Discover more from The Temple of the Body in the World by Michaela Boehm
The Golden Bachelor
Wishing for a Wise Woman Revolution
This week I came across an article announcing the new version of “The Bachelor” – a long running reality TV show in which 22 women vie for an eligible bachelor’s attention for a chance to get a proposal. Needless to say, this kind of set up lends itself to the best and worst of human behavior – and makes for compelling watching if you are into this kind of thing.
This new and heavily promoted version features a man in his “golden years” looking for another chance at love. Intrigued I jumped into the rabbit hole of linked articles, all elaborate features to promote this new iteration of the franchise.
When I emerged a good twenty minutes and several trailers and articles later, I needed to take a walk around the block in order to sort through various opinions and emotions.
My first thought centered around this show perhaps being a step in the right direction, away from the well-trodden tropes of “old” people’s desires and sexual activity being cringeworthy or somehow disgusting. Perhaps this was a sign that progress was being made against ageism and it’s assorted companions.
Considering that this is a major network show and a big money machine, the motivations are probably considerably less altruistic and more driven by the fact that the “Boomers” – the generation from which the dating pool of this show is drawn – are a major market with lots of available cash to spare.
This must have become apparent to even the densest network executive through the immense popularity of Netflix’s “Frankie and Grace”, which humorously addresses the joys and woes of “Women of a Certain Age”. Frankie and Grace famously design a vibrator for older women with arthritis, discuss the pitfalls of dating and sex and at some point Grace marries a much younger man. Of course, the “Golden” in this new show hearkens back to their enormously popular, yet much less sexualized predecessor, the “Golden Girls”.
While it’s most definitely nice to see mature adults featured in the pursuit of love and intimacy, the presentation and promotion was rather unsettling me.
There is the “Golden Bachelor”, a well-chosen specimen ticking all the right boxes for network TV. A widower – meaning he doesn’t have an embittered ex-wife coming out of the woodwork just as the show kicks off – who lost the love of his life after 42 years together and now, 6 years later is ready to find love again. His two loving daughters and his granddaughters want to see him happy and beam adoringly at him in carefully posed promo pictures.
He is tall, just the right kind of weathered, slight scruff of facial hair making him pleasantly rugged. You see him being outdoorsy and active and he has an adorable designer mutt who loves him so much that in the photo he has his paw draped over the leg of this kind looking soon to be suitor.
He is positioned perfectly as a man we can cheer for – not too aggressively manly, not offensive in any noticeable way, just a happy grandpa playing pickleball, yet just virile enough to woo the ladies as he finds “happiness for the last part of his life” as it is not so delicately explained to us.
He is 72 and his complexion in the official photos is somewhat puzzling, reminiscent of competitive bodybuilders in the 70’s with a strange artificial tan, lots of pale concealer around his sparkly blue eyes. His hair is skillfully dyed, an almost salt and peppery blond with grey – read sophisticated – temples.
In the next article I find out all about the 22 ladies age 60-75, “who will be vying for the heart” of this widower. I look at them, presented one by one, with photos, their age and a few “fun facts”.
Two things strike me simultaneously – 1. How available, kind, experienced and humorous they all look as their eyes meet the camera and 2. How relentlessly homogenized and constricted they are depicted for the show.
Yes, I know, it’s a TV show and loads of make-up, perfectly blown out hair and all the Spanx, Botox and fillers a “glam team” can acquire must be used, but it was still shocking to see that what is billed as a show for “mature audiences only” apply such aggressive techniques for making the woman look like grown up Stepford wives.
Now, mind you, I have no strong ideological opinions against plastic surgery, fillers, Botox, microblading, hair extensions and whatever else it takes for any woman to feel good about herself. It should be – like any other choice concerning the body of a woman – a sovereign personal decision.
I am certainly sympathetic to and aware of the enormous challenges and pressure of dating – at any age. Add to that the aging we all experience, the changing of our bodies, coloring and texture of skin and it’s a daunting prospect to go on a date, or even more so, get intimate with someone, especially in front of the camera. I certainly would want all the help I could get in that circumstance!
But with all that said, I still found this entire display quite unsettling from a Zeitgeist perspective. Shouldn’t dating in the “golden years” be more about the hard earned sense of self, the fullness and confidence of knowing who we are? Should there not be an allowance made for the changing of our bodies, the fact that at some point other things matter a lot more than looking “hot” in a tight black dress?
As I pace around I want to ask those who created and are promoting this show what they think will happen when “Golden Bachelor” and the “Former Cheerleader” whose “fun fact” is that “she doesn’t enjoy fishy tasting fish” are alone together, looking at each other with all the make-up caking in the well-earned creases of life experience?
Will a man who watched the love of his life die and a woman whose eyes say that she has experienced both grief and joy in her days assess each other based on their looks? Will they be attracted to each other solely on the basis that they “look good for their age”? Will they really decide to “spend their remaining years together” because some fillers, hair color, compression garments and stylish clothing has seduced them into believing the “forever young” illusion and made them temporarily forget what a real relationship requires?
I certainly hope not! So, why then is the emphasis so heavily on the looks? Why is there nary a grey streak, and only a few woman with actual white hair? Why does everyone look like slightly age progressed Real Housewives? For a show about finding love at “a certain age” there is an awful lot of work put into everyone looking “not their age”!
The promo piece is a treasure trove of contradictions, alternating between statements meant to hit all the right notes of heartwarming understanding for its viewership’s late in life romantic plight and displaying the ugly ageist truth that one must hang on to a youthful display to deserve such a second chance.
“The women arriving at the mansion have a lifetime of experience, living through love, loss and laughter, hoping for a spark that ignites a future full of endless possibilities.” says the article, summing it all up before each contestant is displayed in her flattering black gown and thick shimmering make up.
Here I can finally pinpoint the source of my unease. A lifetime of experience, living through love and loss, reduced to a glamour shot and 3 “fun facts” about each woman.
It’s the power of the Wise Woman reduced to a shallow facsimile of her potency, imprisoned by already questionable youthful beauty standards, frozen facial muscles disguising the depth of available feeling and bound by compression garments that make the corsets of yore feel like leisure attire.
And why? Hope! Hope “for a spark that ignites a future full of endless possibilities”. A sentence encapsulating the entire conundrum. We do want to love and be loved, we want to have romance, spark and excitement regardless of age. We yearn for a full life of meaning and belonging, shared with someone who sees us and loves us for who we are.
This sentence also holds the chilling insinuation that without a partner the future is bleak and devoid of said endless possibilities. And that very sentiment lurks underneath this show and makes us look at a 60, 70 or 75 year old women who disguise their depth, experience and potency under a showy veneer and compete publicly for a man who describes himself as a “grandzaddy”.
And said man consents to be groomed and primped, caked in bronzer, his hair – in candid shots previously a nice salt and pepper – now colored and styled to make him look distinguished, so he can experience love again. All the while being the center of the age old blood sport of having women ruthlessly compete for his favor.
There is so much more to say and unpack here, but for now I am left with the fervent wish that at some point in this show we get to see something else, something deeper, something that sparks the first glimmer of a change in how woman of any age are seen – and seeing themselves – in the context of the inevitable changes that aging brings.
I’m hoping that one of the contestants “cracks” and shows her true depth, wisdom and the uncompromising attitude that is the true expression of a Wise Woman – a woman who has lived long enough and has loved and lost enough to no longer abide by the ideas of who she “ought” to be.
My idea of a fairy tale ending here would be that she who shows her true depth inspires our “Golden Bachelor” into seeing beyond the golden shimmering make up into the soul of true relationship – a place where two people simply meet to love each other, warts and all. A place where all facets of the human experience are celebrated in it’s fulness.
Thanks for reading The Temple of the Body in the World by Michaela Boehm! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.