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Monday, November 23, 2015

Fifty Shades of Gray - Not the Movie
by Linda Kracht 

“There are all different shades of gray. On some people, it’s quite nice looking and other people it’s really really harsh if its sort of that black-ish, gray, bluish gray color.” Yes, this essay will address the real effects of sporting fifty shades of gray among men and women in America. No, we are not talking about the movie or the book although they are somewhat related as you shall soon read. 

It is ironic how both the anti-aging industries and Fifty Shades of Gray blur what’s right and wrong with America. Some suggest that Fifty Shades of Gray, the movie/book, simply allows women to have harmless flings with sexual imaginations — nothing more and nothing less. Others suggest that the movie/book has everything to do with minimizing sexual abuse of women disguised as entertainment. While the author cannot critique the book or the movie because she has not read/watched either, critical reviewers inform me that boycotting both is a well-enough informed and good personal choice for all of us. None of us need to experience imaginary or real dehumanizing sexual activities. In order to prefer real, honest and intimate relationships grounded in mutual respect we cannot allow ourselves to get distracted or confused by make-believe that touts abusive or dehumanizing activities as worthwhile. I recall the pain in my brother’s voice as he described a make-believe activity his new wife tried to stage on their honeymoon. He had been forewarned not to jump into that relationship but as they say — love is blind — and he was. It seems likely that his ex-wife is still really into the same activities depicted by the movie — maybe she learned about them from the book. 

But enough with the movie and the book although the popularity is related to the detesting of the actual fifty shades of gray among women in particular in America.  Let me explain. 

Women are their own worst critics! Have you ever wondered why that is the case? In general, its fair to state that women detest their own appearance especially due to aging! The first signs are hair-line wrinkles, softening or sagging skin, graying and/or thinning hair, weight gain, hot flashes, the need for cheaters [glasses], menopausal symptoms, and on and on. Men age as well but their reactions seem far less dramatic or expensive compared to women. Why the difference? Very real cultural experiences help to explain the different reactions of the two genders. Let’s investigate a few of them but first let’s debunk what is not true about the tell-tale signs of aging. 

First, none of ought to fear wrinkles or gray hair because there is no proven correlation between one’s imminent mortality and the extent or age of onset of graying hair or baldness or facial wrinkles in either of the sexes [irrespective of age] according to the Copenhagen City Hear Study (Schnohr, Nyboe, Lange & Jensen, 1998). Neither does stress cause gray hair even though legend has it that Marie Antoinette hair turned white the night before she was to be guillotined.   Most women begin to show gray strands by age 35; and the majority of men begin to show gray strands by age 30! A small percentage of both genders begin graying (or balding) in high school or as late as the age of 50! Scientists seem to know what causes hair color to begin changing [it’s the gradual depletion of melanocyte stem cells that leads to loss of pigment] but they don’t know the why! Genetics, lifestyle, stress hormones, and environmental influences seem to work for or against premature graying. For example, people with the darkest hair (African or Asian ancestry) retain their dark hair color longer. Blonds gray at the same pace as other Caucasians - its just harder to notice as the white hair is easily camouflaged by the normally light-colored hair. So, there is no evidence that graying hair ought to scare us into this revulsion against it. What is at issue?

Our cultural experiences help to form positive or negative self concepts and images. What is it about culture that makes men’s experiences different from women’s? First of all, we should all be able to recognize that our culture completely hyper-sexualizes the female body! And studies show that this alone impacts females. In fact, it has a very negative, pervasive impact on females of all ages. In fact, this over-sexualization allows for mindless movies, books, ads, and treatments including Fifty Shades of Gray, Botox, cosmetic surgery, breast enhancement surgeries, hair dyes, etc. Rather than actually helping women to form positive self images, they detract from that process.

We know that negative self concepts emerge even among very young females because it has been well observed and documented within mixed-gender classrooms that female students routinely under-achieve compared to their male counterparts. We also know from other research that women are significantly more dissatisfied with their bodies compared to their male counterparts. Yet we are told in Genesis that God liked what He saw after creating Adam and Eve! So, we should also like what we see! While researching information for my Daughters Forever, Sons Forever series I ran across several very interesting studies which concluded that college women do not like their body shape, size or weight. The study found that a vast majority of women with normal BMI’s (body mass index) still admitted to having dieted during the past 6-12 months. Another study found that the majority of their college age female subjects admitted that they felt like they needed to lose at least 5 pounds despite the fact that they also had normal BMI’s. Ok, readers admit it. How often have you said that you need to lose 5 pounds before a wedding, a family reunion, a Christmas party, etc? The study found that the women enrollees had significantly more body dissatisfaction issues than the enrolled males. A third study [Henry 2007] found that 80% of a group of 10 year old girls had already been on at least one diet! So what are signs of body dissatisfaction? Increased incidence of headache and stomachache compared to their male counterparts; eating disorders, low self esteem, depression, etc. The studies support the theory that ongoing negative cultural experiences disaffect positive self image. Over-sexualization is one of those negative cultural experiences that women face on a day-to-day basis.

If asked to describe a beautiful woman, most of us would come up with the same description because we see her all over TV, ads, magazines, runways, etc. First of all she is young! Secondly, she is extremely slender but very buxom. In addition she probably has a well-shaped (rounded) buttocks which was surgically enhanced and modified as were her breasts. She is blonde. She has Botox-lifted lips, cheeks and eyes. Everything about her screams sexy — from the clothes she wears to the walk she walks. The trouble is, most females simply can never measure up to this ideal, yet they keep trying. And this helps to explain why females feel generally dis-satisfied with their weight, shape and size compared to males who do not experience the same over-sexualization or scrutiny or self-comparisons. [Bearman, Martinez, Stice, & Presenell, 2006.] 

And so it should not surprise anyone that women are developing compulsive disorders related to eating and sexuality not previously observed. And all because they harbor feelings of inadequacy, guilt, shame, emptiness and disillusionment about not being able to measure up to the standards set forth by males, other women, the media, TV, entertainment industry, etc.

In general its fair to see that women largely accept this false definition of beauty. They then cave into the standards for dress, activities, and appearance of the airbrushed, over-sexualized models hired to sell everything and anything including the definition of what women ought to look like. The average woman is made to feel guilty for letting herself go — regardless of age! But what does the term letting oneself go imply? It implies and assigns personal fault or blame for avoiding the newest fashions, the use of hair dye, cosmetic surgery, weight loss, Botox treatments, or wrinkle treatments. I recall the line of a Mary Kay representative used while trying to sell a face moisturizer to me years ago. She said lightheartedly , “Go ahead and wrinkle if you want…” The blame was directly assigned to me if I did not buy the beauty product. But the same blame games are played by those within and outside of our inner circles aren’t they? Sometimes it seems to be said in jest, other times it is said in earnest. 

Now let’s add aging to a woman’s laundry list of things to avoid. What are women told about aging? They are told that they are only as old as they look and so women try and stay young looking. Other times women are told that they can control how /if we age. We have also been told that beauty is only skin deep. However, many of us have come to believe that outer beauty is most important [than our inner beauty] in the long run. Finally, we are conditioned to never reveal our age — lest others learn how old we really are! Women know they really aren’t fooling anyone — especially themselves — but they keep trying. And that is why women have such low self-esteems. They just don’t like what they look like compared to other women! And they don’t like the hamster wheel they spin on but they also refuse to jump off. Ridiculous or ridiculous? 

Think about this — we expect other women to not put up with abusive, bad marriages; terrible jobs; workplace discrimination or sexual harassment.  And yet, women in general, fail to question the discriminatory practices of sexual exploitation and ageism so common in our society directed in particular at women! We instead join in the criticism of those who let themselves go — as previously defined. We have to admit these women are not afforded the same social value as is a highly sexualized female! If you don’t believe this statement, I challenge you to name three women who sport the plain look, have sagging jowls, baggy eyes, and gray hair and have been elected to congress, serve as a major network TV news anchor, has active lead roles in grade A movies, serves as a governor or first lady of a state or nation, or teaches in your children’s school? 

And so, “Aging poses a huge hit to women’s sense of identity,  perceived femininity and sexual desirability because age is an enemy of beauty,” but it need not be if we discipline ourselves! We can preserve the source of our beauty a youthful body.” Holstein (2006) contends that ‘ironically, after years of struggle, as women have achieved a stronger status as agents than every before, we face an escalating set of expectations about our bodies… and the development of more and more beauty products and services as well as the relentless mining of the female body for potential flaws in need of beauty interventions. Societal obsession with youth and appearance, ageist media messages depict later life and signs of aging as the products of objectionable or at the very least to indolent choices that individuals make when they fail to embrace consumerism and the anti aging movement. Moreover, assumptions about the importance of anti-aging technologies and practices have become unquestionably entrenched such that there is relatively little critical examination of aging bodies, ageism, and older adults experiences of oppression within an anti-aging culture.”  

And so women resort to more hair dyes, more plastic surgery, more Botox treatments, more hormone therapies, more weight loss programs, and other interventions just to try and become what they once tried to be — but even then fell short. And if they don’t … their social status is jeopardized and they are criticized for letting go… They hear friends and family and co-workers alike suggest the following.“You should dye your hair so you would look younger. Don’t you want your husband to be proud (really the question is one of sexual attraction not pride but few will come out and say that) of you? You should do this and that in order to fit in… I love your hair; you are so brave. I could never get by without dying my hair. I hate gray hair. You are so lucky to have the hair color you have. My hair color would never look good half gray! Yes, these are comments I have received from well-intentioned friends and strangers alike. And with them saying these things, I wonder what my non-friends say behind my back? But maybe I am making a quiet statement without really trying. 

And these are a few of the reasons why the movie Fifty Shades of Gray is related to the anti-aging, anti-graying of America. Both try and refigure the person[s] they supposedly love. In the movie, the man wants the girlfriend to go along with his selfish interests while pretending that its best for her sake. Ageists arguments try to remake the person[s] comfortable with their own aging process into a newer, younger version. Neither the girlfriend or the gray haired friend is good enough! And if the person refuses to go along with the others’ plans just to get along, there is a good chance the person will be left out of the social relationship or other opportunities. After all, the argument is that it is really our own fault for not going along…

Every person — no matter the age have seven desires according to Mark and Debra Laser. They include: the desire to be heard and understood; to be affirmed; to be blessed; to feel safe and secure; to be chosen; to be included; and to be touched. This might explain why women cave in to impossible and ridiculous ageist comments and philosophies. They are just trying to be loved, accepted, affirmed, blessed, etc. Yet, in the process of caving in, they surrender their sense of  self confidence and satisfaction with self to others. In turn, they lose the sense that God is Creator and His natural law [of aging] serves a very real, worthwhile purpose. 

It helps to be surrounded by males (my sons and husband) and females (daughters) who constantly remind me that they love me just the way I am. It also helps to hear that they love my gray hair and sagging cheeks. It helps to know they do not demand that I look younger. And that is why sporting 50 shades of gray among 50 different women helps to keep life real while anything that adds to the over-sexualization of women does not!

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