aging · beauty · feminism · fitness

“Taking care of ourselves”–taking back this phrase

This ad just came across the FIFI social media outlets (thanks, Nicole, for bringing this to our attention). It shows a bunch of 46-year-old white women in an ad for Geritol. The fact that all of them are the same age is supposed to be shocking to us. What separates them, the ad tells us, is that some of the women “take care of themselves”, while others apparently don’t.

This vintage ad came across the FIFI social media feed (thanks, Nicole for bringing this to our attention)– it’s for Geritol (a vitamin and iron supplement later pulled off the market; more on this below) featuring a bunch of 46-year-old white women. The ad singles some of them out, although it doesn’t say which ones. But it’s got some concerns:

A bunch of 46-year-old white women, posing for a misogynistic snake oil ad. It's for Geritol, which I talk about in the post.
A bunch of 46-year-old white women, posing for a misogynistic ad for snake oil.

I don’t know about you, but these women all look around the same age to me. But, the ad implies that some of them clearly look older, and it’s THEIR OWN FAULT. Why? Because they are not “the ones who take care of themselves”.

(Parenthetical comment: props to the woman in the blue jacket for pioneering resting bitch face in a good way. She’s having none of this.)

(One more parenthetical comment: the product in question, Geritol, was marketed as an iron and B-vitamin tonic in the 1950s. It was supposed to relieve tiredness, and was 12% alcohol. It was pulled off the market because of risk of diseases associated with too much iron, and also because Geritol engaged in “conduct amounted to gross negligence and bordered on recklessness”. The FTC ruled them as making false and misleading claims and heavily penalized with fines totaling $812,000 (equivalent to $4.96 million in 2021 dollars). See their Wikipedia page for more details.)

Back to the main rant. According to the fine folks at Geritol, women who “take care of themselves”:

  • Never eat too much or too little;
  • get a good night’s sleep every night;
  • exercise every day;
  • do all the things that women leading busy women’s lives in the mid-20th century have to do, regardless of income;
  • and of course take Geritol every day.

But how, pray, can we tell which women are “taking care of themselves” and which women aren’t? By how they look, of course! Aren’t you silly…

I have to say that just writing about this nonsense is getting me a little worked up.

Image of person fishing on smooth lake, saying you are where you need to be. Just breathe.
Yeah, that’s a little better. I hope it helps you too.

Okay, I’m back. Here, in no particular order, are some problems with a culture in which this ad is just one little horrid illustration:

  • “Looking your age” or “better yet–younger!” is assumed to be a universal imperative for women.
  • The markers for “looking your age” or “better yet– younger!” are based on classist, racist, misogynist and (I might add) boring and bland criteria, which are unattainable by most women (even the ones who made it in into that ad, for goodness’ sake).
  • The notion of “taking care of yourself” (subject to same influences as “looking your age”) censures all women whose busy lives involve burdens of family care, domestic labor, paid work, and endless waking and working hours, with no time for bridge club, facials or golf.
  • Geritol was harmful alcoholic snake oil, marketed by lies, targeting consumers with money but also vulnerabilities.
  • The idea that “taking care of yourself” is, for women: a) a lifelong obligation; b) something whose success can be read off women’s faces and bodies is false and also vicious.

How can we take back the notion of “taking care of ourselves”? I think we’re doing it already– right here on this blog, out in the working and playing and political world, in our homes, and with our friends and families. And what are we doing in this updated version?

We prioritize ourselves as best we can, given our constraints and connections and interests. That means choosing– as we can– the aspects of our lives to focus on. And, in cases where we currently can’t choose (e.g. reproductive health and safety in the US right now), we speak up, fight back, disobey, organize, and act. Oh, and vote, too.

We set boundaries– again, as best we can– so to protect time and resources for activities of our own choosing. Where the boundaries aren’t there, again we work to change them.

We dare to love ourselves as dearest members of our families (sometimes, families of one). We do this all the time– or as much as we can.

But who am I to go on and on about self-care? Let me step aside for someone who said it better.

Words from poet and activist Audre Lorde. "Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare."
Words from poet and activist Audre Lorde. “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” From A Burst of Light, 1988.

Readers, how do you understand the phrase “taking care of yourselves” these days? What do you do? I’d love to hear from you.

Let us know what you think....