“Pretty Privilege,” Aging as a Woman and Dating in Your 30s and Beyond
The confusion you feel when being told not to care about your looks, while also being judged solely on your looks🤔
My friend Danny-J and I were hanging out with an acquaintance of ours, who happened to be a 47-year old single guy here in Los Angeles.
He was telling us why he and his latest girlfriend broke up. She was 28 years old and they split because he was pressuring her to have a baby, but she refused because she didn’t want to get pregnant.
“Can you believe that?!” he asked us, incredulously. “It’s so selfish. Looks fade anyway, what’s the big deal, it’s only 9 months.”
At this point, Danny and I had many follow-ups, but the most pressing was, “So what if she doesn’t want to get pregnant and have her body change. That’s understandable, and no, it’s not selfish at all. It’s 100% her prerogative, and you don’t really have a say in that.”
His comment about looks fading is, yes, true, but at the same time, what many men don’t understand is that for women, while it may sound superficial or shallow, our looks are also largely what we’re valued on.
So the idea that we shouldn’t care about them is … at best, confusing and at worst, insulting.
For men, maybe it’s money, success or competency that they’re valued on. And Danny, recognizing this, tried to communicate to our friend what it’s like to be a women as you age, and why it’s actually not selfish to care about your looks:
“Imagine as a man, you lost 5% of your wealth every year for the rest of your life, and there was nothing you could do about it.”
Things that make you go hmmm…
Now, there’s a lot of assumptions here, and I’m not arguing that women’s worthiness is at all dependent upon their looks — I’ve spent the last 8 years teaching the exact opposite actually — but our culture still values aesthetics.
And women constantly receive the message that they’re only attractive if they look a certain way, have a certain hairstyle, wear a certain outfit, have a certain number of wrinkles (or lack of) and age “gracefully.”
And this idea is perpetuated by the very real phenomenon of “pretty privilege.”
Never heard of it?
It’s been shown over and over again that universally attractive people get more job opportunities and make more sales, are seen as more trustworthy and likable, are perceived to be healthier and have an easier time attracting mates and much more.
Life is easier if you are attractive.
And thanks Mom and Dad, because things like facial symmetry, eyelash length and thickness of hair are all genetic. You don’t have to actually do anything to be considered universally attractive, so yes, you do have an advantage.
Yes, I have an advantage. One small example, but I can personally attest to dozens of instances where men allowed me to cut in front of them in line, and in my estimation for no other reason but they found me attractive.
It feels like a compliment, but it’s also the exact thing that perpetuates our cultural obsession with looks. And until we’re incentivized to not care, things aren’t going to change.
But what about as a woman ages?
They say, “age is nothing but a number,” and I agree, you’re only “old” if consider yourself that. Your mind can stay as young as you want it to be. And hey, weight training can help maintain soft tissue integrity, ha, but there’s no denying the fact that your body changes as you age.
I noticed a slew of really big aesthetic changes around the age of 34 — skin changes, hair changes, crow’s feet, forehead wrinkles, looser skin, etc. It’s happening no matter how healthy and lean you are, how much you sleep, how much water you drink, veggies you eat and even how many needles you get in your face.
So me? At 36 and single, living in Los Angeles, fresh off a divorce, things are sometimes confusing. The pressure to be found attractive, especially in a city where men my age prefer 22-year olds — is high. Not to mention a little bit of a bruised ego that’s still healing from my ex’s infidelity.
It’s frankly disorienting to be in this place as a woman. And I think we— as a society —need to leave space for all that.
I haven’t been single since I was 18. I got dumped into the dating pool after being married for a decade. I’m navigating dating apps, going out with strangers and constantly feeling pressure to be fun, flirty, witty, easy-going, youthful, in shape, emotionally available and more. It can all be overwhelming.
I hear married friends judge single women in their 30s and 40s who go out to bars, clubs, wherever, and say, “It’s sad” or “pathetic,” or “They’re too old to be doing that.” Or they hear my stories and go, “I could never do that, I’d be exhausted!”
True. It is exhausting, but it’s also necessary if you want to actually meet people. And while I hope none of them ever have to learn how to date again, the bottom line is I didn’t know what the fuck either, but you just do it.
Because what’s the alternative?
And especially if you don’t have children, and thus can’t meet other single parents who are also looking for their next partner, what are we supposed to do? Stay home, eat ice cream and watch ‘Friends’ reruns?
Maybe. Nothing wrong with that. But also …
Being a woman who cares about her looks is okay.
Being a woman who wants to be found attractive by a potential partner is okay.
Being a woman who posts photos on the internet to garner affirmation is even okay (just have the awareness and don’t judge it).
Being a woman who wants to do what she can to stay youthful is also okay.
Caveats include a) not letting your looks define your self-worth, b) knowing that regardless of the number of Likes your Instagram post gets, you are still a kickass person with important contributions to the world, c) knowing that if you stay single for the rest of your life, you are still just as amazing as any married person, and there’s nothing wrong with you — in fact, I’m leaning toward preferring it. And d) knowing that it’s acceptable to both embrace your wrinkles, while also working your ass off at the gym to look the way you want to.
To me, the absolute sexiest characteristic you can display is ownership: own your journey, own your looks, own your aging, own your style. Own the unique attributes that make you you. Own all the parts of your story — the good, the bad and the ugly.
Nothing is as attractive as confidence and conviction.
And for those who tell women not to care about their looks, thanks, I know you’re well-meaning, but until our cultural norms change, we’re still going to feel the pressure — so we’d appreciate it if you’d quit the judgement and self-righteousness while we navigate it all.
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