The “Sell-By” Date

So, I thought I’d just let this go, but my mind kept circling back to it. With me, that means, Time to add my two cents’ worth of commentary.  I’m referring to a recent Instagram ‘flap’ (creating a collective gasp and flurry of chat in our cyber world) over 53-year old model Cindy Crawford’s decision to Post “racy” (her word) photographs online. Nicely done, Cindy. I mean that. The pictures are tasteful, yet undeniably sexy. Crawford’s still a beautiful woman, regardless of how much air-brushing or photo-shopping was done:  The Bones are there.

I’ve had more than a few friends who’ve taken what used to be called “Boudoir Photos”, feeling the urge to capture for all time a fantasy-like beauty and sexuality. Most haven’t posted them online, however. Crawford’s reasoning for doing so – she was vocal and righteously snippy about it – is that she wanted to speak to the fact that women should not feel they have “Sell-By” dates, when it comes to their sexuality. I couldn’t agree more. Especially if they look like Cindy Crawford. In her statement, Crawford implied that the photographs were also sort of a ‘gift’ for her husband. Not going to argue with that either; but there’s a bit of a weird mashup here:  a political statement and a little eye candy for her spouse? On Instagram? You claim to be speaking for me here, Cindy, so I just want to make sure I’m understanding you.

In my view, a woman’s beauty and her sexuality are inextricably intertwined. In using the word ‘sexuality’ I’m not referring to sex, or the ability to conjure sexual feelings in anyone else. Feeling beautiful is something every woman on the planet is entitled to, and she should get to define what that means to her, and for her. But there’s a particular aspect of beauty that all women share, and that is our sexuality. Our sexuality is based, first and foremost, on the simple fact that we were born female. If we choose to embrace this (feel comfortable in our birth gender), our sexuality as females blossoms as we age. Our sexuality originates as a sense of self, a knowledge of self, a celebration of self and the ancient power inherent in being a woman. A woman’s sexuality does not , nor should it, require a male’s attention or validation in order to flourish.

Despite the “Swinging 60’s”, the brief illusion that women could truly celebrate being female in ways that suited their own bodies, minds and spirits, all women have faced a narrowing of the definitions of ‘beauty’ and ‘sexuality’ over time. Yes, faces on glossy magazine covers have become more diverse (a good thing), but many of the images we see – within the pages of the top fashion sellers —  still project a version of femaleness that is unrelatable to most women. There are also plenty of examples (movies, music, social media) guiding us in how we should feel about our sexuality; defining what it means  for us. No wonder that, as women age, many begin to feel what Crawford called out as the “Sell-By” date fears.

I’m cheering for Cindy Crawford and her nude photos, regardless of the reasons they ended up on Instagram. (I’ll be curious to see if the next decade brings a new photo shoot). I’m just longing for the time when an Influencer like Crawford’s proclamation includes a shout-out empowering  all women, of all ages, shapes and sizes. She has a right to do her thing, for as long as she chooses to. I’m just not convinced that the 53 year-old women she’s talking to are the same ones I know.

Aging is an Attitude: Defining Beauty for Ourselves

Silent-film “siren”, Clara Bow

I feel extremely lucky to have been born female, and extremely proud of my Sisters. Women are strong, smart, resilient and have the unique ability as a sex to call upon ancient truths to guide us in a perilous, male-dominated world. I think of women as a collective of survivors, akin to the micro-animal the Germans who discovered it and named it “Little Water Bear”. This creature can survive both sub-zero temperatures, and heat near 400 degrees Fahrenheit. It does so by adapting its metabolism according to its environment. Women are, as history has shown (and as is currently being played-out in response to events in Alabama), similarly fierce, flexible and enduring.

In addition to the aforementioned qualities, my Sisters are all — each and every one of them — inherently beautiful and alluring. They know this; sometimes at a surface level, where beauty can literally open doors; but more often this self-awareness is subtle, modest and discreet. Women have been leveraging beauty and sexual allure since ancient times, in relationships and in society. Again, some do this overtly, while other women choose to influence in less obvious ways. But we all have beauty, and we all know its power.

As an emerging young woman in the late 1960’s and early 70’s, I benefitted big-time from the atmosphere women were so much a part of creating. Social-media was not yet the guiding light it has become, so women communicated through music, art, speaking and writing. A pivotal book of the times was, “Our Bodies, Ourselves”, which not only educated women about their physical bodies, but encouraged them to honor their sacred femininity in every way. Not every woman embraced such freedom, including the option of eschewing makeup and shaving hair in places our mothers always did. The self-proclaimed “sexploitation” of actress-turned-activist Jane Fonda illustrated just how conflicted women could feel. On other continents, French actresses Brigitte Bardot, Sophia Loren, and Catherine Deneuve maintained a firm grip on the power of sexuality and the art of seduction through film. These women were seen by many Sisters as traitors to the Movement, but I never viewed them that way. They had a clear understanding of their goals, the tools they had at their disposal, and had no qualms about using those tools.

Beauty and sexuality have always been inter-twined, and part of the female toolkit. Personally, I don’t have a problem with that. I tease my bewildered male friends (although most have finally become wise to my antics), with a promise (always delayed for some reason or other) of a book about How Women Think and why they do what they do. Men, despite their power and authority in most of the world’s cultures, have no idea of the sleeping-giant of the Sisterhood — but they suspect, and they fear. Our only limitation as women, they way I see it, is not being fully aware of, and “ok” with, the process of getting all of our needs met; nor are we as supportive of one another as we could be. 

When you next look into the mirror, channel a little bit of the 1960’s vibe: remind yourself of your fundamental wisdom as a woman, and of your beauty. Then go ahead and enhance and deploy that beauty however you choose!

%d bloggers like this: