Cindy Crawford won some new fans last month when an apparently un-retouched photo of her was posted on various websites and blogs. The photo shows a 47-year-old Crawford in 2013, posing for a Marie Claire photo shoot. What’s newsworthy about that? Well, she looks like no one we’ve seen before–she actually looks like a 47-year-old version of Cindy Crawford. She’s obviously aging, she looks like a mom, and she’s as beautiful as ever, albeit according to a standard of beauty not typically applied to supermodels.
For many, seeing this photo of Crawford made them love her more, as seeing a truer version of someone often does. Although Crawford probably did not pose for this photo with the intention that the world would see it in raw form, and did not post it herself, she did not initially make a public protest over its appearance either (although she and the photographer now claim the image was stolen and re-touched to make her look “aged and haggard”). This lack of freak-out endeared her to women everywhere. Regardless of the truth behind this image, Crawford does have a history of saying things like this: “If women would treat themselves with the same kind of love they give to their friends, that would be such a great gift we could give ourselves…What makes you the most attractive is self-confidence. That’s what people see.”
And women who saw the image applaud Crawford’s apparent willingness to be seen, photographed, and viewed as she is, seemingly comfortable with exposure of the misconception that she still is and always will be the hot young piece of touched-up flesh whose image graced the dorm rooms of many young men in the late 1980s and the 90s.
But the idea that this image may not be retouched isn’t the only thing remarkable about it. Just as shocking is the experience of simply seeing a 47-year-old woman in a context nearly always reserved for younger women. It’s the zone of the beautiful, and women over 40–particularly if they actually look like they’re over 40–don’t appear in that zone very often. Let’s face it, our popular culture does not consider 40-something women beautiful–let alone women over 50, 60, or (gasp) 70.
It’s not that women over 40 are absent from popular media; it’s just that they’re not considered beautiful, sexy, or vibrant. Trustworthy, yes. Nurturing and sometimes wise. Mom-jeans-dorky, human wallpaper, frumpy, definitely. But desirable, attractive, relevant…not much. Visible? Barely. And pop culture isn’t the only place where this happens. Women over 50 have long felt as if they are invisible to men in everyday life. Younger women can have this feeling too. Many women now say this sense of invisibility and irrelevance begins as early as a day over 35.
Now, you might expect me to complain about this. After all, I’m a mom (who definitely looks like a mom) over 40. At my age–even though my life, statistically speaking, is only about half over–I’m increasingly invisible and irrelevant to popular culture. And I feel it.
And I love it.
Here’s the deal. Our popular culture is built around people much younger than I am, and what it values in women I no longer have much of. I can mourn that, or I can accept it, or I can love it. I’m loving it more and more. See, with irrelevance comes a measure of freedom from the twisted expectations so many women try to live up to. I am finding that the older I get, the easier it is to escape the clutches of pop culture’s expectations and fascinations. I live under so much less pressure, and I have so many more opportunities to cut out the noise and focus on what I really believe is important. I no longer feel the world expects my body to look the way it did when I was 17. I’m no longer part of the target market for the really hip clothes and the fickle trends that govern their appeal. And I think society in general would prefer that I not squeeze myself into a bikini or go to Target in yoga pants. Which is great because I’ve never really wanted to.
For those of you who have not yet hit 40, let me tell you this increased sense of security (and its attendant boldness to scorn or ignore popular culture’s standards) is wonderful. As I become less relevant to pop culture, I find I’m less captive to its standards.
In terms of productivity, I can do as much as ever. When it comes to my mind, my soul, and my heart, I have more to offer and more to come. As my skin-deep beauty fades in the eyes of the world around me, I feel as if I’m shedding a skin that I thought would mourn, only to find that the layer underneath is much more comfortable.
© 2015 Amy Simpson.