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LectureHop: “All Ages Are Powerful”

The panel

The panel

Yesterday evening, Barnard hosted an intimate panel in the Diana Event Oval called “Beauty and Aging.” We sent Cosmo Craver Courtney Couillard to hear what President Debora Spar and her fellow panelists had to say about the biting issue all women face at some point in their life.

Having spoken intensively in her writing about women’s relationship with beauty, President Spar moderated last night’s event on the topic of beauty and aging. The panel also featured the following leading women in the beauty fields: Editor-in-chief of Cosmopolitan, Joanna Coles; Founder and CEO of Women One, Dayle Haddon; Cosmetic Dermatologist, Dr. Rhoda Narins BC ’62; and the author of “The Beauty Myth,” Naomi Wolf.

To begin, President Spar explained the relevance of having this conversation about beauty and aging at Barnard College. As the college has coined the term “bold, beautiful, Barnard women,” President Spar shared she has received flack for referring to Barnard students as ‘beautiful.’ However, President Spar defended the slogan as most Barnard women are indeed beautiful, and the term ‘beautiful’ should be considered in a diverse way. She then went on to point out the struggle women face between being proclaimed feminists while also falling victim to the beauty standards of society. President Spar even joked, “wrinkles are illegal in the borough of Manhattan.” However, she challenged the panel as well as the crowd to consider what relationship feminism has with beauty, and whether a woman’s attempt at making herself look beautiful should be considered a product of her society or a liberating, personal choice.

Following President Spar’s introduction, the rest of the panel took turns discussing their own relationships with aging and beauty. Wolf began by explaining she wrote her popular book when she was only 26 years old. Throughout her life since its publication, Wolf pointed out that women have been redefining and claiming beauty in various ways. She also touched on the significance of pop culture’s glamorization of older women, leading to a reclaiming of beauty for women of all ages. Ultimately, Wolf feels that women are now loving their bodies at older ages, and she personally finds her age to be “better, cooler, and funner” than ever before.

Barnard alumna Narins offered a different perspective by divulging into her experience with women and beauty as a cosmetic dermatologist. She argued that the prettiest women have always had the most success, and the desire to be beautiful is embedded in a person’s genes. In a time of online dating and quick first impressions, beauty could not be more important. However, she did point out the pains of aging for many women and having to acknowledge this change in their appearance. Narins warned, “a magnifying mirror with a light is a lethal weapon.”

Pivoting to the world of media, Coles spoke about her experience with beauty standards as the editor of perhaps the most well-known women’s magazine. Coles began by bringing up Secretary Hillary Clinton’s recent announcement for her candidacy this past weekend, and how Clinton embodies the qualities we should be celebrating for a 67-year-old woman: ambition and desire to create change. Coles also spoke about her own definition of beauty as something far more internal than external. She advised women to look less in the mirror in order to be happier and focus on enjoying yourself instead of worrying about how you look. She also noted the appearance of Madonna on Cosmo’s upcoming issue, exemplifying how older women can be beautiful. Echoing the sentiments of Wolf, Coles has only felt happier with age and finds it an exciting time to be an older woman.

Haddon wrapped up the introductions talking about her experience as a former model. Achieving success late in her career, Haddon challenged that success as a model was far more dependent on one’s ability to communicate than to look beautiful. She explained how she was not the most beautiful model, but she did so well with her modeling career because she could bring a sense of intimacy and communicate emotions in her photographs. Haddon also pointed out how the definition of beauty has expanded since her modeling days; our society has developed far more “types” of beauty compared to the narrow exposure of blond, athletic women of her day. In her modeling career, Haddon was finally told she was over the hill at the age of 38. However, she did not let this stop her, and she went on try to change the industry from the inside. Haddon concluded that all ages are beautiful, and beauty only gives a person a two minute leeway before they have to deliver something of substance.

The panel transitioned into a conversation between the women on multiple topics. Discussing one of the most engaging questions, President Spar pointed out all of the women were wearing relatively the same outfit, and asked the women what they thought about whether women are actually embracing inner-beauty or just kidding themselves. Narins advised, at least for the field of plastic surgery, women should seek to change their appearance only if they wish to do so. Coles joined in by saying that it’s ok for women to feel conflicted about the expectation of not to care about how they look. On that note, President Spar shared how she was once asked following a presentation how she could be the president of a woman’s college while also having dyed hair. Such a question implied that President Spar could not truly be an effective leader without rejecting beauty standards. Wolf also challenged the expectation by saying women should be able to see changing their appearance as an “exploration,” and women should not feel bad about using cosmetics if they would like to. Unable to find an answer, the women all shared how they personally struggle with these standards of empowering women while also becoming consumed with their beauty at times.

After comments from the crowd and continued discussion amongst the women about the relationship between beauty and aging, President Spar wrapped up the panel by asking the women what aging means, and whether we can find happiness in aging. Wolf shared she feels less scared with age and feels there’s more to look forward to in life. Although she diverged from the group most of the conversation, Narins agreed that happiness is the most important key to aging. In true Cosmo (and Barnard) fashion, Coles gave the final word by sharing she is a big believer in sex to give give women the good natural glow they want.

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