Race, class, gender, disability,…and younger-ish

I got my nails done today. Dark blue. I struggle with color choice on the rare occasions when I get a manicure, and I usually end up choosing something conservative – “classic”/“what people in Paris would wear” often goes through my head as I select the bottle of medium muted red – even though I come in, with all intentions, to get a color that goes with what I consider my “youthfulness for 38 years old.”

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Dumb-sounding, I know, but I think it strikes at the heart of something the census doesn’t pick up when it asks us to check off the boxes of cultural self-identification. Cultural identifiers are arguably arbitrary categories that have been established through the historical development of race (a concept which has been used to establish in-group status and exclude undesirables, such as immigrants, African Americans, Irish people, Jewish people, and others in our country; read about this in this article from The Atlantic), sexual identity, gender, social class, disability, and other categories, which post-structuralists would aver create false binarisms to the detriment of individual choice and the flexibility of self-view in different times, sociocultural contexts, and moments of self-becoming (by which I don’t mean a theosophical process but rather just becoming our selves as a process of individuation).

There’s a word for having a border existence, namely liminality, but I don’t quite mean that. Liminality means having a position of standing at the gates to a particular phase of social existence without having access; an example of this is the way in which children who are born in another country but brought to the U.S. without becoming citizens occupy a liminal position in society upon turning 18 years old, because they cannot take up the full citizenship they are given upon reaching adulthood and maintain a border position of great uncertainty and suffering. What I mean is the idea of one’s wanting to seem like a different version of oneself; this is a general idea and could be attributed to ideas like cross-dressing/drag or wearing colored contacts or straightening one’s hair, but I mean it to include also performing a different age group, i.e., trying to seem younger than one is.

How unhappy a prospect! And how shameful to admit it. Yet older women – yes, we may have to delve into the gendered aspects of this – dye their hair, lift their faces, suck their lipos, etc…Is this not a cultural identifier in some way? Perhaps it doesn’t stand to be included on the census, but it means a great deal to attempt to look 5-10+ years younger, and one’s cultural identity – even if it’s reappropriating from one’s own youth – is indeed based partly on age, which is already a clear cultural identifier.

Could we argue that our age identity, then, might encompass age in both chronological and manifest forms? As women, we may not take note of this, as we are encouraged to purchase younger-looking-skin moisturizers, hair dyes, skin tighteners, Spanx, and so many other products (and we could even get into the intersectionality of class here, as poorer women of course cannot afford to purchase $200 skin cream), but I have to wonder: Are we (self-)identifying not only as people, but as younger-ish, hotter versions of ourselves today? What does this tell the world about us? How are we categorized accordingly, and how do we see ourselves and our social identity?

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