Dr. Jennifer W. Shewmaker

Mirror, Mirror on the Wall: Reflections on Aging as a Woman

Queen (Snow White)

Queen (Snow White) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I took my two older daughters to see Snow White and the Huntsman last week. We had all loved the re-invisioned Alice in Wonderland by this team, so we thought we would like seeing Snow White transformed into a warrior princess. I have to admit up front that the Disney Snow White is one of my least favorite heroines ever. Yes, she’s nurturing and caring, which are good things. But…she falls in love with a guy who sings one song to her and is so wimpy. I like more spunk in my heroines! There, I said it.

Anyway, my daughters and I generally enjoyed Snow White and The Huntsman. It’s very dark and definitely not for younger children, but adolescents will enjoy the magic and the themes of good versus evil. Also, like Adventures in Wonderland, this is a beautifully shot movie.

There was an aspect of the film that haunted me, as a woman in her 40’s. The evil queen is obsessed with maintaining her youth and beauty. She drains the youth from others in order to maintain her own.

As I watched the film, I wondered about the struggle of aging for women who believe that their beauty and sexuality are their power. If one equates one’s appearance with one’s power, as we see in postfeminism, otherwise known as enlightened sexism, what happens to power as one ages and loses sex appeal? The queen’s ruthless desire to hold onto her power is akin to the ruthless ways women subject their bodies to surgery and extreme dieting and exercise. And frankly, as a woman of 41, I understand the desire to do this. When a woman’s been told since she’s a child that her beauty and sexiness are her main source of power, it is very, very difficult to age with grace. Sometimes it’s even a struggle to know what it means to age with grace. Does coloring my hair make me shallow? What if I get botox? What does getting or not getting plastic surgery mean to me emotionally?

When a woman looks at the media’s version of beauty and sees only youth, when she sees examples all the time of older women who are striving to look younger, when media pundits comment on the physical appearance of female politicians,  it’s difficult to know how to feel about one’s own aging. And yet, I wonder….

What legacy do we leave younger women if we choose to embrace our age instead of hide it? Is there a way to find, for myself, the beauty of aging? Can I learn to love the way that my life experiences have shaped and formed me, cognitively, spiritually, emotionally, and physically? And when I find a way to do those things, can I share that perspective with my own daughters and the young women in my life?

Because they need it my friends, desperately. Our younger sisters, our own daughters, they need to know that their power does not lie in their appearance and sexuality alone. They need to see examples of strong, courageous, brilliant, amazing women who are living everyday as world changers and who are not worrying about their wrinkles and weight. I’m not talking about ignoring our health, I believe strongly in taking care of one’s body in a healthy, positive way. What I am talking about is letting go of trying to look perfect, and instead focusing on learning to be the best you that you can be. When women let go of the burden of looking perfect and embrace the beauty of their individuality, they can say, “Mirror, mirror on the wall, get out of my way, I’ve got a world to change!”

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5 comments on “Mirror, Mirror on the Wall: Reflections on Aging as a Woman

  1. Beth
    June 25, 2012

    You are as the British say,”spot on,”in my opinion. As an older woman, “69”, I can say my greatest worth and meaning in life have come from knowing my potential as an individual to become all in helping others develop and use their own unique gifts to God’s glory. Seeing so many like Jennifer speak up is exciting! Brain power, love for God’s creation, love for your special uniqueness, and continuing to grow and live with educated passion for thinking past any media message is essential in our world today.

    • Jennifer Shewmaker
      June 28, 2012

      Thanks for your comment, Beth. It’s so nice to see older women embracing the authentic beauty of their lives and sharing that with younger women. Thanks for all that you do.

  2. Lines of Beauty
    June 25, 2012

    Jennifer it is so refreshing to find someone else writing about embracing the aging process. Well done.
    It’s really about acceptance, and realizing how very fortunate we are to grow older- and being able to see the true beauty and perfection in older people.

    • Jennifer Shewmaker
      June 28, 2012

      Thanks so much for your comment. I agree, growing older is better than the alternative, and I wish more people would think of it that way! Thanks for the work that you do. It matters.

  3. pat
    May 4, 2013

    Did you know the suicde rate in women late 40s early 50s have increased by 30% since 2006. Maybe a connection.

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