And what are people who can’t afford Botox and plastic surgery supposed to do?
In today’s society of blindingly blue-white teeth and tummy tucks and Botox, qualifications for a job may no longer matter. It’s all about how well you disguise the fact that you’re getting older. And inevitably, another entry in the multimillion dollar industry of so-called self-help books plays on yet another insecurity that Americans, particularly American women, have to face every day:
IN a new self-help book called “How Not to Look Old,” chapter headings in screaming capital letters warn readers of the dreaded signs of aging that are to be avoided at all costs.
“NOTHING AGES YOU LIKE … FOREHEAD LINES” admonishes one chapter introduction. Another chapter cautions: “NOTHING AGES YOU LIKE … YELLOW TEETH.”
Nothing, apparently, also carbon-dates you like GRAY BROW HAIRS or SAGGING SKIN or RECEDING GUMS, according to the book written by Charla Krupp, a former beauty director at Glamour who writes a column for More, a magazine for women over 40.
The book is the latest makeover title to treat the aging of one’s exterior as a disease whose symptoms are to be fought to the death or, at least, mightily camouflaged. But the book offers a serious rationale for such vigilant attempts at age control, arguing that trying to pass for younger is not so much a matter of sexual allure as of job security.
“Looking hip is not just about vanity anymore, it’s critical to every woman’s personal and financial survival,” according to the book jacket.
Promoted recently on Oprah Winfrey’s show and “Today,” the book clearly speaks to the fears of professional obsolescence and economic vulnerability among women over 40, at whom it is aimed. “How Not to Look Old” made its debut on the New York Times best-seller list last week at No. 8 in the advice and how-to category.
“Whether we want to admit it or not, in male corporate America we would rather have a cute, sexy 30-year-old working for us than a 50-year-old with gray hair who has let herself go and looks out of it, not in the swing of it, like a nun,” said Ms. Krupp, a blonde who blurs her age by personifying her advice about donning highlights, bangs, heels and sheer lip gloss. After all, nothing ages you like dark lipstick.
“My book is hitting a nerve because I am giving not looking old a spin as if your life depended on it,” Ms. Krupp said in an interview last week.
Many people would shun a book if it were titled “How Not to Look Jewish” or “How Not to Look Gay” because to cater to discrimination is to capitulate to it. But the success of “How Not to Look Old” indicates that popular culture is willing to buy into ageism as an acceptable form of prejudice, even against oneself.
In one study on hiring practices, for example, a graduate student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology applied to entry-level jobs in Boston and St. Petersburg, Fla., by sending out 4,000 résumés as a female job applicant; the résumés varied the year of high school graduation, which dated the job seeker as being from 35 to 62.
The study, published in 2005 by the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College, found that younger women were 40 percent more likely to receive an offer of a job interview than women over 50; a woman over 50 in Boston would have to send in 27 résumés just to get one job interview, where a younger woman would have to send in only 19, the study said.
I hate to burst the balloon of this fantasy that enough products and money spent on cosmetic procedures and time at the gym is going to somehow magically make employers think you’re younger than you are, but has Charla Krupp ever heard of background checks?
In companies that don’t care about a person’s age, as long as that person looks youthful, spending tens of thousands of dollars on plastic surgery and less-invasive cosmetic procedures may work. But when it’s all about the age itself (as it was during an interview I once had at a television network when I was 45, and the human resources recruiter I spoke with asked me a number of questions containing cultural references that were clearly designed to make me indirectly reveal my approximate age), there isn’t a cosmetic procedure in the world that’s going to disguise the fact that you graduated college in 1977.
It’s no secret that I’m not thin. I was thin for about five minutes in 1983 when I was on Cambridge Diet, consuming 300 calories a day and crying all the time, eventually going from a size 12 to a size 6, which lasted, as I said, for about five minutes. I have undereye circles. I always have, even when I was a child. My teeth are in good shape, but I can’t use whiteners because my molars are all crowned to match the rest of my teeth. And as for plastic surgery and Botox, well, I remember when botulism was something to avoid, and frankly, there are other things I’d rather spend thousands of dollars on than trying to fight a battle against time that we all ultimately lose.
Oh, sure, I do that thing in front of the mirror where you pull back your cheeks and say, “Gee, if I just had this pulled back just a TEENSY bit…” Then I think about how freaked out I was about the sedation involved in a colonoscopy and say to myself, “And you’re going to let them put you under so they can cut up your FACE??”
There’s a point that starts around 45 where there aspects to the face that looks back at you in the mirror in the morning that can be terrifying — those little jowly things that start to appear that you never thought would appear on you, because YOU were never going to grow old. And sometimes you look in the mirror and think it’s a stranger looking back at you. But then after a minute you recognize your own face, and there’s a comforting aspect to that. I can’t imagine what it must be like to be Greta Van Susteren and to have spent years looking in the mirror at the face on the left below and then one day seeing the one on the right:
I understand that in her line of work, a youthful appearance is mandatory (though Lisa Myers and Candy Crowley show that not EVERYONE has to look like a Fox News-bot). But for the rest of us, what difference does it make? Why should the illusion of one’s “fuckability” even come into play in the workplace? Are you there to do a job, or to feed the fantasies of male employers?
I’ve been in my current job for seven years, and hope to stay there for fourteen more. I’ve taken a total of seven sick days during that time — that’s one sick day a year, on average. I’ve worked weekends and evenings when there was a crunch project and I stay late if I’m in the middle of something. If the users of a project I’m working on want additional features, I try to provide them. I try to keep up with changing technologies as much as someone with limited time can do. I get along with everyone in my department. People in other departments with whom I work say I’m great to work with. I’ll stack up my work ethic and energy level against just about anyone. But books like this, and osme workplaces, would say none of that matters, because I’m short and overweight and my teeth aren’t blue-white and I have circles under my eyes no matter how much sleep I get and I have lines around my mouth.
What kind of fucked-up value system is this?
I’m not saying that you shouldn’t try to look attractive. I wear makeup and get my hair professionally colored. That’s my concession to the quest for youth. But where is it written that attractiveness has to be about trying to look twenty-five forever? And why not just try to look good, no matter how “old” you look? Now if you WANT to have these procedures, and you have the money to do it, more power to you. Be my guest. But it shouldn’t be mandatory — and that brings up another, more insidious aspect to this quest for eternal youth, and that is that it’s the exclusive province of the affluent. In a country with a diminishing job base, are we going to make employment accessible only to those with the financial resources to spend thousands of dollars to retain a youthful appearance?