Hola, Women!— Put Down Your Sticks: The Donkey and The Little Dog

As unacceptable as it is in our society, I am a woman of a certain age. That is, a woman no longer young. So despite my younger self’s firm declarations that I would never do Botox or its like, I find myself wavering. Only to discover that I’m already more than 20 years behind.

How? Because preventative Botox is a thing now. Women in their mid-twenties set out early on their quest for eternal youth. They abandon their face’s ability to smile, frown, concentrate, cry, disagree, laugh, question and love. All that stretching and crinkling around our eyes and nose and mouths we do when we express ourselves is ironed away. A woman’s face should be like a fresh pressed shirt.

We cannot force our talent. As hard as we try, we will have no elegance. An oaf, no matter what he does, will never pass for a dandy. Some few people, cherished and blessed by the heavens, have the gift of bringing pleasure just by their being. We have to concede to them their natural skill. Otherwise we risk resembling the donkey who, with his clumsy caress, tried to make himself more lovable and dear to his master.

The donkey said to himself: How is it that this dog, just because he’s cute, gets to live in close companionship with Monsieur and with Madame. Meanwhile, I get hit with a stick. What does he do? He gives his paw. And next thing you know he gets a kiss. If that’s all I have to do for them to spoil me … well that’s hardly difficult.

With this admirable thought, and seeing his master was in a good mood, the donkey approached heavily. He lifted a well-used, horned hoof and brought it to his master’s chin with great love. And if that wasn’t enough, for greater ornamentation, he accompanied this risky gesture with his gracious song. 

At this, his master said: Oh! Oh! What a caress! What a song! Hola, bring me my stick.

The master’s stick to hand, the donkey changed his tune.

So finished the comedy.

From serums and skin creams and masks, to flaying layers off our faces, right on through to scrapbooking our appearance with some cutting and pasting; we women consume a panoply of anti-donkey protocols. I don’t know where my own line is anymore. In addition to the baseline (sleep, drink water, eat healthy and exercise), I dye my hair. I use mists and unguents that promise to brighten and smooth. I do acupuncture, needles sprouting across my face, to encourage my collagen to get busy.

I feel a duty toward other women. As in, if I think the lines on my face are unacceptable, doesn’t it follow that I am saying to all women, the lines on your faces are unacceptable? No matter our investment in procedures, the disguise is never 100% effective. The signs of our age always leak out somewhere, whether it’s our necks, our hands or the inner fold of our elbows.

Society already says that we should stay cute little dogs or be banished, as if youth is our only talent. We need only look at media everywhere to see how older women are erased from the narratives, relegated to the sidelines. Women younger than 30 are routinely told they’ve aged out of most roles. Any television show or movie featuring a woman older than 40 is worthy of comment, because it is statistically rare.

I want to age in peace, in solidarity with my sisters of the world. I start with this: I know that if I’m not comfortable with who and how I am, then there is no number of cosmeceuticals or procedures that will make me happy. Yet I justify the things I do with the reasoning that it makes me feel more like myself. Who is that? How do I know who my real self is? Why can she dye her hair, but not lift her face? And isn’t my real self the person I am inside, plus the persona I choose to share with the world, a custom handknit of the two? For me, the faces my face makes, it’s expressivity, has been intrinsic to who I am. What happens if I erase that aspect of my personality? Yet …

The pressure to look young is crushing. Looking at red carpet photos from the most recent Met Gala in New York, I wondered, which of those dresses is too young for me? Which could I still get away with wearing? While I don’t want to look like I’m a donkey with worn hooves wearing a little dog costume, I also don’t want to resign from making the effort to look good.

Women’s youth may be a cute little dog getting all the attention. But is aging really a donkey? In the past, in other cultures, age was a wise owl. Menopause was a time of power, of sexual liberation and self-sufficiency.

Who are these masters and why do we submit to their sticks? Despite what the media (social, mainstream and otherwise) would have us believe, we are our own mistresses. The stick is our minds. We can wield it against ourselves, or we can lay down our arms and embrace our own intelligence, strength and, yes, beauty. Not as cute little dogs, nor donkeys, but as women of grace and worth.


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