I used to watch a fair amount of programs on HGTV. I was one of those early viewers who was thrilled that there was a channel about decorating, houses and gardens. There were certain programs I tuned into fairly regularly: hosted by Lynette Jennings, Joan Steffend, Joe Ruggiero, Mary Emmerling, Carol Duvall, Kitty Bartholomew.
Would any of these talented people get the opportunity to host a show on HGTV nowadays? Doubtful. Why not? They’re not young and beautiful. Every time I tune in, and I tune in a bit more often here because I’m searching for something to watch on TV, all I see are a series of impossibly beautiful young hosts. What happened to experience gained from a career of some length? What happened to wisdom? Oh it’s out there, but not apparently as a marketable commodity for HGTV.
When did America get so obsessed with youth? You see it everywhere. News anchors for major news networks are often a series of young, perfectly coifed, almost Stepford-like women. Do I want to hear the news from someone that young, someone who has no frame of reference with which to see a larger picture? Do I want to watch yet another television series that has 4 young beautiful actors pretending to be seasoned FBI agents – or doctors – or CSI technicians – or FBI Profilers – or lawyers? Come on. The minute I tune into one of those series, I groan and switch channels. How can I even pretend to lose myself in one of those stories? How can I suspend disbelief? Answer: I can’t. So I don’t watch.
Don and I were watching All in the Family (one of the greatest television series of all time) on TV Land recently and were struck by the level of excellence, the nuanced acting and the fact that both lead actors (Carroll O’Connor and Jean Stapleton) in the series were middle aged at the time. Neither of them had Botox, cheek implants, a face lift, bleached and straightened teeth or fake tans. What they did have was talent – something sadly lacking on television these days. They also had faces that were interesting – that showed that they had lived. Would this series have been given the green light today? Not a chance. It would have been reworked around a young, cute couple who moved into Queens to rehab a house and maybe had some wacky older neighbors (but never with more than one or two lines in an episode because they’re just not that interesting.)
What about talented singers and musicians who might not pass the ‘attractive enough for a video’ test? Just think about all the voices we never would have heard. This obsession with perfection, with pretty, has created a monster. It’s the stuff of science fiction. Anyone who is older and not blessed with perfect features and eternal youth is ignored. Those who are young and not perfectly perfect must invest in plastic surgery, botox, implants, breast enhancement, hair plugs, whatever is ‘required’ to be a little Stepford-perfect-person. All others are deemed not worthy of serious consideration for work in the media. Yes, there are exceptions, thank goodness, but not enough.
Whenever I see a somewhat older someone in the public eye succumb to the pressure of facial implants, etc, I feel such disappointment. “Oh no, (fill in the blank) got work done, too?!?” Another disappointed sigh. I certainly understand the pressures those people must feel to keep their jobs, to please the powers-that-be. As someone who knows many actors who work in film, I know all too well how hard it is for women above the age of 50 to get work.
But it’s not right. It’s not reality. Teeth aren’t meant to be blindingly white. Faces are not meant to have implants or be injected with something that contains botulism. Faces are meant to be quirky, interesting, filled with character and to reflect a life lived. Cheeks are meant to move when one smiles. They aren’t meant to be suspiciously smooth and to stay in one place no matter what the rest of the face does. Wrinkles are earned. Smile lines are wonderful.
Look, I’m in my fifties. I’m not thrilled with my sagging jowls. Or the big frown line between my eyebrows. Or my body that changed with menopause. Or my gray hair. But let’s face it, they are me. I have lived. I have experience. I’ve gained wisdom because of what I’ve been through, what I’ve seen, what I’ve done. The same holds true for everyone of a certain age. I’d rather hear Brian Williams give me the news than a pretty young thing on another channel. I want some weight, some gravitas. I want to see a series with lead characters who are middle aged or older. I’m sick of young, perfect and insipid. And I’m real tired of seeing middle aged actors who are only taken seriously and given work when they have erased any signs of aging.
I’m not the target audience, clearly. But I’ve decided to stop watching these programs or anything that perpetuates this false idea of perfection. If everyone got together and said, “No more. I am what I am and I’m proud of it. No more botox, plastic surgery, face lifts, teeth whitening” maybe the paradigm would change. When everyone buys into a false paradigm, then it becomes reality.
And that ‘reality’ is a scary one.