Commentary

Dutch 'Sexy at 60' Cover Photos Defy Ageism

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

If the Netherlands can make 60-ish women look hot, can American media too? And should we applaud or boo?

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Objectification Limits

The Dutch are moving the age of "still" being sexual objects and pretty women from 40 to 50 and to past 60.

I suspect the trend, if it continues here, might reduce ageism without increasing sexism.

It manages this by making apparent a few cheerful facts that should be better known. Bodies don't change over time as much as youth fashion, ads, menopause innuendo and jokes falsely suggest. Even old women may have great breasts, soft skin, sexual feelings and devoted partners.

Insofar as wanting to have sex depends on visual stimuli, these help the not-young find lovers. For every woman who is happy that construction workers no longer whistle at her, there are others who want simply to be visible to someone.

Many 60-year-old women would be horrified at the idea of being airbrushed for Playboy. They don't want extra pressures to be slim, toned and "perfect" as they grow older. But others want to be admired in real life. Sexing later life opens up choices.

One friend of mine hides her neck, while another shows cleavage and a third bares her shoulders below white hair.

Being a young woman always involves anticipating growing older, and if younger women can believe they will remain desirable as they age, it's an incalculable life-course benefit, reducing their own internalization of sexist ageism.

We'll suspect that the double standard of aging is weakening when people put gorgeous nearly naked 60-year-olds--male and female both--on Youtube!

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Margaret Morganroth Gullette is an author, most recently of "Agewise: Fighting the New Ageism in America," and of "Aged by Culture" and "Declining to Decline." She is a resident scholar at the Women's Studies Research Center, Brandeis. Aagje Swinnen is the editor of a book on the sexuality of older people, an assistant professor at the Center for Gender and Diversity of Maastricht University, the Netherlands, and a founding member of the European Network in Aging Studies.

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"Dutch courage" is right: false courage, is what that means, and that's what this is. Linda de Mol is hardly the Dutch Oprah. What she is, is the country's joke -- a wealthy woman (thanks to family efforts) who has indulged in every treatment known to womankind to lift, freeze, plump, and reshape her face and body over the years. She is also one of the country's very few internationally-known celebrities, which gives her a particular allure (not to mention the fact that her family owns most of the media). Moreover, the number of articles in American women's mags celebrating over-40s and over-50s (Jane Fonda, anyone?) suggests that the Dutch are way behind on this one.

I think it would be helpful either to do more research into what Holland is about, or check facts, before publishing something like this. As a former Dutch correspondent for WeN, I can assure you that there is much wrong with this particular piece.

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