Young Gloria Steinem had unconventional ideas about female beauty and aging
Meet Gloria Steinem, a journalist and social activist who made waves in the Women’s Liberation Movement and never shied away from challenging society’s expectations. Young Gloria Steinem had some very unconventional views on aging back in the 1970s that, unfortunately, never quite caught on with our culture.
Let’s step back to 1976 — the pinnacle of Steinem’s groundbreaking career — and not only revisit her empowering views on aging as a liberating experience for women, but also, maybe this time, internalize and act on them. /BRB
Young Gloria Steinem discusses aging (1976)
By Ghita Levine, Special to the Syracuse Herald-Journal (New York) December 3, 1976
“I do not want to self-destruct when I am 60 years old,” says Gloria Steinem, feminist, activist, founder and editor of MS magazine. And from the way she looks, there’s little likelihood that will be her fate.
Although others point to her as “beautiful Gloria,” she substitutes “conventional-looking” for attractive and pretty. For Ms Steinem is one of the leaders of women’s movement, which wants to create a society that is not dependent on looks.
“It’s a you-can’t-win-syndrome,” Ms. Steinem said after a recent lecture to a Federal Women’s Program group. “If you’re young and attractive and do well, then people say you got there through men. If you’re not young and not pretty and you do well, then they say you got there because you couldn’t get a man.”
Dead end road
Either way, a woman is measured in terms of how she scores, or does not score, in the eyes of men. And that is a dead-end road when you know, with age, comes a change away from youthful good looks.
Older women especially feel a keen loss of physical attraction and a consequent loss of self-image and self-concept. For if you measure yourself in terms of how you appeal to men, then when you lose that appeal (real or imagined) you value yourself less a person, too.
“We all suffer from the same problem, which is being identified by our looks instead of our hearts and our heads,” Ms Steinem maintains, so she is working for a society in which being an older woman, or being an “atypical person” is “okay and good.”
“It’s okay these days to be widowed, divorced, single or living alone. One of the main emphases of the women’s movement has been to point out the alternatives to conventional marriage and show there is more than one way of living a productive life. Many older women report that they feel odd because they must live alone.”
Yet nowadays many women opt not to marry, like Gloria Steinem, who at age 42, chooses to live alone. “Perhaps the women’s movement has been most helpful in de-mystifying the idea of aloneness, and saying aloneness is a positive thing,” Ms Steinem points out.
Even married people can be alone because, as she puts it, one’s condition of loneliness doesn’t depend on whether you have a spouse or children, but how you feel about yourself, how you relate to people around you.
When you don’t like yourself very much, or when you feel unconfident with yourself, you’re more likely to doom relationships with other people, she says.
Gloria Steinem is the first to admit that the women’s movement should be doing more for the older woman. But what is it doing, she says, is contributing to the understanding that women are valuable people, regardless of age.
“We are trying to do something about this world in which it is all right if Walter Cronkite is on television with wrinkles, but show me the woman who can get away with that.
“Just at the time when we’re at the height of our experience, we’re dismissed because we’re no longer decorative.”