TLC has firmly established itself as the freakshow network, where Americans can gawk at people who are different, from the Duggars to Sister Wives to Extreme Couponing and My Strange Addiction. And now, on November 25, comes a one-hour special called Extreme Cougar Wives.
As you can see in the clip, 76-year-old Hattie says, "My lifestyle is extreme." She then flirtatiously sits on the lap of a 25-year-old. Later, she licks a popsicle and tells her date she "enjoys" being naked: "Skin. I love skin." Another woman, Stephanie, 65, is in a relationship with a 28-year-old named Octavio: "You can't control who you fall in love with." According to People:
The third woman, Jude, 53, met her 21-year-old boyfriend Kevin when he dated her daughter seven years ago.
While these relationships are uncommon, what would happen if you switched the genders? We don't blink ey eye when men to date and marry younger women. Hugh Hefner's made a career out of it; Both Beyoncé and Angelina Jolie are 12 years younger than Jay-Z and Brad Pitt; 22 years separate Calista Flockhart and Harrison Ford, and there are 25 years between Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones.
But we still have pretty rigid ideas of what a "desirable" woman looks like. When it comes to Extreme Cougar Wives, it seems that some of the shock factor comes from the idea that a man would want to be with a woman who is showing signs of age. Our culture is youth-obsessed, especially when it comes to women; we're inundated with messages that hair should not be gray, skin should not be wrinkled, and money should be spent on "anti-aging" cosmeceuticals.
And to be honest, even as an open-minded person, I found myself watching the clip and wondering what's "wrong" with the guys. Terrible, I know. I'm not surprised that the women are vibrant and sexual. My mom lusts after Ryan Gosling! But I feel like I've been conditioned to believe that men want lithe, youthful, women. Hot babes — the word "babe" invoking smooth, unblemished skin and soft curves. And presenting these couples as "extreme" doesn't help. The fact is that attraction and love are complicated, cobbled together and fused by mysterious chemical, emotional, spiritual, intellectual and physical elements. But we're so used to seeing older women as marginalized, sexless spinsters — and young men as shallow, sex-driven hottie hunters — that these couples do give the viewer a jolt. It would be great if the one-hour special, in addition to shedding light on these relationships, als ended up teaching us, the audience, something about ourselves and our prejudices. Is that asking too much of TLC, home of Honey Boo Boo and Virgin Diaries?