Please note: This transcript has been automatically generated.

Susie Banikarim (00:04):

We are not just talking about physical aging, right? We’re not talking about just how your face looks. We’re talking about how you communicate or indicate that you are not past your prime. I’m Susie Banikarim.

Jessica Bennett (00:19):

And I’m Jessica Bennett.

Susie Banikarim (00:20):

And this is In Retrospect where each week we revisit a cultural moment that shaped us.

Jessica Bennett (00:25):

And that we just can’t stop thinking about.

Susie Banikarim (00:27):

Usually we zero in on a particular moment from the past, but today we want to talk about what happens when the past catches up with you and your face. So Jess, today I want to talk about something that I feel like is coming up a lot these days when you and I talk just more often when we’re on the phone late at night.

Jessica Bennett (00:46):

When you forcibly call me on the phone in a verbal assault of my millennial-ness.

Susie Banikarim (00:52):

Listen, first of all, I know you like talking to me. Stop pretending like you hate it.

Jessica Bennett (00:56):

Can it be said in a text message?

Susie Banikarim (01:00):

I know you would always prefer to be texting.

Jessica Bennett (01:02):

I’m in a studio with you all day long.

Susie Banikarim (01:04):

Okay, listen, stop pretending like you don’t love me and you don’t want to talk to me all the time. No, I mean, I get it. Jess really does hate phone calls. I insist on them because I’m the older one.

Jessica Bennett (01:11):

Gen X.

Susie Banikarim (01:12):

But also it takes forever to type things out. So now I’ve just resorted to voice memos with you.

Jessica Bennett (01:17):

Actually that I think is a good compromise.

Susie Banikarim (01:19):

That’s a good compromise. Okay, so we’ve settled on voice memos for us, but I think that actually gets to this idea of aging. I’m a little bit older than you, so I definitely have some habits that are slightly different. And I think one interesting thing is that my relationship to aging is changing because of this podcast in some ways. We are taking a lot of pictures, we are doing a lot more public appearances, and I think I have started to examine my face for signs of aging in a way that I did not use to do or just really hadn’t thought about.

Jessica Bennett (01:55):

Well, also because traditionally you’ve been running things behind the scenes.

Susie Banikarim (01:59):

Yeah, I’ve been very invisible and I think that’s been very deliberate for me. I never wanted to be on camera. And so it’s been a bit of a weird experience. And I think you and I’ve talked about this a lot. I got Botox for the first time recently.

Jessica Bennett (02:13):


Susie Banikarim (02:14):

Thank you. I just really-

Jessica Bennett (02:16):

Baby’s first Botox.

Susie Banikarim (02:17):

Yeah, baby’s first Botox. I was really kind of afraid of it and it was totally fine, but that experience also made me more self-conscious in a way, because I don’t know about you, but the woman who does buy Botox, she requires you to take a picture of your face, a closeup without makeup and send it to her. And then when you do the Botox, she takes pictures, and then in a month you take more pictures to show the progress.

Jessica Bennett (02:39):

So you’re just constantly examining?

Susie Banikarim (02:41):

Yeah, you’re just looking at your face. So I feel like now I’m slathering more things on my face. I am fighting this thing that I didn’t know I needed to fight. I’m trying to kind of readjust that thinking back to a normal way of experiencing my face, which is, “It’s fine. Nobody cares if I have a few wrinkles.” But a thing that made me think about this also is there’s this recent Vogue cover where the supermodels of the 90s, this group of women who were just hugely famous during our childhood graced the cover, and they released a documentary on Apple Plus about their fame and how they experienced that as a group. And the supermodels I’m talking about are of course, Cindy Crawford, Christie Turlington, now known as Christie Burns, Naomi Campbell and Linda Evangelista. Do you have-

Jessica Bennett (03:32):

Who are all in their 50s now?

Susie Banikarim (03:33):

Who are all in their 50s now. Do you have a memory of the supermodel era in the 90s?

Jessica Bennett (03:38):

Yeah. I mean, of course I remember Cindy Crawford in those Pepsi ads, and I remember that George Michael music video that they were all in that I think you have a lot to say about. But wasn’t the whole thing with this cover that they were… in their 50s now they were reflecting back on their careers, and yet they looked, they appeared utterly ageless on that cover?

Susie Banikarim (04:02):

Yeah. There’s a little bit of a distinction between how they look on this Vogue cover and the documentary that presumably this cover is-

Jessica Bennett (04:08):

Is promoting.

Susie Banikarim (04:09):

Is promoting. In the documentary, they’re seen much more just going about their business. But it is interesting that there was a bit of a backlash to the cover because they had been so airbrushed as is Vogue’s want to do. And so there was the sense of, “Why weren’t they embracing their more natural beauty?” But I think that’s a really high expectation. I think it expects a lot of women to just embrace aging when society is so clear that aging as a woman is seen as a negative. These women all became really famous when they were teenagers except for Cindy Crawford who was 20, I think, when she really arrived on the New York modeling scene. And even that is interesting to me. I really have a clear recollection of them. I can close my eyes and see each of them in their most famous moments. And Cindy Crawford especially, I just loved Cindy Crawford.


I did not think of them as young. I mean, I think that’s interesting. They were so larger than life, they seemed… To me, I would’ve told you they were in their 30s, which is crazy. No models start in their 30s, but I was a teenager so to me, they seemed impossibly sophisticated and cool. And so these are women who were children when they were revered and have to varying degrees embraced getting older. But it’s a lot to ask of them to just show up on Vogue bare face. They’re not going to do that, I think, unless there are extraordinary circumstances. And one thing that occurs to me when I look at this cover is that actually the way we think about magazine covers has changed. When we were growing up, these were the women who were on fashion magazines. They were extremely young, but sometime in the late 90s, fashion magazines very deliberately moved towards putting celebrities on the cover instead of models, they just found that it sold more magazines. We do actually see older women on covers now just much more regularly. We’re just exposed to more beauty. That’s not 20.


The cover right before this one was Angelina Jolie, who is 48. So it’s not such a big deal to have women in their 50s on the cover of a magazine anymore. There was a time when that would’ve been just wild.

Jessica Bennett (06:31):

But it’s like, “Do they look 50?”

Susie Banikarim (06:35):

Well, that’s the interesting thing in general is what we consider looking 50 and what 50 looks like now, I feel like especially celebrities of 50 is so different. If you think about what J-Lo looks like, that is not what I in my mind as a teenager would’ve pictured a woman in her 40s or 50s looking like, right? Because there’s so much you can do now to fight the aging process. There’s so much that’s expected of you.

Jessica Bennett (07:01):

I mean, Botox just celebrated its 20th anniversary. So for 20 years now, people have been getting Botox and all of the different procedures have only progressed and become more sophisticated since then. But didn’t Linda Evangelista actually have a terrible plastic surgery experience? Did she talk about that in the cover story at all?

Susie Banikarim (07:24):

She did talk about it herself, I don’t think… but they did touch on it because it’s become sort of a big story that’s surrounded her in the last couple of years. She had done this procedure called CoolSculpting, and she alleges that as a result of that procedure, she was in her own words disfigured by it. And where she was trying to remove fat, which is what CoolSculpting does, it’s non-invasive removal of fat, she’d actually developed hard pockets of fat, which does sound terrible. I would be really traumatized by that too. And she did settle a lawsuit against the company. I don’t know what the company admitted or didn’t admit to, but it certainly is an example of the fact that there are so many procedures that are going on now that just haven’t been around that long. There are consequences to this. I think Botox might be 20 years old, but it’s certainly really in the last 10 years that it’s become just very common to use fillers and things that freeze your face.


That just didn’t exist in the cultural space in the same way it does now. I think partially because of the Kardashians, they do so much to themselves and it’s become so normalized, and I think influencers do so much to themselves.

Jessica Bennett (08:37):

Well, plastic surgery used to be something that you hid, and now it is something that you talk about.

Susie Banikarim (08:42):

Well, in some cases you brag about. I think a certain kind of influencer wants to be like, “I am rich or famous enough to need this.” So there’s a different relationship to plastic surgery. And certainly I think we just are more aware that that is a common tool that everyone uses or a lot of people use. I shouldn’t say everyone, because I think outside of New York and LA, maybe it’s not quite as common. But here, I was really shocked when I started to think about getting Botox to find that every woman I knew had essentially done it already, and I was the last of my friends.

Jessica Bennett (09:30):

But back to this cover for a second, did they actually talk about the aging process or that’s not what it’s about? It just that became the backlash to it?

Susie Banikarim (09:39):

Yeah, so it’s not really what it’s about, actually. The documentary itself is really about retelling their stories. These four women became incredibly close. They represented a time in modeling that doesn’t exist anymore, this era of the supermodel. And this was a very nineties cultural phenomenon. They became celebrities in their own right.

Jessica Bennett (10:00):

They were all in that George Michael music video, right?

Susie Banikarim (10:04):

Yeah. In some ways, I think that video really cemented their fame and is a sort of a bookend. One of the bookends to the beginning of the height of their fame.

Jessica Bennett (10:15):

The song Freedom.

Susie Banikarim (10:16):

The song Freedom. This is this very famous George Michael video, which he doesn’t appear in because he’s starting to have a relationship with fame that’s complicated. For those who don’t know, George Michael was gay and not out of the closet. So he talked about how he wanted to start deconstructing his image as a sex symbol, but his music really was very sexy. He literally had a song called I Want Your Sex. To replace himself, he asks these four models to be in the video, and the models are all lip-syncing to his song, and they’re in various states of undress. And this video played all the time. It was a huge hit for MTV, and it became such a huge thing that a year later, Versace ended his fashion show, the finale look was these four women coming out to the song Freedom. And that is in many ways, seen as the moment that put supermodels on the map.


So this cover is really about that, but I just naturally assumed… I mean, these are four women in their 50s who made their living off of beauty standards. I assumed there just would be a lot of conversation about it. And Linda Evangelista does talk about it a little bit, but basically, she’s the only one in the Vogue piece at least. And she says, “I don’t mind aging. It’s a sign that we’re growing and I want to grow old, and I want to stick around.” And that’s obviously how we all feel. I’m sure it’s better to age than not age, the alternative isn’t great. But I think as women, there’s just a lot of evidence that aging is not something that helps your career or helps how you’re seen by the world. You just lose cultural currency in our world.

Jessica Bennett (12:05):

Everything you’re seeing here is really reminding me of a thing that happened last year involving former CNN host Don Lemon, who I believe this contributed in part to his firing, or at least allegedly so, in which he noted that a woman of a certain age is “past her prime.”

Susie Banikarim (12:25):

He was talking about Nikki Haley, who by the way, is 51 not past her prime by any definition I would use. Apparently it’s a definition Don Lemon would use. We’ll play it so you can hear it for yourself.

Clips (12:38):

Nikki Haley isn’t in her prime, sorry. When a woman is considered to be in her prime in her 20s and 30s and maybe 40s-


[inaudible 00:12:46].


That’s not according to me.


Prime for what?


It depends. It’s just prime, if you look it up. If you Google, when is a woman in her prime, it’ll say “20s, 30s, and 40s.” I don’t necessarily-


So I got another decade.


Not saying I agree with that. So I think she has to be careful about saying that politicians aren’t in their prime [inaudible 00:13:03].


I think we need to qualify. Are you talking about prime for child caring or are you talking about-

Susie Banikarim (13:07):

And this is so awkward because he’s talking to Poppy Harlow who is in her 40s. It is crazy that he’s using the definition of childbearing years for being president. I mean, he was suspended for this and he did apologize for it. But I think this really speaks to how men think about women in a lot of ways.

Jessica Bennett (13:28):

Well, by the way, Don Lemon is 57. I think what you’re getting at is this is not just among men, but there is a belief. There’s a societal belief, and it is backed up by research and data and economics and everything else that when women age, they somehow lose their cachet, they lose their currency, they’re past their prime, they become old hags. And when managed, they are distinguished and wise. And for politics, you literally can’t run for office until you’re 35 years old. So actually Nikki Haley, for what it’s worth, is literally in her political prime, whatever you think of her.

Susie Banikarim (14:08):

And what’s interesting is that what Don Lemon is responding to, the reason he says this about Nikki Haley is because she has made a comment about Joe Biden being too old to be president. She’s essentially saying that she should be the candidate because both Biden and Trump are too old and they’re in their 80s. The idea that you would compare a woman who’s 51 to men in their 80s and be like, “It’s the same, so she shouldn’t comment on their age,” that is a wild reach on his part.

Jessica Bennett (14:37):

Well, what you’re getting at and what this clip and this exchange and all of it crystallizes is really an age-old belief that a woman can be past her prime and that there’s this enduring double standard when it comes to women and age.

Susie Banikarim (14:53):

Actually, what’s so interesting is when I was doing research for this, I was looking up the supermodel documentary, and I came across this documentary from 2012 actually, that had aired on HBO, that was literally about supermodels in aging. It’s what I thought this was. And there’s this wild quote in the New York Times piece about it from Sheila Nevins, who at the time was running HBO documentary films, and she’s promoting the film. So she obviously thinks these women are interesting and have value, but what she says when she’s describing the film is, “Beautiful women getting older, women who decay, that’s always intriguing.” The decay is so wild in this context to me.

Jessica Bennett (15:37):

I mean, I’m sure she’d probably use that word for men too. Well, you’re talking about super models. I guess in a way, you are… I mean, you’re decaying towards death but-

Susie Banikarim (15:48):

Also, I don’t know why that word is so vivid to me. I would never describe humans as decaying.

Jessica Bennett (15:53):

It’s jarring.

Susie Banikarim (15:54):

It evokes a picture of a mummy in my mind. And I think that is so ingrained in us. I’m sure she wasn’t saying this to be insulting. She goes on to say, “They are their own instruments. What do you do when you’re a Stradivarius that’s losing your strings?” She’s essentially saying these supermodels have lost their tools when they become older.

Jessica Bennett (16:13):

Right. Which I mean-

Susie Banikarim (16:15):

That’s fair given how people feel about older women.

Jessica Bennett (16:18):

And I mean, honestly, you probably don’t even need me to give these statistics because maybe it’s so known at this point that ageism exists and that there is a double standard for women. But I’ve actually done a lot of writing on this subject. And a few years ago when I was at Newsweek, we actually conducted this major survey looking at hiring managers and ageism in the workplace. And this now, I think is probably not so surprising, but 84% of managers said that they’d hesitate and that other employers would hesitate in hiring someone who is a visibly older candidate. This is very real.

Susie Banikarim (16:53):

That feels very real. As a woman, I know that it is going to be harder for me to get jobs the older I get. That’s how I feel about it, certainly.

Jessica Bennett (17:02):

And it’s not how you feel. That’s literally a fact.

Susie Banikarim (17:04):

I mean, fair. It is literally a fact.

Jessica Bennett (17:05):

I can cite the studies.

Susie Banikarim (17:07):

I mean, I think ageism exists across the board, but especially for women. And what we do is a job that requires some access to cultural currency, and women are seen as having less access to that as they get older. I run digital newsrooms. I’m not going to be seen as being able to think of the right stories or have a sense of the right cultural moments, which I think is absolute bullshit, but something I’m very aware of the older I get. And I’ve become more resistant to telling people my age, actually, I thought I would become more willing as I got older, because when I was younger, it was always like, “You’re too young. You look too young for this job.” I remember getting a lot of feedback that I like, “Are you old enough?” Whatever.

Jessica Bennett (17:51):

Well, that’s actually a really good point. I think what you’re describing and being a leader, especially in newsrooms as you age, where you’re expected to know what the kids are doing, you can be penalized. And I think that’s probably true for anyone. But as women, you spend the first 10 years of your career trying to convince everyone that you’re not too young to be experienced or have wisdom at all. And then there’s this maybe couple year blip when you’re okay, and then suddenly you’re too old.

Susie Banikarim (18:22):

It’s instant. One night you’re one thing, the next night you’re the other.

Jessica Bennett (18:25):

I don’t think that that is true, or to the same extent for most men.

Susie Banikarim (18:30):

I mean, definitely not, because most of the newsrooms I’ve worked in have had older men in charge, and no one asks if Marty Baron knows what the kids are doing. Do you know what I mean? Everyone just assumes that he’s a man who’s earned his position, and he knows how to hire people who know what the kids are doing. But there’s just more of an expectation of women that you’re supposed to be all the things. And if you really want to stay relevant, you better look like you are not that old.

Jessica Bennett (19:12):

The other thing that is confusing about all of this is that nobody looks their age anymore. What even is that? Do you remember in 2020 when J-Lo and Shakira did the halftime show at the Super Bowl?

Susie Banikarim (19:26):


Jessica Bennett (19:26):

And they were in their leotards or whatever, J-Lo was 50 at the time, Shakira was 43 and they were dancing, and they were singing, and they did this amazing act, and people were like, “Oh my God, they’re incredible. They have more stamina and athleticism than some of the guys on the field,” which yes, they absolutely did. And power to them snaps to that.

Susie Banikarim (19:46):

Snaps to that.

Jessica Bennett (19:47):

But I remember looking at J-Lo and thinking, “Is that what 50 looks like?”

Susie Banikarim (19:53):

I mean, how many people can look like J-Lo? She looks amazing.

Jessica Bennett (19:55):

And so I don’t know that too. So, on the one hand you have a 50-year-old who shows no visible signs of aging. I mean, maybe if you were to see her face to face, she would, but certainly not in any of the public platforms. And then you have Pamela Anderson. This is another semi recent example where she was at Fashion Week in Paris, and she went totally makeup free. Amazing. She’s in her 50s. She looked incredible. She looked basically her age, and everyone’s saying like, “Oh my God, this is a rebellion. This is so brave.” And you kind of want to be like, “Is that really brave? Is that what bravery is?” And I get it on one hand-

Susie Banikarim (20:35):

I mean, Malala is brave.

Jessica Bennett (20:37):

Right. I guess, it is sort of brave to go out without a made up face when you’re a person whose appearance has been the entirety of your career and you’re a woman. But by the same token, is that what we call bravery now? I can think of a few things that are a little bit more, actually. This is my whole thing about linguistic play. Can we not call it brave if it’s not actually?

Susie Banikarim (20:58):

It’s actually interesting, right? Because I just said, when you talked about J-Lo, J-Lo looks amazing, but I also think Pam Anderson looks amazing. And one of those women looks her age. I think Pam Anderson has just embraced a more natural approach to aging. And I love that.

Jessica Bennett (21:11):

Well, by the way, for people listening who may not have seen her recently, she really does go makeup free. She hasn’t done any plastic surgery in a long time, but of course, the early years of her career, she admitted openly that she did tons of plastic surgery. I mean, that too, in and of itself is an irony. It’s like, “So now we’re healing the person who in fact created the unrealistic beauty standards as being so brave for now tearing them down.”?

Susie Banikarim (21:39):

And I want to be clear, I have no judgment actually about plastic surgery. I obviously just admitted that I got Botox, and if I want to do some nips and tuck, I’m not going to feel any kind of way about that. The truth is, we live in a society that’s going to judge me based on how I look, and if I have to do things to feel more comfortable or confident, I don’t feel any shame about that-

Jessica Bennett (21:57):

Or better your career?

Susie Banikarim (21:57):

Or better my career.

Jessica Bennett (21:58):

I mean, that’s the screwed up part about it. Anyway, carry on.

Susie Banikarim (22:01):

But I don’t feel shame about that, and I don’t shame anyone else for it. But there’s one person who I do sort of feel a little bit conflicted about this on because I love her so much, which is Madonna. To me, Madonna is the icon of the 80s and 90s. I just worshiped Madonna when I was a kid, and I felt like she broke so many boundaries. She really showed us that you could be a woman who owned her sexuality, who owned her ambition, who was willing to be entirely herself and didn’t feel all this pressure to conform. But the way her plastic surgery looks now, and maybe this is unfair because it’s just like, “I don’t like what she’s chosen to do.” J-Lo looks good to me, so I accept the choices she’s made.


But there was this recent furor last year about Madonna at the Grammys, she’s just gotten a lot of filler, and her face looks really puffy. She just isn’t recognizable physically. She doesn’t look like herself, and not in a way that’s flattering, unfortunately. And she’s talked about how hard it was to hear that feedback. I mean, people really openly talked about her.

Jessica Bennett (23:14):

So the thing that confuses me is, if you’ve seen Madonna in the last few years, this is what she looks like. So why is everyone suddenly now upset? But people were up in arms. Everyone was criticizing her. It was in every single tabloid, it was all over the internet. And I don’t know, we live in a culture that makes women do this, and then you’re going to pounce on her for doing it?

Susie Banikarim (23:35):

I mean, and she’s 64, so she is doing what she feels she needs to do to continue to stay in the spotlight. And I do think social media makes it so that she must also be looking at her face all the time. She has to do Instagram, she has to do all these things that maybe wouldn’t have put as much pressure on her before.

Jessica Bennett (23:51):

In my fantasy of Madonna, because I also love her and think she’s incredible. She was doing this as a fuck you to everyone else. She was like, “Yeah, this is what I look like. You might not like it. This is what women have to do. I’m going to put it in your face.”

Susie Banikarim (24:06):

She actually has said that. She responded to this by saying it was ageism and misogyny. And I think she said something like, “I look forward to many more years of subversive behavior, pushing boundaries.” But I think this gets back to what you were saying about Pam, what feels like more subversive behavior in this world it’s actually allowing yourself to age. And so that is a little bit of the conflict. It’s like, “I’m not at all surprised that Madonna feels pressured to look young but I wish that she felt about it the same way she felt about a lot of other things in her career, which is, ‘fuck the standards everyone else is setting. I’m going to be the person I choose to be.'” And she’s saying that this is that. And so I want to take her at her word, but it is interesting that it brings up something for me. I feel a certain way about the choices she’s making.

Jessica Bennett (24:51):

And clearly so many other people do too.

Susie Banikarim (24:52):

And so many other people do.

Jessica Bennett (24:54):

I mean, it’s easy to say we wish that she could age naturally and still be doing what she does. But would the culture let her, would music executives let her, would the Grammys let her? I don’t know.

Susie Banikarim (25:07):

Well, I mean, Pam Anderson’s a great example, right? She is doing that and it’s working for her. She’s actually getting-

Jessica Bennett (25:12):

Right, but she’s not in a show. She’s attending fashion week of her own accord without a stylist just as a private citizen.

Susie Banikarim (25:20):

That’s true. I mean, it’s really hard to know what you can and can’t get away with.

Jessica Bennett (25:26):

And we should also mention too, by the way… So Botox has been around for years. In general, all of these procedures have increased, but they’ve increased more for men than they have for women. I’m not saying that more men are doing them than women now, but I believe the data would show that the increase has been higher for men because it’s now becoming normalized for men to do it too.

Susie Banikarim (25:46):

Oh, a hundred percent. I mean, I think it’s so interesting. I actually remember the first time I realized men in the spotlight got plastic surgery. I was working with a very well-known woman in the public eye.

Jessica Bennett (26:00):

You can’t say that. You have to tell us.

Susie Banikarim (26:00):

I mean, I just won’t out her for this. And we were watching just randomly an Oprah show. It was just on in the background in the newsroom, and she looked up and it was Tom Cruise being interviewed by Oprah, not the famous Tom Cruise, a previous Tom Cruise appearance.

Jessica Bennett (26:17):

Not the jumping on the couch-

Susie Banikarim (26:18):

Not the jumping on the couch. And she said to me, “Wow, his work is so good. I wonder who he’s using.” And I was like, “What do you mean?” I did not realize that Tom Cruise in his 40s was getting work done. To me, that was a real revelation. And as I was in the TV business longer, I realized a lot of male anchors were getting plastic surgery. But I think it used to be something that men in the public eye did and hid. But now we’re pretty aware of the fact that everyone knows that Joe Biden is getting facelifts and using Botox. We just expect it now.

Jessica Bennett (26:55):

Do we know?

Susie Banikarim (26:56):

I don’t know how you could not know it. I mean, the man is 80 with the skin of a 50-year-old man.

Jessica Bennett (27:01):

Is it?

Susie Banikarim (27:02):

I mean, have you looked at a picture of him?

Jessica Bennett (27:03):

No. I mean, I have.

Susie Banikarim (27:03):

Google a picture of Joe Biden right now.

Jessica Bennett (27:06):

His skin looks… Anyway, I of course would not be surprised.

Susie Banikarim (27:11):

Well, and I think Joe Biden has to, right? Because if he looked truly 80-

Jessica Bennett (27:14):

Well, especially if the major criticism against him in this moment is that he’s too old.

Susie Banikarim (27:20):

And then you look at someone like Nancy Pelosi. Nancy Pelosi has obviously also had a lot of work done to maintain the appearance of youth to some degree. She doesn’t look like she’s 30, but she certainly looks younger than her years. Because I think just being in the public eye forces you to look a certain way. And we have a different expectation of what ages are supposed to look like now because the needle has moved so much. We don’t actually know what 80 is really supposed to look like.

Jessica Bennett (27:49):

Well, that’s the thing. I mean, look, this is all really complex. Even Gloria Steinem has admitted to having some work done. So how are you supposed to think about it? It would be great if everyone aged naturally and we could all just look like our actual normal selves. But we’re too far past that at this point. When I was reading up on this subject a little bit and trying to remind myself what I had written in the past, I was rereading this essay that Deborah Spar, who used to be the president of Barnard, where you went to college.

Susie Banikarim (28:18):

I’m familiar with Deborah Spar.

Jessica Bennett (28:19):

Wrote for the New York Times. And she was talking about the feminist conundrum of getting work done and how she and her peers had done everything right. They had worked their way up in their careers. They had found partners who were going to change the diapers and support them. They put off their fertility so that they could establish their careers in time, and then they hit a certain point and suddenly they’re all getting work done, but then lying about it or trying to hide it. And I think that’s an enduring thing. I mean, that was written I think in 2016, and I think people are talking more openly about it now. But I don’t know. I mean, I don’t know what the solution is. I know that for me, my job, which is in many ways, my livelihood, is very intimately connected with the ability to understand what’s happening in the culture. And oftentimes the people that are creating the most interesting culture are young people. And so you have to know about that.


So is getting a bunch of work done to look younger going to do that for me? No. But we’re living in this interesting period, I think now where the internet has allowed people of every age to consume the same things. On some level, it’s we’re listening to Olivia Rodrigo and crying in the shower, while doing so. And the teenagers that I document in my reporting, or my students in the class I teach are all wearing the clothes that I literally wore when I was getting my first period at age 13 at Washington Middle School in Seattle. And so there’s this weird flattening of culture that’s occurring, and it’s like, “Who’s young? Who’s old? How do we tell? I don’t look my age, neither does anyone else. Young people are doing makeup tutorials on TikTok that make them look so old.”

Susie Banikarim (30:12):

People are dying their hair gray now as a fashion trend, which I mean, I guess that’s not now that’s been around for a couple of years. But this gets to something I think that’s interesting, which is we’re not just talking about physical aging. We’re not talking about just how your face looks. We’re talking about how you communicate or indicate that you are not past your prime.

Jessica Bennett (30:34):

I mean, yes, that is. And how do you communicate that?

Susie Banikarim (30:37):

Well, you had this interesting piece in the Times about what it feels like to no longer be the group that everyone is quoting, right? You’re a millennial. And I think that that’s also interesting that there is this thing that happens as you get older, which is that you start to feel like you’re not as relevant to the conversation because the conversation’s no longer directed towards you.

Jessica Bennett (30:57):

Right. I mean, I entered my career at a time when everyone was desperate to figure out millennials. It was every headline was asking about millennials. People were always coming to me at my various jobs where I was an intern or whatever, being like, “So what are the kids doing?” And there was a full year after I moved to New York after college where I was working in a bar and I was taking market research surveys online where the only requirement was that I had to be a millennial, and I would just answer questions about whatever random thing. They just valued my opinion as a millennial so much. And so you start to feel like the center of the generational universe, and you get used to that. I think I did get used to that a little bit. I was the cool one. I was the one that was telling people what was happening on the internet. I started my career at a time when people didn’t care about the web, but they simultaneously knew that they needed to understand it, and how were they going to understand it? They were going to ask me.

Susie Banikarim (31:59):

I love that you just referred to it as a web. I mean, I think you started at a time when we called it the web, right? We don’t call it that anymore. But truly, I think it’s like you’ve been replaced by Gen Z, which is now the age group that advertisers are courting and everyone wants to understand. And so I think this is just a natural progression, it is time to pass on the baton in some ways. But also, there is one thing I came across in the research that I’ve actually been trying to really absorb for myself, which is that I told you I found that older supermodel movie from 2012, and in it, Carol Alt, who was also a very famous model in her time, said something that I think is true and that it’s easy to forget, which is, she said, “Aging isn’t necessarily bad.” And this was her quote, “There comes a point at which you are a precious commodity because there is nobody else like you.” And I think that’s an important thing that we should all really try and take to heart.


There’s value in aging, and we forget that a lot in this particular society, but it’s real. And I’m not looking to be 20 again, for sure.

Jessica Bennett (33:14):

Susie, I want to quickly tease our next episode, which actually pairs nicely with this idea of aging.

Susie Banikarim (33:19):

Ooh, is it about Botox?

Jessica Bennett (33:21):

It’s not about Botox. It’s about American Pie, which can you believe is 25 years old this year?

Susie Banikarim (33:27):

Oh, no.

Jessica Bennett (33:28):

And it’s also about how that movie popularized the Milf.

Susie Banikarim (33:31):

This is In Retrospect. Thanks for listening. Is there a pop culture moment you can’t stop thinking about and want us to explore in a future episode? Email us at [email protected] or find us on Instagram @inretropod.

Jessica Bennett (33:50):

If you love this podcast, please rate and review us on Apple or Spotify or wherever you listen. If you hate it, you can post nasty comments on our Instagram, which we may or may not delete.

Susie Banikarim (34:00):

You can also find us on Instagram @jessicabennett and @susiebnyc. Also, check out Jessica’s books Feminist Fight Club, and This is 18.

Jessica Bennett (34:09):

In Retrospect, is a production of iHeart Podcasts and the media. Lauren Hansen is our supervising producer. Derrick Clements is our engineer and sound designer. Emily Marinoff is our producer. Sharon Attia is our researcher and associate producer.

Susie Banikarim (34:24):

Our executive producer from The Meteor is Cindi Leive. Our executive producers from iHeart are Anna Stumpf and Katrina Norvell. Our artwork is from Pentagram. Our mixing engineer is Amanda Rose Smith. Additional editing help from Mary Dooe. We are your hosts, Susie Banikarim.

Jessica Bennett (34:41):

And Jessica Bennett. We’re also executive producers. For even more, check out inretropod.com. See you next week.