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Grandma Jane Meets Oprah – Part II: Score One for Ageism

December 26th, 2010 by Melinda Blau

This post, a continuation of Jane Fonda’s recent appearance on Oprah, was also inspired by a recent happening in my own life.  A few days ago, I wrote an essay about writing that included this phrase:  “As my 41-year-old daughter pointed out…” Two early readers–one a man in his sixties, the other a woman in her late forties–thought I should I take it out. Whether they realized it or not, they were suggesting a kind of psychological airbrushing to make it less obvious that I am not young.

I’ve confronted ageism in the past as well.  I once lost a co-authoring job by revealing my age over the phone.  Another time, I had just done a nine-minute segment on a morning show when the producer–a woman–took me into a small room.  “You were great,” she said, with a huge smile on her face. “But next time you might want to wear a turtleneck or a scarf.”

That incident happened around the same time a New York Times editor suggested that a piece I had written–about people who owned three homes–presently sounded “too geriatric.”  The two oldest interviewees were in their late sixties but most were in their early fifties.

Natural Jane

So I watched with interest as our girl Jane proudly age-dropped during her interview with Oprah (“Now that I’m 73…”).    Good for you Jane, I thought, for being proud of  seventy instead of hiding it.

Later, though, I googled Jane and found her

Photo-shopped Jane

blog, which is filled with “random photos”—some candid, others obviously posed and retouched.  In the latter category the most offensive was the photo used on the covers of her new fitness videos.  The juxtaposition of these two Janes made me angry and sad.   Natural Jane looks great–a little craggy and wrinkled but alive.  Photo-shopped Jane is a product of living in an ageist culture.  She doesn’t look a day over 45, but she has no character, no depth.   She doesn’t even look like Jane Fonda.  Worse still, she sends a message to us all: If you want to look good, don’t look your age.   Erase the lines, hide the wrinkled hands and fleshy hips, and of course, cover that neck.  I want to believe that her handlers–or the devil–made her do it.  But hey, if Jane Fonda doesn’t have the guts to stand up to the culture and look her age, who will?

(See also Part I, Growing Up a Little Every Day.  To come, Part III, about Jane and her daughter.)

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