“Are we really supposed to look this good at 50 now?” In a New York Times op-ed, writer Jennifer Weiner asked this question in an attempt to process Jennifer Lopez’s portion of the halftime show on Sunday. Somewhere, 52-year-old Cuban-Mexican vedette Niurka Marcos and 53-year-old Mexican actress Salma Hayek probably yelled a hearty “no” followed by “mames.”
J.Lo’s use of however small a sliver a portion of her time to pole dance on that global stage, the negative and erroneous line of thinking that followed and the cultural norm that is viewing women’s – and particularly women who belong to communities of color – accomplishments through the lens of age, begs a reminder that you can (and should) age as you please.
On Sunday, we bore witness to Jennifer Lopez in all her glory because, well… unlimited budget. From her Hustlers-honoring pole on center stage to custom Versace ensembles and “go big or go home” hair, J.Lo lived those brief moments on the Super Bowl stage as if the world were watching, which a significant portion of it was. It will come as no surprise that a woman who made more than $40 million last year glammed everything from her cup to her nails and held nothing back in terms of production. She exhibited her decades of experience as a dancer, which is what opened the door to fame for her in the first place, and included her newly acquired pole dancing talent.
The response from Weiner and some folks on Twitter quickly swerved from awe to comparison and judgment. Commentators on Fox criticized the mother of two for showing too much skin, a woman named Olivia grasped for straws claiming the performance was hurtful to the #MeToo movement, and a minister is suing the NFL because he was (bless his soul) exposed to too many “crotch shots.”
If you close your eyes, you can almost hear Niurka Marcos, distant tía to all (and icon to me), scoff. She once told Univision, “Yo acepto mi edad. If it were up to me, I’d go around life naked.” Though doing so in most states would be illegal and therefore not a feasible way of life, Marcos is entitled to want to do so.
Though the actress exudes confidence and gumption, she is also guilty of harshly judging other women. In the past, she has called women out for things she deems unnecessary, unacceptable behavior in one’s second act (e.g., plastic surgery).
Unfortunately, none of the aforementioned folks are alone in thinking there’s a proper way to age. For years, notable moments in women’s lives have been viewed through the lens of age. There’s this idea that we can and should push our bodies, minds and potential to the limit by age 30. It’s as if by then, we’re expected to wither away. It’s why some believe that an actress in her early 30s “looks good for her age.”
Aging, at any and all points after the age of 25 is a daunting reality because there’s pressure to be at your best by then, both physically and creatively. Though lauded for certain wins, others are viewed as crossing a limit – which as most things, is dictated by our capitalist society – doubtfully drawn in the sand to make those who dare cross it feel less than.
But history shows we win when we defy the criterion for aging in public. It’s surprising when it comes as a surprise that women of all ages can and do have dreams and intact sexualities. On the eve of turning a quarter of a century, I remember going through my exhausting yet comforting mental list: Oprah was fired at 23 from her first reporting job and became one of the best in the industry, skilled director Ava Duvernay switched careers at age 32, FKA Twigs has about 501 talents (one of which is pole dancing) – a skill she learned in her 30s, and last but not least, J.Lo – who did the same – at 50, seemingly adds a new skill to her resume on a yearly basis.
On one hand, it’s important and widely agreed upon that it’s perfectly acceptable to not accomplish even a slice of the pie of what these women have – to lounge in your apartment on weekends instead of taking on a new hobby. On the other, it’s O.K. to do the most after the age of 40, 60 and even 90.
As we continue to see the general public’s confusing and complicated views on aging, we at least have Salma Hayek’s words as a guiding light. On a recent press run, the Mexican actress was asked how it felt to be a banner for Latin beauty. The Beatriz at Dinner star paused and said it was just “pressure.”
“As years go on, my hope is to not let you all down,” she said. “I don’t want to have this pressure in my 50s and 60s. I’m not going to get plastic surgery and end up looking like a mummy. So, you’ll [reader… you’ll] have to conform.”
It’s time to take the weight off either which way.
“We have to age with grace and beauty,” she added, “but also relax a bit and let ourselves age a bit because… it’s just too much pressure.”