It doesn’t matter witch part of the world you came from, I believe we all know Cinderella, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, Little Red Riding Hood, … And only when I as an adult started reading these tales to my own children I was shocked how wrong it all suddenly felt. I was screaming inside!! All boys and girls from the early childhood are read fairy tales about princesses who achieve vast riches simply because their beauty makes them special.
We have to keep in mind that these stories were written in 1800s, but when you think how innocently the classical attributes of “femininity” found in these stories are passed to future generations, imprinted in children and reinforced later on in their lives. Moreover, beauty is associated with intelligence, ability, kindness, worthiness, and morality. On the contrary, women that are not beautiful are source of suspicion; older women are generally ugly or evil, depicted as hags or witches. Grauerholz raises interesting question, “why is it that attractive women and men are socially rewarded more than unattractive people?” (Grauerholz 2003). Even though these tales were written long time ago and many things, had changed, more recent media and advertisements’ studies showed that things are not so different as we would like to think and women power belongs to “successful young women who are clever, articulate, and proud of their curves” (Ross 2010). According to Ross, global beauty norms have converged on Western ideals which privilege thin, white and youthful beauty; conversely grown-up women are often the focus of sustained hostility (2010).
What is said above shows that the language we talk about things is changing, but the very initial ideas about gender and age are quite stable. Moreover, media institutions can be powerful means in sustaining certain stereotypes and trends. So why it is that old age cannot be seen as beautiful?
Is it because process of aging naturally leads towards sickness, disability, death? The issue of death is always problematic and infinite. Nowadays, we often see fictional dead bodies, but these are nice and young bodies, that have little to do with real everyday death. New social structures of modern times “has led society to be ashamed of death, more ashamed than afraid, to behave as if death did not exist” (Aries 1981: 613). According to Bauman: “When our knowledge is hard to bear with, our only escape is to treat it the way we treat things that offend us: we sweep such things away, put them at a distance from which their stench or repulsive sight is less likely to affect us; we hide them. Offensive thoughts must be suppressed” (Bauman 1992: 12). However, our lives are saturated with fictional and mediated death. The fact that we have no real knowledge or personal experience about the end of our lives increases the horror of death. There is nothing scarier than the unknown. Science and medicine innovations proceeded to longer and healthier lives as never before. The flow of media is controversial on one hand detective stories and criminal serials deal with death every day, but on the other hand remake and talk shows “teach” us how to eat, train our bodies, dress, make plastic surgeries for the only reason: to look and feel younger, in other words to postpone death and live as if we were immortal.
Ariès, Philippe (1977) ”Conclusion”, pp. 602-614 in The Hour of our Death: The Classic History of Western Attitudes Toward Death Over the Last One Thousand Years. New York: Vintage Books, Inc., 2008
Bauman, Zygmunt (1992) Mortality, Immortality & Other Life Strategies. Oxford: Polity Press
Ross, Karen (2010) Gendered media: women, men, and identity politics. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers
Experts say fairy tales not so happy ever after, Purdue News November 11, 2003, available at: http://www.purdue.edu/uns/html4ever/031111.Grauerholz.tales.html