Saturday, December 22, 2012

The Innovator: Advanced Style & Ari Seth Cohen

I've never paid much attention to age until this year. Before that, age was a good thing - I couldn't wait to be legal, I couldn't wait to get my license, I couldn't wait for university. Already at 22, though, age begins to show its very faint beginnings. You notice a wrinkle on your forehead that wasn't there before. Suddenly I can't eat carbs the way I used to and my mom is warning me about pasta going straight to my thighs. I see old women at the cafe and wonder what I will look like when I'm forty, fifty. Will I have wrinkles from the occasional fling with the tanning salon? Will I be fat? Will I succumb to puffer jackets and sweats stained with ketchup and baby food? Will I wear mom jeans and underarm flab? When will I go grey? When will my hair fall out? Images of trophy wives and good-looking secretaries accumulate on the borders of my mind and I shake my head to get them out. Nonetheless, I stop by the Neutrogena section at Shoppers Drug Mart and buy some anti-aging under eye cream, having inspected my face in the magnifying mirror and become obsessed with the fine lines at the edges of my eyes. 

At night I wonder at these thoughts of mine. I notice that I immediately associate my happiness and success in life as paralleling how I'll look. Some of it is up to me - how much I exercise, what I eat, how well I maintain my grooming and maintenance habits. But the rest is genetics and sheer luck. I notice that I associate my relationship with my future husband with how I'll age, completely accepting the male-female double-standard. I'm disgusted, but curious.

I come across Ari Seth Cohen's Advanced Style blog. I spend an hour poring over the photos of women in their 80s and 90s in brilliantly coloured clothing, jumping, posing, pouting, dancing and laughing. I'm in awe. To be frank, I'm also embarrassed. I'm wearing a Berkeley t-shirt and tights with my hair in a messy ponytail. Today I wore jeans and muddy Hunter boots with a plain black t-shirt from the Gap. Certainly not bedazzling. I'm 22! I'm supposed to be in the prime of my life, but if you put me beside these women quite literally triple my age, I'd pale in comparison. I don't remember the last time I wore a brooch, or pearls, or statement earrings, and I've certainly never worn a turban or a Kentucky Derby style hat. 

Sure, there are a few problems with Advanced Style. For instance, judging by the amount of Prada bags and Chanel suits in his photos, Cohen shoots rich women. Rich and predominantly white women who presumably had access to the best facets of life through their wealth. Health, education, exercise. Less stress. Did they work? Did they have nannies? Maybe. Maybe not. 

The focus on older women is, despite this, astoundingly innovative. I don't recall seeing older women in ad campaigns except for Dove's beauty campaign and the occasional breast cancer/Mother's Day awareness campaigns. Instead of celebrating older women, I have been filled with fear at the idea of them, of becoming one. I tremble when I think of my sixties and seventies, even my fifties, picturing a limp and lifeless marriage, veiny legs, spotted hands, broken dreams, grandchildren who don't call, children exasperated and shouting at me because they assume I'm hard of hearing. I think of retirement homes and nurses having to bathe me. I think of watching my friends and family die off in assorted cruel and painstakingly slow ways. I think of being unable to drive and having no freedom, unable to walk or run or swim, being invisible in public and watching the young frolic, trembling with envy and feeling dead, something perhaps worse than death. 

"Advanced". Even the word advanced shows us the power of language and discourse. Advanced signifies a level that we aim to reach, want to reach, a status we crave to attain - not, as aging is usually presented, something to fear, something to bear with shame. And these women, these women do not look ashamed. They look happier than most of the stressed out students and girlfriends and employees I know. They look free, colourful, vibrant, inventive, streaking their silver hair, putting together detailed outfits with care and precision. Sharply tailored coats and emerald green gloves that offset glossy lacquered earrings. Of course, these women are the lucky ones: they are healthy, walking, alive. But they are old by anyone's standards, and use fashion to celebrate and recreate notions of the elderly and the old, refusing to be invisible, refusing, in a word, to give up. 

This post is for you to remember when you wake up tomorrow morning, and the morning after, and the morning after that. Remember that aging is a precious and beautiful thing, that life is brilliant and bright. No sweats. No haphazard outfits. Put yourself together with care, with lipstick and perfume, simply because you can. 

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