The Naked Older Woman’s Body
As you probably know by now, I’m obsessed by middle-aged and older women’s lives and I was fascinated by an article I read where the legendary actress, Emma Thompson, talks about the challenge of disrobing at the age of 63 in a new film called Good Luck to You Leo Grande about an older women’s quest for pleasure. In the film, Thompson plays Nancy, a recently widowed, former religious schoolteacher who has yet to experience an orgasm and makes a revolutionary decision to hire a young male sex worker to give her the satisfaction she has long yearned for.
“For Leo Grande, the choice to disrobe was hers, and though she made it with trepidation, Thompson said she believes “the film would not be the same without it,” wrote Nicole Sperling in an article titled “Emma Thompson and the Challenge of Baring All Onscreen at 63” in the New York Times on June 15, 2022. (Link to article at the bottom) “Still, the moment she had to stand stark naked in front of a mirror with a serene, accepting look on her face, as the scene called for, was the most difficult thing she’s ever done.”
While Thompson was able to bring herself to be nude on screen and appear calm, she was not entirely at ease with her body.
“To be truly honest, I will never ever be happy with my body. It will never happen,” said Thompson in the New York Times article. “I was brainwashed too early on. I cannot undo those neural pathways.”
I was really impacted by this. And you might be too. So many women can relate to this feeling of never being happy in their own skin, of being indoctrinated way too early in life. It’s really tragic, and I think it’s imperative to ensure that all women, beginning with very young girls, have a healthy relationship with their bodies.
However, I do think it’s a positive development that a star like Emma Thompson appeared on screen nude despite her hesitation. In movies, people are typically used to seeing slim, trim, supple youthful bodies that women feel are the norm and desperately try to replicate through surgery, starvation, and other extreme methods. But by showing an authentic older woman’s body in Leo Grande, one filled with sagging, post-breastfeeding breasts, flab around the stomach and skin that’s losing its elasticity, it expands the repertoire of images of the female form we have in film. Also, it normalizes an aging female body.
“So if you want the world to change, and you want the iconography of the female body to change, then you better be part of the change,” said Thompson in the New York Times article. “You better be different.”
While reading the various articles about Leo Grande, I was also struck by the similarities between Naina, the fifty-something protagonist of my forthcoming novel Woman of An Uncertain Age, and Thompson and Nancy, the character she plays, when it came to their relationships with their aging flesh. Furthermore, there are parallels between Naina and Nancy as they both embark on later-in-life pleasure-seeking adventures that involve a radical trespassing of many internal boundaries.
Early on in Woman of An Uncertain Age, Naina, like Nancy, stares at her body in the mirror, something she has not done in years. This passage from the novel reveals her discomfort as well as her longing to be desirable.
“Naina gingerly turned toward the filigreed bamboo-edged mirror and decided she would be very objective in assessing her body, something she rarely did with any degree of concentration. But there she loomed in front of herself, her reflection more remote than intimate.
She started at the top—the parts she was accustomed to looking at.
Yes, her flowing black tresses had been replaced by neat layers of hair that fell to her shoulders. But so much more appropriate for someone her age. Around her eyes, admittedly, she had developed crow’s feet and dark circles, but nothing that couldn’t be easily disguised with a touch of the right concealer. That tight stomach of her early twenties did bulge a little, but luckily it mostly disappeared with proper shapewear. She cringed when she saw a skein of smudges on the sides of her stomach. She shook her head and sighed. Such was the fate of women. Motherhood meant being permanently and indelibly marked. Even after your children could look after themselves, your body still bore the badge of giving birth decades before.”
While I’ve read a lot about Leo Grande, I’ve yet to see the film. (Life, sadly, gets in the way of such pleasures, and I’ve been busy proofreading my book, doing book promotion, writing this blog post and facilitating end-of-school year activities for my young kids.) But everything I’ve read has convinced me it will be excellent and, in the off chance it’s not, it’s still a pivotal film because it portrays a nude older women with powerful sexual desires that she’s determined to fulfil.
Here are links to a few articles on the film I found pertinent and enlightening, starting with the New York Times piece I refer to in this blog post.