This is my lovely 94 year old grandma, Joyce (my middle namesake) drawn in ballpoint pen, with a splash of some watercolour, on 9 x 12 in paper. This was a piece with a lot of stops and starts, and I put a lot of pressure on myself to get it right.
I don’t draw in this much detail often, but I am so in admiration of this woman’s energy and wit, as well as her capacity to continually learn and grow in her most recent years, I wanted to do her justice.
My grandma was a source not only of my earliest feelings of family and comfort, but of my ideas of femininity and beauty. She has always taken pride in her appearance, and it has always shown. My mom told me that when she was little she thought her mom was the most beautiful woman in the world, and I believe it.
It was important to me to reframe my grandma’s own self-consciousness around the act of ageing. Like many women from her generation (and today), she believes that youth is the ideal, and that getting older is a departure from that ideal. While on one hand, I remember her morning beauty routine and makeup instruction with warm and fuzzy nostalgia from sleepovers at my grandparents’, I know that her commitment to those products was a necessary protection from the critical external and internal voices of ageist judgement.
I wanted to pay attention to and honour how the imprints of her life experiences have informed her skin. As my face begins to get its own creases and lines, I’m trying to appreciate (despite a lifetime of training) that this is the story of my interactions with the world for the past 31 years. They represent all my smiles, all my belly laughs, all my scowls at people who deserved it, and all my serious eyebrow furrowing thoughts. They are a record of my story, and there is no reason they should be erased in favour of the simpler texture of a younger, less experienced and less wise, version of myself.
Lately I have been getting angry when I am seeking health care and I am instead targeted with anti-ageing products and procedures. It starts with the pharmacy section in the Safeway where there are a million wrinkle reducing skin care products but you can’t find the yeast infection treatment (ew vaginas, gross), and it seeps into the places where I am at my most vulnerable and exposed. In my OB-GYN’s office, and in a general walk-in clnic I went to recently, there were ads for cosmetic surgery in the waiting room and in the actual doctor’s offices.
I resented so much that while I was dealing with issues that affected my actual health and well-being, when I was feeling low and like there was something wrong with me anyways, and in a moment when I was asking for help from an authority I was supposed to be able to trust, I was being marketed to and confronted with the fact that not only is there a problem with how I feel or operate, but I live in a society that also thinks I don’t look how I’m supposed to look because my face has lines.
I reject the idea that women should feel shame or embarrassment for showing evidence that we have spent time on this earth. I’d like to celebrate all the life stages women experience, not just the perpetual childhood we are sold as necessary for continued social relevance. Humans get old (if we’re lucky). Women get old. There is not actually an alternative. Selling women discontent for being subject to the laws of time and space is a huge industry, and I’m specifically pissed off at the individuals who profit from inventing our insecurities for us.
I have a feeling that women who are not afraid to express the experience they’ve amassed over the years may be the most dangerous . . .
What if all women did not feel they needed to hide or fix themselves in order to occupy public space? What would we resist if we were not resisting time’s conversation with our own bodies?
Hmm . . .
I can think of some things.