The XX Factor

Naomi Wolf Takes on the Aging Myth

I’m sorry, Dominique Browning. But it sure sounds like Naomi Wolf is having more fun than you are . The New York Times and the Washington Post featured dueling essays by beautiful writers past their dewy-freshness moment this weekend, and while Browning chides her cohort for availing themselves of “age-deniers” that leave them unable to convey their emotions with their frozen-in-time faces, Wolf celebrates a circle of “magnetic and dynamic women” her age. “I’d rather look great for who I am than try to look 19,” says a 59-year-old teacher in Wolf’s article. “I feel happier in my skin than I did when I was younger.”

Wolf doesn’t mention whether many of the women of her aquaintance have plumped, filled or otherwise enhanced that skin, although given her earlier writings ( The Beauty Myth ) you have to assume that she herself is against it. Instead, she talks about what she loves about aging. She’s “overwhelmed with gratitude for a body that can move and hike and swim.” She knows what she likes to wear and doesn’t bother about the rest. Appreciates the beauty of other women. Frequents gatherings where the women who “draw all the light in the room are the women of great accomplishment and personal charisma-and these are usually women in midlife.” Browning may advocate leaving her laugh lines, but she does it with precisely the kind of “rueful tone” that Wolf argues society expects women to adopt at midlife, while Wolf says simply “I like where I am.”

Last week, I wondered if Browning was right when she argued that cosmetic surgery was becoming “expected” in a world inudated by a youthful standard of beauty. Wolf convinced me to go back to my first instinct: Browning’s world isn’t mine, or even most people’s. Instead, the “current standard of beauty” found in fashion magazines has become just one of the “many influences around women, competing for their attention instead of dictating how they should look and, more dangerously, how they should feel.” For most women, the attitude and appearance of the women that we admire is far more influential than a Vogue cover (or even a More cover). Those are the women we look to for examples of going forward with grace. I’m adding Naomi Wolf to my list.