Your amazement at J Lo is ageist as hell

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Image: AP/Charlie Riedel
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The fact that Jennifer Lopez is 50 and looks like this and can dance like that is lighting up America.

Some are arguing over whether her performance at the Super Bowl halftime show was trashy or badass, and some are busy decoding the politics of her messaging. Others are simply marveling at how far we’ve come in portrayals of 50 in pop culture, or feeling inspired by her, or taking her looks and physical prowess as a personal attack on their inferior physiques.

But to those crowing appreciatively “Can you believe J Lo is 50?!?”, I say: Hell, yes, I freaking can. It’s not even all that surprising.

Lopez is an entertainer. Her appearance and her performance are literally her job. She gets paid to look and act like that—and has the resources to make it happen. While the rest of us normals are off at our day jobs, she adheres to a strict exercise and diet regimen and takes really good care of her skin. For her Super Bowl show, she was clothed in couture and professionals did her hair and makeup. She’s definitely blessed with better genes and more natural talent than most of the rest of us, but it takes a lot of work, time, and effort, by a team, costing a ton of money, to make her look like that.

Lopez doesn’t look incredible for her age—she looks incredible, period. She looked, and danced, way better than the rest of us in her 20s, 30s, and 40s, too. (There’s a lot of proof on YouTube if you need it.)

So J Lo has a huge head start, but she also reflects a trend I notice in everyday life. As I look around at my fellow Gen-Xers, I see woman after woman in enviable shape, achieving physical feats like running marathons, and looking like the best versions of themselves.

Funny enough, despite the myth that men get handsomer as they age while women lose their luster, the women in my cohort overwhelmingly best the men in looks and stamina. Dad bod and other symptoms of advancing age have overtaken many of the guys, while a good number of the women tend to be fitter, sleeker, better dressed, and hotter than ever.

Of course, there are some problematic reasons for this, like societal pressures on women to keep looking young while not losing focus on career or family, and to use cosmetic procedures to literally keep up appearances. But trends around healthy eating, the national embrace of exercise, and a cultural focus on wellness are surely helping. 

In many cases, thanks to shifts in economics, education, and fertility options, as well as generational ethos, our lifestyles are more youthful now than they were when our mothers and grandmothers were entering their 50s—after all, more women are having children in their 30s now than in their 20s, so rather than thinking about settling quietly into retirement communities, many of us are still chasing kids around. Whether she has preschoolers or teens or adult children, or never had kids at all, rare is the Gen X woman who, despite being exhausted and overwhelmed, feels or looks her age (whatever that means, anyway).

Check yourself if you think you’re being complimentary when you marvel at what J Lo looks like at 50: Implicit in those tweets of incredulity is an assumption that 50 is old, 50 is sad, 50 is saggy, 50 is over. The message is condescending, but ageism isn’t just offensive—it’s discriminatory, and it can have serious consequences for careers and health.

If you’re middle-aged and look nowhere near as good as Lopez does, please don’t hold yourself to that standard—remember, it takes a ton of resources, and inherent gifts, to operate at that level. But if you’re a millennial or Gen-Zer and you’re just totally blown away that a 50-year-old woman can shake it like J Lo, you might revisit your biases and pay more attention and respect to people who happen to be older than you. Soon enough you’ll be that old, and you won’t feel like it either.