The picture is of a middle-aged white man, slightly grizzled, not terrible-looking, peering out at the viewer with a quizzical, slightly combative squint. “French Author, 50, Says Women Over 50 Are Too Old to Love.” The subhed continues: “Yann Moix, a prize-winning novelist, says women of the same age are ‘invisible’ to him.”
Oh, Christ. That this man is, by any metric, a towering asshole is beyond debate. That the Internet exploded into howls of outrage and laughter is unsurprising. I am nine years below Moix’s cutoff age, but I suspect I would be similarly invisible to him; I might not be 50, but I sure as shit ain’t 21, either.
So, Yann Moix would not, were he to meet me, want to sleep with me. Well. That’s fine; I wasn’t everyone’s cup of tea even when I was 21. It would be easy to roll my eyes and move on to the next instant meme, but I’d like to stay here for a moment. The responses to Moix’s declaration were pretty much universally derisive and largely boiled down to “ugh, fuck that guy.” Truly, that’s how I feel as well. And yet—that headline still stung.
I write this as I’m sifting through my own feelings of invisibility. I’m 41, and it’s no longer possible to pretend I’m anything but middle-aged. My body is much the same as it’s always been (slightly taller than average, 20 to 40 pounds more than I’d like it to be, pale, strong but inflexible) but I can no longer pretend I’m ever going to have a better body. My hair could not yet be described as “graying,” but look close, and they’re there. My jawline and neck are suddenly, alarmingly slack. I look in horrified fascination at my neck in pictures—when the fuck did that happen? Like bankruptcy, it happened slowly, and then all at once. I may never have been a noted beauty, but I am forced now to admit an addiction to the drug of feeling desired. I’m forced to admit it, because I can hear the taps being turned off, and it sucks.
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This drug: Whatever currency my looks afforded me when I was young and unattached, I spent it on that. Sex was just as much about having someone’s undivided attention, that focus and hunger, as it was about my attraction to them. I didn’t like what I saw in the mirror, but I loved the reflection I felt in their bodies. I wanted out of sex what I want out of music—a feeling of annihilation, of being squeezed out of myself. I remember that rush with a junkie’s fondness. I’ve been made as stupid by it as if it were an actual intoxicant. And yet—oh. I’ve been in the thrall of sexual desire that would be dangerous if I were bigger and stronger and culturally conditioned to take what I please. Being wanted gave me permission to want, to step into that gorgeous trance state, to put my hands where they wanted to go. Some of it was awful, but much of it was so sweet.
It is immensely powerful not to give a fuck, to be beyond the power afforded you by other people’s desire.
Does it seem like I’m advocating for this drug? I’m not. I’m aware that a lot of this is just cheap vanity. I know that there’s immense power in not needing a drug. I am trying to hold multiple, conflicting desires and ideas in my head and heart: It is immensely powerful not to give a fuck, to be beyond the power afforded you by other people’s desire. I still care if people think I’m pretty. I’m ashamed that I care if people think I’m pretty. If a shitbag of a man says I’m unfuckable, he’s just saying what they’re all thinking. I’m afraid no one will listen to the things I have to say if they don’t find me pleasing to look at. Or do I, on some level, feel that desire is the highest form of tribute a human can give another human? What the fuck kind of idea is that? Do I wish I were immune to it, above it? I’m reminded of St. Augustine’s prayer: “Lord, make me pure–but not yet.”
I don’t want the attention of all men, all the time, any more than I desire all men all the time (I should note here that I have been happily and monogamously partnered for 15 years, so my involvement in any of this is all theoretical anyway). I can’t particularly fault Yann Moix for his preferences, as narrow and boring as I might find them, but I want to talk about the word invisible. Unfuckable is one thing, invisible is quite another. The idea that you just look through a person if you don’t want to put your dick in them—again, not a shocker, but a fucking gut punch as a human being no matter how many times it’s been drilled into your head that your worth is determined by your sexual desirability. Is it any wonder I ran after some stepped-on shit back in my copping days? It helped kill the feeling that I wasn’t worth anything at all.
I don’t want to abolish beauty. I don’t want to abolish desire, or lust, or sex. I don’t want to abolish men. Drug talk aside, I truly love all of those things. But I desperately, feverishly want to abolish the ingrained belief that fuckability is how you earn the right to take up space. The taunting replies to Moix from older women who are still visibly and conventionally hot—you could never get this ass, etc.—miss the mark as much as the replies taunting him for being unfuckably old himself. Lust is a curious feeling—who deserves to feel it? Who deserves to reject it? The word invisible has a way of reaching back into your most romantic memories, closing them off to you—this isn’t yours anymore, it says, and it never will be again.
The kids are rewriting the rules about everything—beauty standards, gender, sexual etiquette, and good for them. I have a lot of hopes for the youth of today. I hope their dismantling of the old ways and their interrogation of its assumptions leads them to sex that is truly great. I hope their swooning, crushing, messy, moments come from glad and joyful want, not from a painful lack in their soul that only a lover’s gaze can numb. And most of all, I hope that none of them will feel ever stung because some arrogant French prick can only see the world through a dick-shaped periscope.
Why Do Flamingos Stand on One Leg? (BY: Don Vaughan).
© Alan Ward/Fotolia.
Resplendent in bright pink feathers (the result of a diet rich in larvae, algae, and shrimp), flamingos are among nature’s most beautiful birds—and the strangest. They eat with their heads upside down, sleep with their heads on their backs, and often rest by standing for long periods on one leg.
The latter behavior has puzzled researchers for years. One theory suggests that standing on one leg helps reduce muscle fatigue, allowing flamingos to move more quickly when threatened by predators.
Another theory involves the maintenance of body temperature. Because birds lose a lot of heat through their legs and feet, holding one leg closer to the body could conceivably help them stay warm.
Both theories were tested by observing a flock of flamingos at the Philadelphia Zoo. Muscle fatigue was tested by measuring how quickly the flamingos were able to move from both a bipedal and unipedal position. If the theory was correct, flamingos should be able to move more quickly from a unipedal position, but researchers found that they were actually faster when starting on both feet.
The body heat theory was tested by monitoring the temperature and weather conditions during periods of flamingo rest. When the weather was warmer, more flamingos stood in the water on two feet. They more commonly assumed the one-legged stance when temperatures were cooler.
Flamingos are typically found in warmer tropical climates, such as in Africa, South America, and the Caribbean, so the need to regulate their body temperature may seem unnecessary. However, they spend the majority of their time in water, which can lower their body temperature fairly quickly—hence the need for heat conservation.
Yet another theory suggests that flamingos, like whales and dolphins, are essentially able to turn off half their brains when they sleep. Standing on one leg is a natural reflex that helps them maintain their balance and keeps them from falling over.
Ornithologists admit that no theory so far has been confirmed with certainty and say there may be additional reasons why flamingos stand on one leg, including reducing exposure to waterborne parasites and other hazards.