Women and Aging in the Media
Education and work outside the home make modern women more independent and active, and change the aging process they undergo. Now, when life expectation and health rates have improved, women reaching the age of 50ies do not perceive it as an age for retirement, limiting themselves to grandchildren care and gardening. On the contrary, growing older, women may be able to make choices never available to them in earlier generations (Kechnie, p.41). The concepts of women’s aging such as individuation, ageism, myths about aging, the double standard of aging, and body image issues are all reflected in the film Calendar Girls.
The film Calendar Girls tells the story of Annie and Chris, ones of many aging women meeting each week on the meetings of the Women’s Institute. When Annie’s beloved husband dies of leukemia, they decide to honor him by purchasing a sofa for the visitors’ room of the hospital where he was treated. Chris’s bold idea is to collect money from selling a calendar, for which the women from the Institute will pose nude. Eventually, twelve women decide to pose, and the calendar has a huge success.
The valuable characteristics of the women in the age of 50 are given by Gail Sheehey. She calls this period in women’s lives the Flaming Fifties, and suggests that it may be the first time women consider their own needs in the first place and may want to learn new skills, take up new education, start new career. According to Sheehy, this is the time when a woman can find her own voice and self (as cited in Kechnie, p.45). The characters of the film fully reflect these ideas, as the calendar project is a way for them to express themselves.
The reason why the decision to take part in the project demands so much courage from the women in the film is because they have to deal with body image issues. Out of all the images our culture produces, few have focused on older women as attractive and desirable (Kechnie, p.34). The interest of the media and universal discourse on the idea of the calendar proves that portrayal of older women as sexual objects are out of norm in our society.
Ageism, as a form of prejudice and discrimination based on chronological age, systemic stereotyping and ascribing age-related roles to people (Kechnie, p.24), is reflected throughout the film. Main heroines have not only to overcome shyness, but also public disapproval, as the head of the Institute strongly disagrees with their idea and even calls them to ask approval from the national gathering of Women’s Institute. Chris’s son and his peers also reflect ageism, as when his mother gets interested in calendar with nude girls, he thinks that something wrong is going on with her. When the calendar appears, his peers are laughing at him and he feels humiliated by what his mother did.
The biggest stereotype women from the film have to challenge is that sexual expression of elderly people is not natural and healthy (Kechnie, p.53). A study of Fullmer, Shenk, and Eastland shows that older women are generally viewed as asexual (2008). The calendar, which portrayed nude women at their everyday work: baking, knitting, making juice, watering flowers, drawing, etc., though no intimate parts of their bodies were seen, managed to show that aging women enjoy their sexuality, and that sexuality does not mean vulgarity. The article of Clarke points out that it is wrong to define sexuality of elderly women by the number of sexual acts and their frequency, as sensitivity and other meanings that older adults attribute to sexual relationships are not less important (2006). The film portrays such tender relationships between Annie and her husband.