Opinion by Amy Klein
(CNN) — My grandmother used to have these jelly arms that I loved to play with. Her feathery, loose flesh was warm and soft and would jiggle back and forth when we pushed it as she hugged us, and we felt loved.
There were grandmothers on “The Golden Bachelor,” but none of them reminded me of mine — or any stereotypical grandmother, as the show turned aging and getting older on its head.
As the 28th season of the reality franchise comes to a close, and 72-year-old Gerry Turner — either a wholesome Midwestern widower or a chauvinistic cad, according to recent reports — picks his true love, many people will be devastated, because they’re either #teamTheresa or #teamLeslie.
Not me. For me, the finale is beside the point. For me, it’s not about the rose ceremony, it’s about all the women who showed up to participate and what they tell us about our culture’s understanding of older women’s lives.
To be fair, I haven’t been part of Bachelor Nation since a brief engagement during its origins in the early aughts; I was in my 30s and dating, hoping I might glean some wisdom about finding love. (Hey, reality TV was new then, and we actually thought it was … um … real?)
After I got married at 40 and had a kid at 44, eight years ago, I was more likely to watch a reality show called “It’s Not Worth the Jail Time: Staying Sane During Motherhood” than I would a dating show.
Yet I was one of the millions tuning into “The Golden Bachelor” premiere because I wanted to know how they would handle aging. I couldn’t care less who got a rose. For me the point was the people. The shiny, leggy, flowy-haired, high-heeled, high-boobed older (not old) women.
The portrayal of these sexagenarians and septuagenarians — in other words boomers — bugged many people. By “people,” I mean some female critics. For instance, Mary McNamara lamented in The Los Angeles Times that the show was built on stereotypes, “to say nothing about the series’ focus on ‘hotness,’ which boils down to a very narrow definition of beauty and fitness.” There was also, Michelle Cottle who said in an audio essay for The New York Times that “these are not your grandma’s boomers so to speak, they are extremely toned and fit and tanned…. These women, in addition to trying to come across as attractive or personable or smart or charming are just so eager to prove they’re not old.”
That’s exactly what I love about these women. They’re not my grandmother’s boomers, and they’re not even my mother’s.
I’m a pretty basic Gen Xer who lost all her heels and stockings during the pandemic, more of a Sporty Spice than a Posh one. So while I’m fascinated by these women’s buxom bods and unlined, shiny faces that intimates a certain level of costly cosmetic help, I’m more obsessed with their personalities. “They are all focused on projecting the most youthful, up-for-anything, zippy, you know, sexually predatory vibe you can possibly come up with,” Cottle opined, as if it were the ultimate insult.
As an older mom, I am fascinated by the media’s portrayal of older women.
Listen, it’s not great. I wanted to love the 2022 novel “Vladimir” heralded as a #MeToo novel, but kept being thrown by the narrator, who keeps calling herself old even though she’s in her late 50s but complains about frailty like someone in her 80s. The novel and film adaptation “Still Alice” feature a woman in her 50s with early-onset Alzheimer’s. It’s as if once a woman turns 50, she’s out to pasture.
But the 50s are not what they once were. Consider this: the women of “The Golden Girls” — Blanche, Dorothy and Rose — were in their 50s in 1985, when the show about old women began. Hard to believe they were about the same age that the characters of Carrie, Miranda and Charlotte are in the “Sex and the City” sequel series “And Just Like That….” (The show airs on Max, which shares a parent company with CNN.)
While our favorite fancy New Yorkers are still teetering in their Manolo Blahnik heels and having over-priced brunches, they kept talking about their age (“I am not pretending to be any age. I am 55,” Charlotte says about dyeing her hair) and complaining about aging like they were … old. (Thankfully, they stopped talking about their age and aging in the second season, which also featured a surprise pregnancy that realistically ended in miscarriage.)
The portrayal of older adults in the media has “changed dramatically” in the past two decades, said Galit Nimrod, author of “The Aging of Aquarius: The Hippies of the 60s in their 60s and Beyond,” noting that it has shifted from “characteristics such as frailty and dependency to vibrant, strong, active, and fit — a portrayal that is often unrealistic and denies aging altogether.” Our society puts older women in an “impossible position,” she said, due to the combination of ageism and misogyny. “If they try to maintain a younger lifestyle and especially a younger look, they are regarded as inauthentic and even pathetic,” she elaborated, acknowledging the adverse reactions Madonna got after her face lift. “If they don’t, they’re considered unattractive, non-feminine and even genderless.”
It’s not that I want these Bachelor contestants’ fancy dresses, flat tummies or the ability to bat their eyelashes at the gorgeous Gerry like he was dessert they were about to pounce on (although I’m sure my husband of 12 years wouldn’t mind if I tried that with him). It’s their verve I want. It’s their vigor I need.
As an older mom (do I have to keep saying that?? I’m like the contestant April, who introduced herself by saying, “I am 65 — I hate saying that!”) I had to crawl on my knees (not for that) to pick up the Legos strewn everywhere, run myself ragged in the playground playing hide and seek and now host relay races for my eight-year-old and friends. I don’t have time to rest.
Our daughter looks at the world with enthusiasm and wonder — and that keeps my husband and me young, to see everything with delight and to keep up with her demands for novelty, adventure and action.
That’s why I hope that by the time I’m the age of some of these contestants — with a teenage daughter — I still will have their “youthful, up-for-anything, zippy, kind of sexually predatory vibe.” I’m not saying we should ignore aging, per se, but I want to focus on life, on love, on living.
I’m not the only one who loves these women. Even Gen Z women admire them. “Is anyone watching ‘The Golden Bachelor’ and thinking, ‘maybe I shouldn’t be so scared to get older….?’” Eva Gutowski said on TikTok. “I feel like as someone in her 20s it’s scary, like how am I going to look when I’m older? Is my personality going to be the same? Is it going to change? Am I going to want to party, meet new people, drink?” She said that seeing these women act so cool and look so stunning “also just makes me honestly excited to get older.”
I’m excited for all of the women on “The Golden Bachelor,” who learned they deserve love. “From what I got out of the show the most, is gratitude for Gerry, for getting me to know I am worthy, I can enjoy my life and live it to the utmost and find happiness … I can’t wait to get started,” Ellen Goltzer, 71, recounted in the “Women Tell All” episode. Marina Perera, 60, one of two contestants who left the show early to prioritize her family, said, “Whether you’re 22 or 102, we are women, we have power within us.”
If getting older means getting more vibrant, having more adventures, accessing that power within us — like all the contestants, whether they got a rose or a spin-off show — you can count me in. Without heels, of course.
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