Aging and Sexuality-These Grannies Are Strutting Their Stuff

Aging and Sexuality-These Grannies Are Strutting Their Stuff

aging and sexuality, Edwin OlafThis series of mature women posing in classic pin-up shots from an earlier time popped up on trendhunter recently. I posted it on my Facebook page and in a group composed of women around my age. It struck a nerve.

Here’s what the introduction to the photos said, “Hoping to crush the stereotypical idea that sex appeal lies with youth, these 10 aging models took on classic pin-up poses for Dutch photographer Erwin Olaf’s series, ‘Mature.’ Wearing skimpy lingerie, the septuagenarians truly embraced their age and owned their bodies’ matured sexuality by displaying the features they’re most fond of after all these years.”

As I see it, the photo shoot was as much about looking at society’s concept of sexuality as it was expressing the idea that we can continue to feel and be sexual beings despite our age. The comments I received ranged from enthusiastic support to disdain that we still connect ‘sexy’ with semi-naked bodies. Some of us focused on the ability to see and experience aging in all it’s glory-wrinkles, sags and all. Others pointed out that sexy isn’t about the body–it’s about who we are, our relationship to ourself and our partners. And, there was a bit of an “enough already” feeling in there as well.

I see this photo shoot as a way of reminding us that the images we see today are not real. They are enhanced images of women that hold out some artificial notion of “sexy”. So much so we’ve come to associate the idea of being and looking sexy with perfectly round breasts and satiny smooth blemish free skin–with oh so delectable curves. Olaf, the photographer of this photo shoot, brought us real images of real women. Women displaying poise and guts.  Women who possess enough confidence and comfort with their bodies to pose in alluring, daring outfits.

One woman, in my group, commented that as we age sexy becomes more about who we are rather than how we look. I see her point. But, shouldn’t sexy always be about who we are, how we feel and how we choose to act? If we hold to a notion that only the youthful and beautiful get to show off their sexiness it serves to negate the rest of us. Can we be 25 lbs overweight, saggy and not gorgeous and still be sexy? What about all the women who don’t get to be in the Sports Illustrated bathing suit edition? Or those of us classified as “Old”? Are they not sexy in their own right? The people in wheelchairs? Those with other disabilities-physical, emotional, intellectual. Do they have sexiness, or sexual desires?

We have to get past the sexy images and get to the essence of what makes a person feel sexy. Or feel sexual. It’s not about looks or red high heels and push up bras. It’s not about enhanced bustlines. And, maybe we need to drop the word ‘sexy’ all together.

“I don’t see sexy as something to turn on or off. I see it as something that broadens in meaning.” From one of the women in the conversation.

 It’s clear to me that within a group of individuals there will always be a range of opinions. When the topic is SEX, personal feelings and experiences come into play and shape our responses. Sexy to me is going to be different from your definition and experiences. It’s that diversity that keeps the conversation going.

Do you see that photo shoot as being all about “sexy”?

  • Lynne
    Posted at 07:49h, 01 April Reply

    I feel that the photo shoot was a way to declare that sexy doesn’t age. Last year, when a magazine declared the world’s “sexiest man and most beautiful woman,” I took umbrage to that announcement and blogged about it. I felt that the editors’ picks were based more on looks than personality. I think anyone can be sexy at any age. To me, sexy is defined as how an individual treats others, respects him or herself and others around them. As I mature, I see sexy as a whole package, not a set of body parts, and I feel that is what these older women have proven by being so daring. A great way to get the “what’s sexy” dialogue started! Wonderful essay, Walker!

    • Walker
      Posted at 08:06h, 01 April Reply

      Yes, yes!! The whole package. The most physically gorgeous man on the planet might not strike me as sexy if he doesn’t have those other components that define sexy to me… a definition that changes as I get older and more engaged in my own sexuality. Love the way you’ve captured this..Thank you Lynne.

  • Carol Cassara
    Posted at 09:50h, 01 April Reply

    My feelings about this are so mixed I really need to think about it. As art, I’m all for it. Other than that, well, I’m thinking.

    • Walker
      Posted at 07:31h, 02 April Reply

      Fair enough. I think it’s just art, maybe a little tongue in cheek. These ladies are just a bit younger than the original women who posed for pinups, I suspect. Clearly it has hit a nerve by challenging our notion of aging.

  • Karen D. Austin
    Posted at 10:10h, 01 April Reply

    I don’t want to stifle anyone’s self-expression in art or in how they “peform” their sexuality. But I don’t find myself wanting to mimic these photos. But then, again, I feel the same way about pics of sexy women in their 20s. I suppose a photo decontexualizes people so much that they become an object — and that’s what I don’t like. For me, sexuality is embedded deeply within a relationship, and that doesn’t translate into an image.

    • Walker
      Posted at 07:34h, 02 April Reply

      Karen, I think we live in a culture that objectifies women…until they get to be a certain age then we want them to be hidden away. These images are making people extremely uncomfortable–so the conversation is helpful to us as we grapple with our personal definitions of sexy and sexuality. I don’t want to pose like that either, but I can appreciate the message.

      Thank you so much for bringing your thoughts to this topic.

  • The Animated Woman
    Posted at 16:25h, 01 April Reply

    Sexualized images, regardless of age, gender, costumes, props or context, are simply images. They can inspire, challenge, make statements, and even be artistic, but it is all very subjective.

    True sexuality lies in a movement, a smell, a whisper, or a gaze. It is a tension which hovers on the threshold of intent, at once a promise and a denial.

    • Walker
      Posted at 07:40h, 02 April Reply

      Wonderful take on this! Love love love your definition of true sexuality.

  • Roz Warren
    Posted at 21:40h, 01 April Reply

    Fascinating. But a little creepy too?

    • Walker
      Posted at 07:41h, 02 April Reply

      Well…I guess the old saying, “once a dominatrix, always a dominatrix” might be applied here.

  • Mindy
    Posted at 05:42h, 02 April Reply

    I saw these photos as a personal reality check about my own physical aging as in, “Oh, that IS what happens when the body loses isn’t just me!” Shallow, I know. But as someone who struggles with self-esteem around my appearance, I found these photos to be very comforting. They didn’t strike me as sexual or enticing but as a wake-up call that we can be/do anything we like no matter what our age or socially perceived physical attactiveness. Living in an “air brushed” world is difficult for me at 62..I can’t imagine what it is doing to our young girls as they mature in such a place. I find I want to hug every young woman I see and tell her that she is perfect, beautiful, intelligent and brave…no matter the perfection du jour being touted by the media.

    • Walker
      Posted at 07:37h, 02 April Reply

      I agree. The air brushed world makes it hard sometimes for us to look in the mirror and make peace with our imperfect looks. I often think about my granddaughters and what they’ll grow up to and how they’ll handle that. I find myself searching for words to compliment them that don’t focus on ‘beauty’, ‘pretty’ etc.
      Thanks for offering this angle as most of the conversation has focused on the sexual aspect of these photos!

      • Mindy
        Posted at 18:39h, 02 April Reply

        Walker, I remember hearing that you shouldn’t compliment a young girl/woman on her physical attributes so I try to comment on skills and such but it is difficult, especially when I am just meeting them for the first time. Your granddaughters are so very lucky to have you as an example!

        • Walker
          Posted at 22:11h, 02 April Reply

          It is difficult as we’re sort of conditioned! I hope my granddaughters think that as well!

  • JILL
    Posted at 10:32h, 02 April Reply

    Even young models get photoshopped to make them appear perfect. What I find extremely sad these days are young women in their 20’s and 30’s who find it necessary to get botox, colligen fillers, lip plumping, brazilian butt lifts, etc., etc., etc. so they feel they can compete with the “model” image. Even my own neighbor started getting botox in her mid-thirties!! (and she’s a very pretty girl to start with). And, one of my friend’s daughter’s in her mid twenties (with looks akin to Kim Kardashian to start with) has ridiculous stuff done. When they start seeing themselves in that kind of light during their younger years, they’re going to be in for some very major expenses when they really do start showing their age. Good luck when they can’t support their habit anymore!

    • Walker
      Posted at 12:08h, 02 April Reply

      Jill, I agree. Young women who experience the societal pressure or insecurity sufficient to go ‘under the knife’ will have a challenging life. It’s sad. photo shoots like this, however controversial, can start to offer a more realistic image of real women. And, how powerful to see women being OK with their aging bodies.
      Nice to see you!

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