Saturday, February 24, 2007

'The Glow (of Money)'

Someone has just drawn my attention to an article in the latest AARP magazine about skin care in the second half of life. Forwarding the link: she wrote: "It gives a lot of info about caring for our skin as we age -- with illustrations showing women in their 50s, 60s, 70s -- along with product names. Titled "Go with the Glow," it is about care of the skin, not about staying young, and it illustrates the point with some beautiful aging women. A specific dermatologist gets a big plug as the scientific/medical expert, and a number of specific products are recommended. … it is an illustration of an issue that pertains to many of us. No promises to stay young, but info on keeping our skin healthy. It does place a lot of value on spending for skin care products at the same time it addresses basic protection measures of caution about sun, not smoking, eating healthy, etc..."
Hey, that’s great, I thought. If the world’s highest-circulation magazine for ‘seniors’ can publish an article on skin care while avoiding ageism, well things are really looking up.

They are not. (sigh)

The article, I’m sad to say, is as full of ageism as any other article I have ever read about skin care for the over-fifties. The ageism is just a tad more subtle, that’s all, and overshadowed by the use of older models. Here are some ageist quotes from the article (with my emphasis added):

"Other changes aren’t as pleasant… freckles, fine lines, and wrinkles can become more prominent. But advances in skin-care technology mean many of these problems can be addressed, so long as you use the right products—and see a dermatologist regularly"

"…she hasn’t taken any preventive measures to ensure her skin stays youthful-looking."

"Beverly is lucky; her parents and grandparents looked much younger than they were, so she has some genetic protection. Doctors aren’t sure what genes are at work, but if your parents looked young, chances are you will, too"

"Seventy years later, those preventive measures—and a lifelong diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and fish—have paid off: Joan looks years younger than she is"

"She could also use a facial cream that prevents sagging, which is a concern at her age."

Yes, it is the same, tired premise: looking young is better than looking old. And that, my friends, is ageist. Totally. But ageism is so deeply woven into our culture that most of the time we don’t even notice it. The person who forwarded the article obviously didn’t notice it. Although she asserted that the article is ‘not about being young', as you can see from the link its actual title is ‘Erase Ten Years’!! I don’t want to erase ten years. I like being 70. Why should I pretend to be 60?

Where skin is concerned, I think the problem is this. Babies have smooth, soft, peachy skin that is delicious to touch. Most healthy, well-fed children retain the softness and fullness of their skin until adolescence when the hormones start to kick in and we get our first ‘blemishes’. So healthy, smooth, soft, peachy skin inevitably signals ‘youth’. And healthy, youthful skin that is once again free of blemishes means we are through adolescence, which is the classical look of the nubile ‘maiden’.

The trouble is, no matter how old we are, we naturally like our skin to remain healthy and to feel soft to the touch and be free of blemishes. I mean, who enjoys zits? If our skin starts to feel dry, we moisturise it. Fair enough. Nothing wrong with that. But because healthy skin and youth are so linked on everyone’s mind, the advertisers, instead of saying ‘moisturise your skin with this if it feels too dry’, say ‘buy this, it will keep your skin looking young’.

To cap it off, the natural changes of aging, such as freckles, age spots, wrinkles and crows’ feet, instead of being seen as badges of honour for elders, are now neatly redefined as ‘blemishes’ in order to put more money in cosmetic manufacturers’ pockets – and the massive chemical corporations who supply their raw materials.

I did some deconstruction of the AARP article. The ‘world renowned dermatologist’ they feature works for an outfit called The University of Miami Cosmetic Center. This center "..specializes in clinical trials, cell cultures, bioengineered skin and porcine models that evaluate cosmetic dermatology and skin care issues." (Which, roughly translated, means they work on behalf of industry to try out new cosmetic products on tissue made in the laboratory from, e.g. pigs’ guts.)

So who do you think shells out the cash for their salaries and all their batteries of fancy equipment - scientific UV camera, spectrophotometer, ‘Tewameter’, laser doppler, ‘Visioscan’ and all the rest of it ? Why, Big Pharma, of course. It is a very cosy arrangement. (And, sadly, a typical example of the way things are nowadays, with university research departments funded by Big Business and all the well-known compromises, fudged data, loss of objectivity and cover-ups which that so often entails).

So if we look at this story closely and ‘follow the money’, we see that the UMCC gets lots of juicy funding in return for handing back the much-coveted stamp of scientific respectability to the manufacturers and marketers. The product-peddlers can then use impressive terms like ‘clinically evaluated’ and ‘scientifically proven’ to fool more people – primarily women – into paying good money for ever more ‘scientific’-sounding cocktails of petrochemicals (with the odd herb or three thrown in for good measure) to slather on their skin in the hope of looking ten years younger than they are. Those guys are laughing all the way to the bank.

We are being conned, folks. The con gets cleverer and subtler but it is still a con. We are now being conned into needing supplements to combat Vitamin D deficiency because we’ve been so busy slathering ourselves with the sunscreen they managed to convince us we needed. We are being conned into spending millions on fancy products to moisturise our skin when simple, traditional things like olive oil and shea butter (and washing our faces just with water to preserve the natural oils) would serve us just as well – in fact better because they aren’t full of dodgy chemicals like parabens.

Above all, we are being conned into believing that looking exactly like the old women we are is not OK.

Don’t fall for it.

Thursday, February 22, 2007


What fun to find Cate turning up on my blog page . (Thanks for stopping by, Cate).
It makes me realise that the 'blogosphere' is a lot like my village in some ways. When I walk up to the Post Office I always see at least one person I know -- usually three or four -- and there is something that feels really cosy about that. These people are going about their daily lives and I am going about mine and our paths intersect somewhere along that little five hundred yard stretch of street, just long enough for a greeting, a remark about the weather, an acknowledgement of our relationship as co-inhabitants of this small patch of Earth.
In the same way, despite the vastness of cyberspace, one often meets familiar figures there and that, too, is a cosy thing. And quite remarkable, when you think about it, given the millions of people thronging the Internet.
Somewhere, recently, I read a definition of the Internet as being 'the place where we meet our own tribes'. I like that concept. Whoever and wherever we are, and no matter how geographically isolated we might be, with a few clicks of the mouse we can link with our tribes. Tribes, not of blood but of a different kind of kinship; the kinship of shared interests, beliefs, worldviews...
Like many people, I have several different tribes. One is the tribe of elders -- particularly elderwomen. Then there is the simplicity tribe -- all the folks who are turning towards a way of life that is simple, sustainable, eco-friendly and non-consumerist. And of course there is my writing tribe. They all span the globe.
In my village, there are one or two representatives from each of these tribes, and their presence here is precious to me. But out there in cyberspace, there are hundreds, probably thousands of them. I meet new ones almost every day. What a wonderful thing it is to be able to do that. And then, of course, the next time I meet them we are no longer strangers. It's cosy. I like it.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

A Trampled Tradition
How St Valentine's Day used to be

Back in my high school days (1947-1952), February 14th was a day of sweet but semi-secret excitement. For it was the day when some unknown person – or several of them if you were really lucky – might send you a valentine.
If you got one – and we all hoped and prayed that we might – it meant that someone, somewhere, fancied you.

For us girls it meant that a boy (usually one who was too shy to ask us out or even too shy to speak to us) had been watching and admiring us from the shadows. But of course one never know who he was. That was the whole point.
What was special and different about a valentine card was that it was never signed. That was the beautiful mystery of it.

On February 14th I would also hug to myself the delicious thought that whatever handsome, wonderful, unattainable boy I was secretly lusting after at the time would on this special morning be holding in his young, sweaty hands the card I had screwed up my courage to send him, and wondering who on earth it was from.

Of course, the day might come and go and no cards would fall through the letterbox or appear, tucked under the lid of your school desk, at morning recess. Inevitably, (especially if your best friend had scored a sheaf of valentine cards and had walked around all day looking smug about it), you would go home feeling like the ultimate no-hoper and spend the evening moping around in a stew of low self-esteem and squeezing blackheads. But hey, life is like that. It is all part of growing up.

In the years that followed, I remember receiving a few valentines from prospective suitors but usually I could guess who had sent them. And any time I was ‘going steady’ with someone, I could guarantee that he would send me a card. Though still unsigned of course, even if he didn’t bother to disguise his writing. For that was the tradition.

Once I was married, there were no more cards. Not that I recall, anyway. The only thing that might happen on February 14th was that one of us might say “Hey it’s St Valentine’s Day today. Will you be my valentine, darling?" And we would have a hug.

Fast forward to 1987. My kids are grown up, I’m divorced and I’m now re-married – this time to an American. February 14th and goodness gracious, here in the mail is a valentine card. Who on earth can that be from? It is not my husband’s writing. Surely I don’t have a secret admirer, do I?

Imagine my surprise, consternation and… well yes, embarrassment .. when I open that card and find that it is from my new mother-in-law. My mother-inlaw? !! She fancies me? Good grief! Oh surely not...

No, my mother-in-law had simply fallen foul of the Hallmark Conspiracy. Later, when I went to live in the USA, I discovered, of course, that St Valentines Day over there had lost all its meaning and its mystery. Now it had become yet another day for people to buy cards and chocolate and teddy bears and all kinds of consumer stuff. (As if we didn’t already have too many opportunities for that.) Yet another sweet tradition trampled by the muddy boots of commercialism. What a shame.

You might say, in defence of all this indiscriminate sending of (signed) cards and chocolate hearts to anyone and everyone including daughters-in-law, that it is simply a nice way of telling someone that you love them.

Well OK. But I think there are better ways – ways that don’t buy into the whole consumer culture. If you love someone, just tell them so. Any old time, not just on February 14th. Give them a hug, a shoulder rub, a foot massage, a pot of home-made jam, flowers from your garden. Walk their dog, baby-sit their kids, help them with their homework. If they are far away, send them an e-mail, telephone them, write them a poem. Tell them how special they are to you.

Poor old St Valentine was martyred and lost his head. There's no way I am going to lose mine and get caught up in the Hallmark Conspiracy. No cards for me please. (Unless, of course, you are a secret admirer who is too shy to tell me you fancy me... now wouldn't that be interesting?!)

Thursday, February 08, 2007


When someone asked me the other day in an interview what my favourite animal was, I replied that it was a hare.
Why? I don’t know exactly. I just love hares. I love their long, lanky legs and the funny way they gallop and their long, sensitive ears. What particularly endears them to me is their strange habit of running towards me rather than away from me like most other wild animals do.
Sometimes, when I am out for my morning walk, I see a hare in the middle of the lane. I stop and wait and almost always, after a little while, the hare comes lolloping towards me. He (or she, I can’t tell the difference) will sometimes stop for a moment, look around and sniff. And then run a bit further. There have been times when, if I continue to stand still, the hare will run right past me. Other times it will change its mind and disappear into the hedge instead. But the encounter always leaves me with a special feeling of having been somehow touched by magic.
It was said at one time that witches could shape-shift into hares and back again. I have often wondered where that idea came from. Perhaps it had to do with the fact that the ‘moon hare’ was the totem of the pagan goddess of springtime, Eostre (the ‘moon-hare’ was of course the original ‘Easter bunny’ who laid eggs for good children to eat).
Be that as it may, I take a special delight in hares.And it occurred to me yesterday that the hare and I have something in common. Remember Aesop’s fable about the hare and the tortoise? Hare teased Tortoise about his short, stumpy legs, so Tortoise challenged him to a race. They set off, and of course Hare quickly pulled ahead. So far ahead, in fact, that Tortoise was soon out of sight. Hare, realising that he had plenty of time up his sleeve, decided to lie down by the roadside and have a little rest. He fell asleep, and when he woke up he realised that he had stayed too long. He raced to the finish line only to discover that Tortoise, in his slow, steady, plodding way, had beaten him to it.
Try as I may, I cannot behave like a tortoise. If I dealt with my e-mails every day, they would not pile up in my in-box. If I did a little bit of filing each day, I wouldn’t finish up with a towering, wobbly pile that threatens to engulf the whole room in an avalanche of paper and I wouldn’t have to set aside a large chunk of time to get it all tidied away. If I pulled a few weeds each afternoon, I would never need to exhaust myself by spending the entire day on a weeding marathon.
But one of the things I have learned in my 70 years on this planet is that there are some things about ourselves we need to change and there are some things that are so much a part of our basic natures that we cannot change them. The wisdom is in knowing the difference.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Greeting the Tiger.

I got into a patch of despair again this morning. As usual, it was triggered off by reading the news. This time it was a report about plans to spend millions of pounds on hugely enlarging Stansted airport and making it even bigger than Heathrow.
The report said that the Department of Transport expects the total number of passengers using UK airports to rise from 228 million per year to 465 million. This of course is totally incompatible with the UK Government’s plans to cut carbon emissions by 60% by 2050. However the Department for Transport says that although domestic aviation emissions are included within the carbon reduction targets, international aviation emissions are not. This enables the Government to allow the growth of flying unchecked while still claiming to be cutting the UK's carbon output. Talk about hypocrisy!!
Then I read about how a huge oil company (Exxon) had paid a million and a half dollars trying to bribe scientists to undermine the most recent, objective and pretty well definitive report on climate change.
I went for my morning walk with these things chasing each other around in my mind. After half a mile or so or inward musing and fuming, I looked up and became fully aware of the beauty around me – the green fields, the emerging snowdrops, the swelling buds on the trees, the birds …
Suddenly I found myself weeping, sobbing from sadness and despair over what greedy, selfish humans are doing to our beautiful Earth and how powerless I feel to change things. Despair washed over me like a tidal wave.
For a few minutes I stopped, my hands on the friendly bark of my favourite tree, listening for advice (that tree frequently gives me handy hints about how to cope with whatever is bothering me). I didn’t hear anything today. So I walked on. But a little way further down the road I found myself mentally stepping slightly aside from the feeling of despair and just simply looking at it, without judgement. I said "Hello despair."
It’s funny, but whenever I can do this – not just with despair but with any feeling at all – something always seems to shift. It’s like that old piece of advice that I have heard many times about turning to face the tiger that is chasing you and calmly greeting it.
It’s not that I finished my walk with any better idea about how to solve the world’s problems. But the powerlessness was gone, replaced by my usual feeling that by doing whatever I can to ‘be the change I want to see happen in the world’ I am playing a useful part, even if it's a very small one.
After all, I am not just walking round on the surface of a planet, I am an intrinsic part of the fabric of this planet. A tiny fragment. The fragment cannot know the fate of the whole. All it can do is play its part as well as it possibly can and trust the process.
I felt as though I had, once again, faced despair and moved through it. I walked home singing. And I noticed that there was blue sky in the west as the clouds gradually rolled back.

(Note: If you wish to join the campaign to stop the Stansted airport expansion please contact Stop Stansted Expansion.)