The conventional wisdom has it that women become invisible once they pass 40. But in a week when the three newsiest women have all been part of that demographic — Shakira, J. Lo, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi — women who are decidedly visible, the better question may be, what sort of visibility do women want in midlife, and beyond?
As a woman who’s recently joined this demo, I know I don’t want the sort of exposure that 43-year-old Shakira and 50-year-old J. Lo had at the Super Bowl. All eyes, especially male eyes, were glued to them as they bounced, strutted, and shook across the stage.
Yes, let’s acknowledge that both women are in amazing physical shape, especially given their ages. That takes serious discipline, probably along with the luck of good genes.
Both entertainers harnessed not only their sexual power, but also their cultural power, singing and dancing ably Sunday evening. While the application of that sexual power surely has implications for impressionable young minds (as does watching scantily clad football cheerleaders or Miley Cyrus videos), the cultural power is what concerns me here.
Shakira and J. Lo pushed boundaries during the halftime show. While boundary-pushing can be exciting and sometimes can even lead to societal improvement, this is one example wherein we women might want to press pause before making any major changes.
We’re accustomed to seeing barely covered 20-something women singing and gyrating with fully-clothed men, which raises its own questions. But middle-aged women performing in costumes so revealing they require a Brazilian wax? That’s not what I typically see on network TV, and gaming things out, it’s not something I want our culture adopting more widely.
Middle-aged women already face plenty of cultural pressure to be successful at home and at work, and we’re supposed to do it all while looking good. But must we always look hot? Must we go broke hiring a trainer, nutritionist, personal chef, nanny, and maid, so we too can look like J. Lo at 50? Or perhaps pose for published lingerie shots, like 41-year-old actress Katie Holmes?
Must we be so scorchingly hot that 20-something women envy our tightly toned abs, which have been badgered into submission, possibly after gaining the freedom and folds native to pregnancy? And is there any limit on when we can stop trying so hard to impress men we don’t know, who are decidedly not our husbands?
The truth is, Gen X, I just don’t see Gen Z bowing down before our superior physiques. And really, I’d rather not compete with the college-aged crowd. They can eat and drink whatever they like, forget to exercise, and still look fit. There’s no need to pick this losing fight.
I’m all in favor of living healthy and not looking dowdy. But I really don’t want our cultural goalposts moving. These are choices Shakira and J. Lo have made, but I won’t consider it “liberating” or “empowering” if I start facing widespread pressure to be a MILF into my 50s. That’s expensive work, and quite frankly, I have better things to do with my time.
That brings me to Pelosi. The 79-year-old, along with women like former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley and former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, represent another, entirely different model of female empowerment that should interest American women.
There is no question Pelosi is visible — there really was no missing her antics at the State of the Union — but she has traditionally wielded her visibility with class. Shakira and J. Lo, like 20-something women everywhere, may be able to draw men’s eyes with their dancing, but Pelosi has commanded attention over the years with her knowledge and experience.
While Tuesday was a real low point, Pelosi remains the most powerful elected woman in the nation’s capital. While I don’t share her politics, she has been widely known for her personal discipline and has earned the respect of the men and women she represents in her district, as well as in her caucus. Pelosi also conducts all her official business while dressed in suits and pearls, keeping the focus on her abilities. And no one thinks she’s invisible.
Perhaps one of Gen X’s contributions to our post-Me Too world can and should be pushing back against creeping societal expectations that women spend decades pretending we’re still in our 20s. Instead, let’s insist the world admire us in all our multifaceted glory, including our elegance, wit, charm, kindness, and hard-won wisdom, borne of life experience. That would be a different sort of visibility, respectful of who we really are.