a piece of a-luminum siding.
It’s been a few years since my last holiday rant and specifically the evils of the white elephant/secret santa/dirty santa and every other version of this hideous ill-mannered game where it’s ok to steal each other’s gifts.
Fortunately for me, the annual get-together for my gym’s women’s program where this despicable ritual is always played out is scheduled for when I’m England where the only thievery I have to watch out for is the Romanians on Oxford Street. This year though Erik and I aren’t pilgrimming it in December and the annual party has moved to December 30th. But I very much doubt that the afterbirth of Geezus will change the impulse of this group of women to smackdown, cheat and steal.
Yet I would still be more comfortable going to this than to my company ‘do’. My gym group and coach has seen me through various sobbing fits, panic attacks and a few moments of complete bad-arsery. But amongst my work people I’ve yet to even utter my standard ‘useless twat’ phrase.
Forced socialization with work people brings up a lot of social anxieties for me. And now there’s two events that I’m expected to attend. There’s the official company lunch that’s held in a steak restaurant. Everyone’s done this one. You sit at a long table and hope against hope that you won’t get stuck next to the office bore who only drinks iced tea and drones on about their child/grandchild who apparently ranks second only in ascendancy to Geezus. About whom they also bang about, ad nauseum.
One tantalising seat away from you is the person that you really wanted to be next to and so you try to hold a conversation with them by bobbing back and forth as the person between you keeps shifting in an attempt to block you. Ordering takes forever as the server has to deal with the special requests of a table of 30, including 30 renditions of the choice of 8 salad dressings, none of which seem to appeal. Just choose the bloody vinaigrette you picky twat.
The second event is actually at the home of the head of the department. Really? We couldn’t find a more awkward uncomfortable setting for this? Oh what a lovely house I’ll say as I take my shoes off after wiping mud on the hall rug and double-dip the celery crudite into the dipping sauces set out on the expansive kitchen island and hopefully cover up the fact that I don’t know half the people’s names even though I’ve worked there for 8 months. Cue inane chit-chat. ‘Finished all your shopping?’ blah blah. Traveling for the holidays? who cares.
I’ve already been told that it’s a tradition for this work group to play the white elephant game. Which means there will be at least one gift that reappears every year having been hilariously passed back and forth between the staff like a dose of festive chlamydia. So there’s that to look forward to.
I hate public gift-giving. Especially to strangers. But common decency means I can’t bring myself to wrap up that nasty bottle of chocolate wine that I hate so that someone else can experience the misery of it. So I’ll bring something nice that will actually be wanted (and stolen) and still take home the same nasty bottle of chocolate wine that I came with. You’re either a jerk or a people-pleasing fuckwit in this game.
I’ve just looked up the origins of this pointless so-called entertainment and found that the originator was the King of Siam. A total passive-aggressive jerk he gave an albino elephant to any courtier who pissed him off in the hope that the upkeep costs would ruin them. He could have just sacked them and been done with it. Stupid bald-headed git. What kind of christian name is ‘Yul’ anyway?
In a meeting a few weeks ago the ‘party-like-your-boss-is-watching’ holiday party was discussed, as was my general disgust with the albino elephant game. Yesterday I got an email from the department head’s assistant:
“Maggie, I was told that you suggested a more fun and exciting gift exchange than our “White Elephant” norm. Is this true? And are there rules or conditions I should include with the invite and will you be attending and will explain how to play at the party?
No, on all counts.
I don’t do party games or ice-breakers. That’s what alcohol is for. As a child even a simple game of musical chairs was a huge stress to me. Being brought up to always allow others to go before you rarely makes you a winner when you’re competing for the last chair when the music stops. I can’t bear any behaviour lacking in manners or common decency. I can’t even sit on a bus in England without fearing that I’ve inadvertently taken a seat reserved for old people or disabled women with pushchairs or disaffected youth.
My feeling is that if the party needs some sort of parlour game to keep everyone from having to talk to each for too long then maybe the party isn’t the best idea.
The only model I can suggest is based on the British Christmas parties of the 1980s which involved drinking too much, eating a whole bowl of Twiglets and telling the boss that he’s a tosser, before then crying and throwing up bits of marmite-flavoured twig into the great white elephant.
Less than 2 months into being 50 and my greatest fear about aging is coming true. It isn’t completely unexpected, there’s been some warning signs but I was hoping it was a temporary glitch. But I really do think I am becoming a walker.
On my 50th birthday I received at least 3 Facebook ‘welcomes to the club’ from those already in it (being 50, not the British up the duff way). As with Costco it’s a club that I’ve been reluctant to join as it doesn’t seem that there’s anything for me. Continue reading “And so this is 50…”→
An open letter to the creators of the ‘Old Bags’ project.
I really wasn’t looking for another Huffington Post 50 pieces to go off on. I’ve been quite happy writing a post about my first few days of fifty-dom. But then this piece about your project was published and I found it impossible to ignore because I find the whole thing utterly hideous.
Huffington Post titled the piece: Semi-Nude Photo Series Will Empower Older Women With Body Woes. And then followed it with this slightly odd subhead that reads more like an editorial comment from a pandering intern: ‘We need to see more of this’
I think some people might have wondered if this was another one of those ‘real women, real bodies’ campaigns that Dove (soap not chocolate) started BACK IN 2004 to sell more of their made-with-a-glassandahalfof-real-milk soap (or am I confusing that with Cadbury’s Dairy Milk?). Weren’t those ads with the women in their underwear all about empowerment and advertiser bias (and soap)? But no, your campaign isn’t affiliated with a product or a brand. It’s about photographing middle-aged women in ill-fitting underwear with shopping bags on their heads.
If only we could see the look of empowerment on these women’s faces. But we can’t because some idiot (you) covered each of their faces with a shopping bag. As I’m sure you must know there’s nothing more empowering to 50+ year old women than not being seen. Ah yes, you’re commenting on their perceived societal invisibility. By making them invisible. Brilliant.
My first thought was how dehumanizing to bag a human being in this way. I believe that torturers do the same thing to their victims to increase the level of helplessness and terror. Maybe Dove could use this for their next deodorant campaign — set it in Guantanamo Bay and they could use the tagline ‘don’t let them see you sweat’.
And nice work on the campaign title – ‘old bags’. I see you’re cleverly playing on the popular British slang term for unattractive and annoying dried-up spinstery type women. Did you think you were somehow reclaiming the term on our collective behalf? Rather than actually reinforcing the ugly stereotype and introducing the term to a whole new generation.
You are quoted as saying “Middle-aged female bodies are rarely seen except in advertisements about lifting, incising, creaming and hiding,” And in those Dove campaigns from 11 YEARS AGO of course. Or do you see those as different because not all of the women in the Dove photos are middle-aged? Just like the actual population.
You also claim “A lot of middle-aged women have little idea of what is typical of an aging woman’s body. What exactly is ‘typical’? Am I not typical because at 50 I don’t currently look like these women and have no intention of doing so?
But mostly this: ‘When middle age arrives, it can announce itself with added pounds, a changing shape and a tough time going clothes shopping No doubt a positive body image can be difficult to maintain as you get older, so two women decided to take the struggle public in an effort to put everyone at ease.’
A couple of things here. Firstly I don’t think anyone is feeling ‘at ease’ seeing these head-in-a-bag women. Nor do any of the women themselves look particularly at ease. The woman with the Clarks bag is striking a slightly more jaunty pose but the body language of the others says highly uncomfortable in their skin. Of course we can’t really tell for sure because WE CAN’T SEE THEIR FACES.
And secondly, I’m unclear on the point you’re trying to make with the selection of youth-oriented retailer’s bags. Abercrombie & Fitch? I wouldn’t expect to find anything to fit me in there. The owners of that brand have made it quite clear that if you can’t fit into a straw then don’t bother shopping there. And Forever 21? Seriously? When they say the brand appeals to women of all ages, they mean that a 16-year-old and 26-year-old can wear the same thing.
Four of the six brands represented by the bags are absolutely not aimed at middle aged women so what’s your point? That we live in a youth-oriented society? Wow, is this what passes as radical thinking post-menopause? The fact is that women can and should shop at these stores if they wish but only a twat would then blame anyone but themselves for their ‘tough shopping experience’.
And we’re in 2016 for fuck’s sake. Is taking your clothes off really the best way we have to show our empowerment or vulnerability? This is the equivalent of the solo show performer finally comes to terms with their sexuality or some other shameful secret by taking their clothes off and singing I am what I am. (I will not be doing this at my FronteraFest shows).
This campaign doesn’t ‘poke fun at consumerism’, it just makes me want to haul these women off for a decent bra fitting. And I don’t believe your assertion that other women draw strength from these images. They do not create a positive body image unless we’re looking at the pictures and thinking, well I may have chunky thighs but at least my stomach doesn’t look like that. Because you’ve given us permission to be totally judgmental. We don’t have to look at these women’s faces and try to reconcile their beauty with their aging body. No we can just critique the amount of fat on their upper arms without an ounce of guilt. The only common ground you might have achieved is someone realising they are not the only big-boobed woman in the world who wears sports bras that are only suitable for some light dusting by a tween with an A cup.
Seriously, did no-one around you actually question this idea? Did they all have their heads stuck in the proverbial sand/Wet Seal bag. I don’t even know how you managed to convince the women to do this. Do they actually feel empowered looking at these photos of themselves or do they just feel like idiots who’ve been conned by you? Haha, look the Emperor’s in his bra and pants.
And if you haven’t already scrolled down for a prurient glimpse, here is the piece.
Semi-Nude Photo Series Will Empower Older Women With Body Woes
We need to see more of this.
01/08/2016 03:33 pm ET
When middle age arrives, it can announce itself with added pounds, a changing shape and a tough time going clothes shopping. No doubt a positive body image can be difficult to maintain as you get older, so two women decided to take the struggle public in an effort to put everyone at ease.
Lori Petchers, 57, and Faith Baum, 63, came up with the idea for a photo project to reflect older women’s struggles with their changing bodies. Petchers and Baum, both post-menopausal women and mothers, told The Huffington Post that it was a common discussion topic in their circles.
“Middle-aged female bodies are rarely seen except in advertisements about lifting, incising, creaming and hiding,” Baum and Petchers said.
A photo series was imagined to “poke fun at consumerism.” Middle-aged women ages 45 to 70, of all body shapes, races and sizes, were asked to bravely strip down to their underwear, and show off their bodies proudly — but anonymously. They are all wearing shopping bags on their heads.
The project’s creators say they wanted older women to know they aren’t alone.
“A lot of middle-aged women have little idea of what is typical of an aging woman’s body. They think they are the only ones with saggy thighs, loose skin and everything else,” the creators say. “It is so important to normalize aging. And to feel comfortable in our own skin.”
The project was launched a few years back and has since grown into more than just powerful images. The photos have been featured in several art shows, anindependent exhibit, and most recently, a book. “Old Bags Taking A Stand” features photos of women, as well as anecdotes on aging taken from hours of interviews — all for other women to draw strength from.
“Many women see middle age as the end — the end of children, sexuality, youth,” Baum and Petchers said. “But the project has made us realize that many of us have 30 to 40 years ahead … it’s a chance to reap the benefits of past endeavors and start some new ones.”