In her August 13 column in the Washington Times Communities section, Rebekah Kuschmider declares proudly, “So here’s the thing: I am not embarrassed about my stretch marks.” It’s a great message. Women should love their aging skin and reject the impossible Photoshop beauty standards that make us hate ourselves. Kuschmider describers herself as, not a Barbie Doll, but a “Velveteen Rabbit, so worn and loved that I’ve become real.”

Two curious images, however, accompany this story about a (presumably) wealthy white woman’s stretch marks. The two women pictured with Kuschmider’s column are actually a Thai woman from a village near Burma and an Indian laborer from the city of Diu (according to the Flickr pages from which the photos were captured). The old Thai woman’s face is a shrunken apple;  tattoos cover the younger Indian woman’s neck, and the whites of her eyes are yellowed from exposure to the sun. Both women are beautiful.

But why don’t we see, not to get too invasive here, the stretch marks of which Ms. Kuschmider is justifiably proud? Why do we instead see haunting portraits that seem to come straight off the pages of National Geographic? The underlying message from whoever chose these photos (the author? an online editor?) is that wrinkles look exotic on poor women whom privileged Americans love to gawk at. We don’t expect them to be attractive by our standards – they’re so lovely in their way, so tragic. But wealthier white women?

Maybe the conservative readership of the Washington Times doesn’t want to see white women looking old or wrinkled, no matter what Rebekah Kuschmider claims about aging.  Is that kind of woman is too dignified to be seen looking so “unattractive”? Is aging easier to accept when it’s exotified and Othered — as if it can’t (and shouldn’t) happen to those of us who are more privileged?
Kushlani de Soyza is a reporter and producer for APA Compass, an Asian-Pacific-American public affairs radio program on Portland’s KBOO-FM. She teaches Women’s Studies at Clark College in Vancouver, WA, and English/Journalism at Oregon State University.