Thanks a Lot, Martha Stewart

By Margaret Hopkins | July 18th, 2023

Congrats on the SI swimsuit edition, but ...

elderly woman in park, from Vladimir Voronin. The 81-year-old celebrity showed us that we can look great at any age – or was the message something entirely different? Baby boomer Margaret Hopkins offers a tongue-in-cheek look at the swimsuit-clad Martha Stewart and how her generation views aging and body image.

The 81-year-old celebrity showed us that we can look great at any age – or was the message something entirely different? Baby boomer Margaret Hopkins offers a tongue-in-cheek look at the swimsuit-clad Martha Stewart and how her generation views aging and body image.

I want to congratulate Martha Stewart on her Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition cover. After months of working out and dietary considerations, she looks great. I believe a woman should look as good as she can. But thanks, Martha, for making me feel worse than I already feel about myself. Don’t get me wrong, I still look pretty good for a 71-year-old, but no one is breaking my door down to put me on the cover of any magazine. And I will not be wearing a bikini this summer; I consider it a public service.

But to be fair to myself and most women, Martha started out as a model. I started out as a chubby cheeseburger-chomping teenager. She has good bone structure. My bones are in there somewhere, I am sure of it, under that bit of face flab. She has a full staff of housekeepers. I have a dust buster.

There are certain 70-ish Hollywood-type women whose bodies could match any 20-year-old’s. But those women are genetic anomalies, freaks of nature — probably androids.

Older women are not meant to have six-pack abs. Why else do you think our mothers wore flowered housedresses? Camouflage. It’s part of the “cover-it-up-and-it’s-not-there” tactic, similar to the men who employ the “comb-over” style of hair grooming.

Nature intends for people in their 70s and 80s to look like Humpty Dumpty, not Barbie and Ken.

The baby boomer generation suffers from mass self-denial. Our parents and grandparents, on approaching middle age, knew they were getting old. They dressed accordingly, put polyester on the map and salt substitute on the table. They greeted their wrinkles with, if not open arms, at least the same resigned acceptance they had for IRS audits and colonoscopies. They did not seek out surgeons’ knives, toxic injections or seaweed wraps. They had early bedtimes and elastic waistbands on their pants. They started looking like each other and sometimes their pets.

Many baby boomers don’t accept the aging process with grace. We are youth-obsessed. We’ll suck out our fat to keep our stomachs down and take Viagra to keep other things up. The sale of exercise equipment, much of it to baby boomers, generates millions of dollars each year, purchased with the buyers’ hopes that sagging bottoms will look as bootylicious as the TV models’. People whiten their teeth to one shade shy of Chiclets. Twenty years ago, nobody thought about how white their teeth were. No one cared. If you had your own teeth that was a plus.

The sneaky bias of ageism: deeper than body image

The obsession with appearance is not just a woman’s game. As noted above with the naked noggin man, this phenomenon includes men as well, many in the over-50 bunch. A man used to feel he was well-groomed if his nose hair didn’t reach his upper lip. Now, many a perfectly respectable male unibrow gets exterminated by waxing professionals who also dabble in a service called “manscaping” (removal of a man’s body hair including that of his nether regions, the purpose of which is something he probably won’t want to discuss with his clergyman or his mother).

Why are some boomers so panic-stricken with an onset of the inevitable aging process? Is it because that unique explosion of youth power we set in motion in the ’60s and ’70s is just so darn hard to let go of? Or maybe it’s something more. Maybe it’s because our entire culture has become appearance-obsessed and since we’re on the doorstep of old age, it’s hitting us the hardest.

In the wake of this preoccupation with perfection, some boomers try to accept the inevitable. They might not embrace aging, but at least they accept the effects of time and gravity. Our knees might need replacing and our colons might need scoping, but ask any 60-year-old if he would like to be 20 again and I would bet you wouldn’t have many takers.

I asked my elderly Aunt Jean if her wrinkles bothered her. She laughed and pointed to a dark crease spanning the width of her forehead.

“Ha! This wrinkle is so deep, I can hide a can of soup in there!” she said.

Though in her late 80s, her smile is ageless and radiates confidence and beauty. She puts on makeup each morning whether she plans to leave the house or not.

“I do it for me, though I do like to look good for your Uncle Bob.” Aunt Jean nods to her husband of 56 years who’s sitting next to her. “What do you say, Bob? Does this wrinkle bother you?” Jean asks as she points to her forehead.

“Hell, no!” he says as he pats her hand. “It’s where I keep my soup!”

Margaret Hopkins is a freelance writer from the Chicago suburbs. Her work has appeared in the Chicago Sun Times, Chicago Parent, Women’s World and other publications. Unlike her Aunt Jean, she keeps her soup in her cabinet.

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