“Attractive Older Women”

Somehow, I have gotten a reputation for being narrow-minded.  Even some of my friends think that.  Of course, I don’t think so.  I do have some liabilities—well, THOSE, sure, but I was thinking of something relevant to today’s topic—and it has to do with rationales.  I’m not all that picky about positions on issues or personal opinions or “social wisdom.”  It’s the rationales that are more likely to bother me.  I have also learned that most people are more accustomed to being upset about positions taken than about rationales abused.  So when I say it is the rationale that bothers me, I get eye-rolling and incredulity.

It is experiences like that that helped me decide to write this column. Here’s the article.  The rationale that caught my attention is this one.  And here’s an example of what I would call “an attractive older woman.”

Ms. Kolstad asked herself much the same question.[1]

 “In my day, no one ever thought about breast enhancement or anything,” she said. “But nowadays women go out and they would never get a second look if they show their age. I find that you have to keep up your appearance physically, even if you just want a companion or someone to ask you to dinner.

“That’s not going to happen if you don’t have a figure that these geezers are looking for.”

So here is Ms. Kolstad’s position, as I understand it.  She wants to get that “second look.”  This is that “Say, she looks really good!” look that she attributes to older men and whatever comments among the men that would follow such a look.  Without the kind of appearance that would cause men to look at her that way, you don’t have “a companion or someone to ask you to dinner.”  She is more specific too.  She wants the “figure that these geezers are looking for.”

To get this geezer-friendly figure, “Ms. Kolstad, a widow who lives in Orange County, Calif., underwent a three-hour breast lift with implants, which costs about $8,000.”  So I’m guessing that Ms. Kolstad is a good example of the sexy old women of my title.

Let me clarify  a couple of points, I am not arguing that Ms. Kolstad is not entitled to do with her $8000 whatever she wants to do.  I’m not very happy about the amount of money our healthcare system spends on the appearance of the wealthy when basic medical care is unavailable to so many of the poor, but everyone knows that that distribution of healthcare is not going to be affected in the slightest by Ms. Kolstad’s preferences about the precise latitude of her breasts.

I’m not arguing that women who want to be sexually attractive to men—Kolstad’s notion is that “sexually attractive” is the gateway condition to all kinds of less volatile associations with men, like companionship and dinner dates—ought not do what they can to look the way “men” find sexually attractive.  If that’s what she wants and she understands what kind of a transaction it is and has the raw materials, why shouldn’t she?

I did wonder a couple of things, though.  Whatever happened to the category “attractive older woman?”  Did it just disappear?  Is it really true now that to be an attractive older woman you have to look like an attractive younger woman?  Do a lot of older men and woman feel that way or it is just the geezers Ms. Kolstad is thinking of?

As I said, I don’t care all that much how Ms. Kolstad wants to live her life, but if you read the article, you will see that there is an explosion in the number of older patients who want cosmetic surgery.  If this is being driven by considerations like Ms. Kolstad’s, then a lot of the traits that were once thought to characterize a life well led have been downgraded.[2]  Living a long time in Earth’s gravity has a certain predictable effect on what a mature body looks like.  So does extended exposure to ultraviolet rays.  So does the decline of hormones that were once crucially necessary.  And so on.  Do we really want to think that a predictable stage in being an attractive older woman is having a boob job?

I guess one of the things that bothers me about that is that Mr. Kolstad’s rationale lumps me with the geezers who, you know, only want one thing.  Well, maybe two.

Another part of this is the effect on all the other categories of women.  The other categories don’t just hold still.  If a good-looking 83-year-old woman needs breast surgery to be invited to dinner, what will be said about the women who don’t have that surgery?  Will we say that “they are just letting themselves go?”  Will we say that “they used to take real pride in their appearance?”  Will we think that the biggest reason not to have the surgery is a lack of self-esteem?

Here’s what we know.  When a new category is valued, the other related categories are devalued so as to enhance the discrepancy.  This is normal social attribution.  It doesn’t take the spending the cosmetic surgery industry has put into it to make it happen.

I have no quarrel with “attractiveness” in women.  I have no quarrel with “older women.”  I have no quarrel with the kinds of changes that living many years under Earth conditions cause.  I just don’t like to have her values generalized among the older women of my acquaintance and I don’t want to be consigned to the geezers.


[1] The same question Nancy Etcoff has asked in the previous paragraph.“If an older woman wants to regain eyelids or wants a breast that she doesn’t have to tuck into a waistband, then why not?”   Etcoff is the author of The Survival of the Prettiest, which is the only book my book group ever chose on my recommendation and then refused to read because of their moral distaste for the topic.  It is a superb book, by the way.  The range of reported research is really amazing.

[2] Nothing against attractive older women, by the way.  I married one of those a few years ago myself.

About hessd

Here is all you need to know to follow this blog. I am an old man and I love to think about why we say the things we do. I've taught at the elementary, secondary, collegiate, and doctoral levels. I don't think one is easier than another. They are hard in different ways. I have taught political science for a long time and have practiced politics in and around the Oregon Legislature. I don't think one is easier than another. They are hard in different ways. You'll be seeing a lot about my favorite topics here. There will be religious reflections (I'm a Christian) and political reflections (I'm a Democrat) and a good deal of whimsy. I'm a dilettante.
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