Being old

by alittleredpen

I’ve seen a meme floating around Facebook and it’s really grinding my gears. I won’t link to it, but it originated on the page of some bloke called David Beansprout Beare or Paul Apple Foxi or some such. It shows two women. One is very muscular, is in gym gear and is smiling at the camera. The other is in a flowered blouse, has soft grey hair and it looking out of a window with net curtains on it (subtle touch, that). The caption says, “Both of these women are 74 … what choice are you going to make?”

Some thoughts:

  1. Great. We’re body-shaming 74-year-old women now.
  2. These pictures tell me nothing about the women depicted apart from the most superficial — it’s not even straightforward to assess their health, let alone how they have lived their lives, what they have accomplished, the sorrows they have faced, the love they have given and received, the learning that has marked and shaped them.
  3. The woman in the blouse looks a bit like my Granny, and she was a gardening, walking, whiskey-drinking, agile, sociable ninja-nana for most of her old age. At a certain point, her choices became much harder and her resilience took a blow too many and her physical health deteriorated. To blame her for that (to blame anyone for that, at any age) seems cruel and illogical. The individualising of health messages without recognising structural impediments, inequalities, privilege and disadvantage is bullshit.
  4. I’m 40, I go to the gym three or four times a week, I eat reasonably healthily and my life is generally happy. I have never had the physique of the woman in gym gear, and the thought that I might get there by the age of 74 is laughable.
  5. Do we really fetishise youth to the extent that we value the body of a gym bunny more highly than wisdom and life experience?
  6. The expectation that women should be beautiful has not served me well at any point in my life, and the idea that I will still be measured against that ideal and judged on my physical appearance when I’m 74 is utterly depressing.

Anyway … another day, another dose of internet outrage. My granny wasn’t on Facebook either. Might be time to introduce whiskey to my life.

Then I got curious and decided to find out who these women are and why Donald Beetjuice Ramface was using their images. The woman on the left is Ernestine Shepherd. She’s the world’s oldest competitive bodybuilder, a marathon runner and personal trainer, she was inspired to compete by her sister’s death, she likes Sylvester Stallone and Michelle Obama, and I hope she gave permission for her image to be used like this. Here’s her website. If the meme was just about her, I might be fine with it.

But there are two women in the picture, and the one on the right is more elusive. Her picture comes up when you google ‘elderly woman looking out a window’. The image is by Chalmers Butterfield, but I can’t find anything about her name, age or life.  To use an image of someone like that as a marker of what bad or unthinking or socially driven choices look like … well, it’s just damn rude, isn’t it?