An Observation About Ageism and Visibility

[Content Note: Misogyny; ageism; body policing.]

Over the weekend, I saw a meme, generated in association with the recent ageism and body policing of Carrie Fisher, which read: "Men don't age better than women; they are just allowed to age."


And naturally that narrative coexists with lots of other misogynist ageist garbage, like our fucked-up expectations of what aging women should look like, and our warped view of what aging women actually do look like, thanks to Photoshop and fillers etc.

I also think there's something else at play: Carrie Fisher, like many other actresses who start their careers at a very young age, largely disappeared from the big screen for many years. Some actresses take hiatuses to raise families, and some aren't able to work because of addiction and/or other personal troubles, and some simply can't find work because of the persistent ageism in the entertainment industry.

There are a lot of reasons that a lot of actresses have big gaps on their IMDb pages around the time they hit their 30s, and it occurs to me that it's the actresses who, through some combination of talent and luck and ambition, continually work through the decade(s) when lots of other aging actresses disappear, that tend to be the ones to whom we attribute compliments about how they are aging.

We haven't seen Carrie Fisher in a movie, or multiple movies, or a TV show, each year of her long career. So we remember this iconic role she played in her 20s, and we weren't looking at her while she was offscreen being a playwright and novelist and generally awesome human being, and then she returns in a very public way in her 50s, and a bunch of d-bags are all, "OH MY SHE LOOKS AWFUL."

But, with requisite caveats about how every individual human ages differently, owing to a number of variables from genetics to lifestyle, Carrie Fisher looks perfectly consistent with other women of her cohort:

image of actress Meryl Streep, age 66
Meryl Streep, age 66.

image of actress Carrie Fisher, age 59
Carrie Fisher, age 59.

image of actress Julianne Moore, age 55
Julianne Moore, age 55.

I chose Streep and Moore for a very specific reason: Because they are both women who are routinely cited as having aged extraordinarily well. And, to my previous point, they are also women who have continually worked and been onscreen in major motion pictures throughout most of their professional lives, without the major gaps we see on the filmographies of many actresses in their cohort.

Maybe, just maybe, the ageism that disappears so many Women of a Certain Age serves to reinforce ageist expectations, while uninterrupted exposure to aging women actually creates a more generous and less judgmental impression of those women.

Gee, it's almost like visibility matters, in virtually every imaginable way. Huh.

(And, just for the record, I wouldn't give an infinitesimal shit if Carrie Fisher looked like Nosferatu. She is a goddamn national treasure, and if a few wrinkles prevent someone from appreciating that, they deserve a life devoid of her awesomeness.)

Shakesville is run as a safe space. First-time commenters: Please read Shakesville's Commenting Policy and Feminism 101 Section before commenting. We also do lots of in-thread moderation, so we ask that everyone read the entirety of any thread before commenting, to ensure compliance with any in-thread moderation. Thank you.

blog comments powered by Disqus