Arts & CultureCultural Affairs

‘You Look Good for Your Age’: Challenging ageism through writing

In You Look Good for Your Age, 29 women explore their experiences with ageism and aging.

Have you ever told someone they look good for their age? On the surface, the phrase may seem like a compliment, but what exactly does age have to do with good looks?

Rona Altrows, the editor of You Look Good for Your Age, was once given this “compliment” and it made her begin to think about the underlying meaning of this phrase. What’s so wrong with simply looking your age? We live in a world where youthfulness is idealized and women are valued for their looks. 

Altrows wanted to challenge this idea by gathering a group of 29 women ranging in age from their 40s to 90s, and have them contribute a piece outlining their experiences with aging and their opinions on the normalization of ageism. 

The anthology is a collection of poems, short-stories, and essays from many women who attempt to criticize the way that aging is viewed as negative. On October 27, I had the pleasure of attending an online reading and Q&A from some of the contributors hosted by Rosemary Griebel who is the design lead for readers’ services at the Calgary Public Library. 

A major benefit of attending a reading from the actual authors is that you are able to hear the pieces in the exact way that it was meant to be read. Through the live reading, you are able to gain context about the piece through an introduction from the author. The authors wrote about personal things such as their loved ones or experiences that they have had, so hearing about these directly from them enhanced the listening experience. 

There were so many aspects of every piece that I thoroughly enjoyed, and I wish I could go into depth about all of them. 

One line that really stood out to me was from JoAnn McCaig’s piece “Mastery of the Instrument.” The line states that “my enemy is not aging at all, it’s the fear of it.”

The reason this line stood out to me is because it made me think about the negative connotations surrounding the idea of aging and how the fear of aging is so ingrained in our society. We live in a society where youth is associated with beauty, and the media is so focused on selling products labelled with phrases like “anti-aging” and we are constantly forced to hate how we look. Aging should be a natural process that everyone goes through, but so many women fear it due to the fact that our society is obsessed with telling them that their value diminishes as they age. 

Rona Altrows discussed the idea that people can continue to deny the fact that they are aging, but this is not going to slow down the process and instead, this fact needs to be embraced and accepted. Instead of spending time stressing about aging, there should be more focus on accepting the natural aging process and enjoying the time that you have left.

Altrows stated that her wish for young readers is that through this anthology, they will get a sense of what it is like to be in the mind and body of an older woman.

“How many books with aging women in them are actually written by aging women?” Altrows said.

By sharing pieces from women who have had first hand experience with aging, readers are able to better understand the effects of the ageist ideals our society upholds. 

You Look Good for Your Age is currently available for purchase through the University of Alberta Press.

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