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I open the weekend newspaper and there it is: another column on the weighty subject: “Am I too old to wear…?”

Reams of paper have been devoted to this earth-shaking premise. According to these articles, after a certain age women can’t wear: long hair, short skirts, revealing tops, gym shoes (outside the gym), leggings, no makeup, heavy makeup… The list goes on and on. To hear them tell it, after the age of 40, you pretty much need to walk around wearing a Burka, or better yet a Niqab.

This age-fascism has also spread to men. I saw it in the London Times last month. Men can’t do most of the above things, though I think the article cut them a break by a few years. And just listen to the sneering phrases: man-boobs or Dad-Jeans.

My friend, Daphna Baram, a stand-up comic, just hit 45 and she complained a newspaper article announced she is now officially too old to wear tight jeans. Yikes!

Age shaming (and its ugly sister fat shaming) tell us to walk around cringing that we might be considered uncool, mutton dressed as lamb, trying too hard, embarrassing ourselves and our families. A whole industry is built around it. Red Leopard, a very successful advisory service in London, will take you shopping, rearrange your closet, even pick out your choice of car.

It’s not just clothes either. Dancing in public or laughing loudly or swearing, or, God forbid, kissing, let alone having sex…. OMG these are crimes against all decency and taste. And of course using OMG or LOL that’s just sooo…well don’t try it unless you don’t mind the collective eye-rolls of…well, everyone!

Who makes up these rules? Someone’s angry teenager? Someone’s hostile mother in law?

Anyway why should I care? Shouldn’t I be more mature than that? Of course I should. But it creeps under the skin. Because after 40 this whole aging business has become fraught, full of assumptions, dictums, and to be frank, just plain mean.

None of this is new. It used to be that the perfect metaphor for what most people thought of women over 40 was in the movie Zorba the Greek, when those old women swathed in black, like a murder of crows, descended on the dead woman’s cabin to pick over her possessions. A murder of crows! Even the collective of the word is pretty chilling stuff.

Sure, we may have been kicking around for some time. I can remember racing home from school to watch American Bandstand, anxiously waiting for a glimpse of Justine and Bob, trying to copy their dance moves, the attitude, the hair. Remember “the stroll?” Actually that’s something we might want to forget.

I remember garish green Jell-O moulds with tiny bits of fruit and marshmallows floating in it, and metallic tasting tuna noodle casserole, and Waldorf Salads, also with marshmallows, which I suppose was the kale of the 1950’s.

Ancient history? Hey, so is an iPhone 4.

It’s not even as if I, or any of my friends, follow those dumb rules. Although recently I’ve pretty much dropped the idea of wearing short dresses to funerals. It’s just too cold and wet at cemeteries. Anyway a cemetery is not a place where you want to look like it might not be worth your making the round trip.

The question of course is, why do these advice columns make me so damn mad? Do I suspect that maybe they’re right? And even if they are right, why should I care? I mean I don’t spend hours looking in the mirror, searching for a new varicose vein or another wrinkle. Well, all right, maybe I do spend the odd minute…or two…or ten.

But that’s not the point. Deep down I really do believe there is no good or bad way to age. After all aren’t we the generation of, if it feels good, do it? Keep your clothes young and your friends younger. If I choose to wear leggings or no lipstick will the earth shatter? If my husband wears Levi’s and drives a motorbike, will all humankind be demolished?

So I close the paper and send it to recycling where it belongs. Because I really do believe that if we want to age in the manner those rules deem gracefully, then God speed. If not, that’s for us to judge; not for some newspaper or someone’s angry adolescent.

I remember Betty, a friend of my mother’s, was complimented on how wonderful she looked at 70. She answered, “this is how 70 looks today.” I was old enough to appreciate how terrific that statement was. BTW she did look great.

Many years ago there was an advertisement for Clairol hair coloring: “If I have one life, let me live it as a blonde.” Great line. Great concept.

Written, of course, by a woman. Shirley Polykoff.

She lived to the age of 90.

TURNING POINTS from Crowd-Writing

a book by Shelley Katz

Out Now

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