Is age shaming the next body shaming?

It’s a sham, the entire age circus. You aren’t supposed to ask a woman her age, because ‘it’s not done’: haven’t you heard this at some point in your life?. Age? Oh, ‘tis a tender territory you don’t want to trespass on, especially in public. So, dreamgirls are supposed to look young forever. Filmstars, beauty queens, celebs aren’t supposed to age. Hush shush, what silly mush. It isn’t a question that figures in any interview, and few women disclose the correct figure anyway. Now with Shamita Shetty facing the unkind brunt of age-shaming by her co-participant in Bigg Boss Season 15, the unkind stigma of age rears its ugly head again, on screen, in public. This time in a cringe-worthy woman-pounding-woman episode. So, is age-shaming the next body-shaming?

Call it a self-cultivated stigma that we have perpetuated in unison, by staying silent and pandering to it. We blush and flush when told we look younger, and grit our teeth if someone mistakes us to be older than we actually are.  In the celluloid world, women have lied to project a timeless visage and expand their onscreen shelf-life. For years, the age of our Indian filmstars has been an enigma. A closely guarded secret. No one knows how old they actually are: from Hema Malini to Katrina Kaif. There are taunts and jibes about the number of candles on birthday cakes, gossip snippets about date revelations on passports, but never any tangible quantification of the number of years that have rolled past. Is it the fear of ageist bullies, or the awkwardness in owning the silvers? Actually, what visible silvers?

Why would you want to hide the number of years you have been alive? By keeping quiet, smiling benignly, looking the other way, changing the topic, batting lashes and coughing delicately, we entrench the notion that there is something awfully wince-worthy and painful about the years leaving us. The more we hanker after age defying pots and potions, magic serums, those scary sheet masks that promise to kiss away the fine lines, and dermatological treatments that leave us looking younger in filter-powered Instagram pictures, than we actually looked 20 years ago – the more our attitude is a living testimony of this self-inflicted guilt, shame, awkwardness, self-denial, susceptibility, complex, insecurity…

Call it what you may. We sigh in wonder as celebs with flawless skin, taut bellies and perfect bodies perform asanas as self-appointed fitness ambassadors, after spending surreptitious hours with skin doctors together with flab shedding therapies in foreign spas. By sighing and subscribing, we are feeding on the frenzy and rooting deeper, this obsession with looking young, being young forever. Unfortunately, this stigma is a global guzzler that often tragically claims mental health and even lives. It drove former Miss USA Cheslie Kryst off a high rise. The crown holder, who won Miss USA at 28, found herself at the receiving end of countless ageist bullies – women included. Her suicide (she’s dead at 30) spotlighted an essay she wrote last year, about her fear of ‘running out of time to matter’.

Shilpi Madan for Deccan Chronicle

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