42 Truths & 1 Lie: On Esquire’s Obnoxious Ranking Of Womankind’s Most “Alluring” Age

Have you ever played the game Two Truths/One Lie? The object of the game is to tell your audience three facts—two of which are true, and one of which is a lie. The audience must then distinguish which statement is false.  I would like for you to play a modified version of the game with me now. Here are my three statements and I invite you to determine which one is false:

  1. I am a 43-year-old woman.
  2. I am completely “forgiving of a theater of men trying to get in my pants.”
  3. I have a dozen summer dresses in my closet.

Perhaps you noticed that I employed a quote in my second statement. Permit me to give you context—at least as much as I can. Recently, Tom Junod’s article, “In Praise of 42-Year-Old Women” was featured on Esquire.com. In his article, Junod discusses how according to Esquire’s “…occasional ranking of the ages … this year’s most alluring [woman] is not want you’d expect … No, this year it’s 42. Because it’s not what it used to be.” It’s not?

I was fascinated to learn that today’s 42-year-old woman trumps Mrs. Robinson as portrayed by Anne Bancroft who, as noted by Mr. Junod, created an alluring and overall sexy character. He even lauds Mike Nichols and Dustin Hoffman for getting away with the improbable turn—“a hero’s disgust with himself for having an affair with a forty-two-year-old-woman.” Junod notes that, “It is hard to feel sorry for a young man who goes to bed with the woman everybody else in the theater wants to go to bed with.” For the record, Anne Bancroft was only 35 when she made The Graduate. Whatever! I mean she played a 42-year-old woman that Dustin Hoffman and everyone else in the theater wanted to bang. Yay! Even better, if I imagine an actress such as Cameron Diaz or even Amy Poehler playing Mrs. Robinson, I will be able to do magic math and measure 50 years of progress for women in the age range of 42. Don’t get excited you ladies of 43 and over. What, are you tripping?

In the opening of his article, Mr. Junod reminded me that “there used to be something tragic about even the most beautiful forty-two year old woman.” Oh! Oh! Are you excited and ready for his citations and standards of such beauty? Too bad. Nothing to report there. However, I can relay what we women of a certain ranked age must be aware of according to Junod. Way back in the olden days, if a 42-year-old woman “…remained sexual, she was either predatory or desperate; if she remained beautiful, what gave her beauty force was the fact of its fading. And if she remained alone … well then, God help her.”

I want to take a moment to process this perceived reality of a 42-year-old woman from days of yore. I think what Junod means is that women were completely pigeon-holed in at least two circumstances: 1) a persisting sexuality and 2) the “fading of her beauty force” aka dying. In addition, women were utterly doomed if they were alone—so doomed that, dammit, they better start praying. By alone, I’m fairly certain that Junod means without a man. No acknowledgement of the LGBTQ community was addressed in his article. In any case, aren’t 42-year-old single women of today so much better off? I was so impressed with the way Junod outlined in his article why society was quick to dismiss 42-year-old women back then as well as how such dismissiveness still occurs in many ways today. Oh wait! He didn’t.

Don’t worry, he did manage to address the “…many reasons for the apotheosis of 42-year-old women, and some of them have little to do with women themselves.” Do tell! Do tell! Because—science. As noted by Junod, “In a society in which the median age keeps advancing … Life lasts longer; so does beauty, fertility and sex.” No wait. My mistake—because in the same paragraph Junod proceeds to write, “And yet 42-year-old women are not enjoying some kind of scientific triumph but rather one of politics and personal will.”  Do you see? We are willing our DESIREABILITY which is clearly synonymous with PROGRESS by rejecting the “shackles of biology and convention.”  Mmm hmm. And, ladies—hang in because if you’re a feminist, you’re hot.

Junod is keen enough to observe that “conservatives still attack feminism with the absurd notion that it makes its adherents less attractive to men; in truth it is feminism that has made 42-year-old women so desirable.” Duh. I always look and feel great when I vote and my reading of Adrienne Rich makes my husband insatiable. Politics aside, 42-year-old-women such as Christina Applegate and Maya Rudolph, according to Junod, have “…comic as well as carnal appeal.” I bet you’re as relieved as I am that carnal appeal is still in the mix, because as previously noted if women had been sexual 42 years ago they would have been “predatory”—RAWR. Personally speaking, I know that it was super carnal when my children were all over the house and my husband and I wanted to have relations (pretty sure it was an election day). I think it was at least a little bit funny when we finally snuck off to the garage to perform acts of marriage in our mini-van. See? Carnal and comic can exist off-screen too—not that Junod explores any other areas where women who are 42 years old might be found.

I hope you will experience joy at learning from Junod that “… no generation of American women has been as frank about sex and so no generation of American women has been attuned to—or forgiving of—the absurd theater of men trying to get into their pants.” Sounds a little bit rape-y, Mr. Junod. Sounds a little bit threatening. I’m just being frank, okay? Recently, I spoke with a 42-year-old-woman about why she practices Pilates. I mean, I know I practice yoga in order to quiet my mind and increase my strength and flexibility. She assured me that Pilates essentially offers her the same benefits. I guess we were doing it all wrong though. After writing that perhaps the best thing going for 42-year-old men is 42-year-old women, Junod explains that “…women have to work for their advantage; they have armored themselves with yoga and Pilates even as they joke about the spectacle.” Shoot. I already carry a rape whistle. Now I have to worry about armoring myself with yoga to validate my being the best thing for a 42-year-old man. I was hoping that my strength might be identified with my muscles or even my intellect. Don’t worry!

Just as I have informed my husband, 42-year-old women are still, as Junod says, “figures of fantasy.” Want to know why? It’s so easy—it’s their “vulnerabilities.” If you’re like me you’re thinking, Hold up, Mr. Tricky—did you just write that my perceived weaknesses make me fantasy material? Anyone want a pinup? A pinup of progress! Also, in case you needed some tips about how to really glimpse the modern era’s 42-year-old woman, Mr. Junod advises you to “Go to a party.” I love parties! What should I wear, Mr. Junod? “There is simply no one as unclothed as a 42-year-old woman in a summer dress.” Thank goodness. I hate it when clothes, you know, cover my body. He really gets the 42-year-old woman as evidenced when he writes, “For all her toughness, and humor, and smarts, you know what she looks like, without the advantage of knowing who she is.”

Okay—I think I follow. There is no reason to know a 42-year-old woman. As long as she fits an onscreen mold, armors herself with the right exercise and rocks a summer dress—she is puzzle-free. She is fantasy-ready. She will never have to worry about anything other than seduction. I am grateful for such progress and just so you know, I’m wearing a summer dress—one of the dozen that I own. I’m thinking all kinds of alluring things like Baby, tomorrow I’m going to teach my son how to make a three point turn, make plants grow in spite of the desert sun and especially how to avoid the hell out of the misguided thinking that was evidenced in Junod’s Esquire article. I would like to list 42 things that make this age so joyous and vibrant. Things like confidence, expertise, meaningful and lasting relationships, etc. But—what do I know? I’m 43 and clearly past my prime. Maybe when the “occasional ranking of the ages” of women ceases to exist I’ll still be around to celebrate. Now that would be praiseworthy.