As women enter the twilight zone, the Spanx come off and the smelling salts come out; they become desexualised, dehumanised, tired and bored/boring – or at least that’s how they’re portrayed in the media. But this shouldn't be the case, read on and find out how to grow old gracefully...
As chief concierge of the Grand Budapest Hotel, Monsieur Gustave once said, “when you’re young it’s all fillet steak; but as the years go by you have to move onto the cheaper cuts. Which is fine by me, because I like those.”
For Monsieur Gustave the white hair, deep set wrinkles and diaphanous skin of a prosthetically aged Tilda Swinton was the very definition of beauty. Then again, he was a gay, liberally perfumed gigolo who went to bed with all his friends and revelled in the world of champagne-and-high-tea etiquette. We, on the other hand, live in a world of fast food, fast sex, and even faster fashion; a world where magazines and modelling agents all feed on the fountain of youth. Indeed, in our age-obsessed culture, to be old is to be ugly, while youth remains the ever elusive, ever expensive elixir of life.
Even in terms of linguistics, the word ‘old’ is charged with negative connotations, especially when talking about women: after all, the ‘‘silver fox’’ is the preserve of men. Sure, you have MILFS, but they only exist in the minds of teenage boys who listen to Wheatus, have great wrist action, and know Redtube like the back of their hand. Yeah, Stacey’s mom had it going on, but Rachel Hunter was hardly an OAP. However, this should no longer be the case: beauty should be celebrated in all its diverse forms.
Instead of being allowed to age gracefully, today women are being sold the idea that wrinkled skin and grey hair is the worst thing since unsliced bread. And, given the sheep-like nature of your average consumer, and sheer ideological power of modern marketing, more and more muttons are starting to look like lambs, or rather lambs that have been stuffed, marinated, and slow roasted for about 48 hours.
Creating and capitalising on this anti-aging anxiety, each year the global beauty industry, worth over £308bn (half of which is from anti-aging products alone) churns out millions of must-have creams, marketed to 'protect' and 'defend' your skin, as if aging was some kind of disease. Consequently, from rubbing the balls of a stillborn bull over their face to being frozen in formaldehyde and auctioned off at Christies, women have been going to extraordinary lengths to preserve their youth, which in Western society has come to signify beauty. But is this making women happy?
At £100 for a 15ml pot of La Prairie’s Anti Aging Cream, it’s certainly making them a lot poorer. Furthermore, these products haven’t been around long enough to prove they actually work. Which is why an increasing number of young women have started going under the knife and stuffing their face full of Botox. Last year, over 50, 000 procedures were performed in the UK alone. But, I’m not talking about corrective surgery or a light nip and tuck, I’m talking about the kind of surgery that flattens your face, puffs out your cheeks, and removes all traces of human expression. The kind that makes all women who have it look the same: prone to melting when placed near a candle.
And, once again, these procedures are hugely expensive. Depending on the reputation of the surgeon, and the location of the clinic, the cost of a facelift can range from £4000 to £20,000. Furthermore, just like sunny spells in Britain, Arsenal being top of the League, and the sex you have in your late teens, it never lasts. No matter if your face looks like its been run over by a steam roller, gravity will come up trumps in the end, and you’ll be constantly having to visit your surgeon or Botox dealer for another hit.
But of course, if it makes them happy, women should be able to do whatever they want. It’s when they do it purely because of clever marketing and our institutionalised notion that looking old means looking ugly, that anti-aging products and preventative plastic surgery become problematic. Especially since the media has started to turn on these women too. From listicles about "shocking celebrity surgeries" to Donald Trump telling Kim Novak to sue her surgeon, not only are women criticised for looking old, they’re also criticised for trying to look younger.
So, what then is the answer? Journalist Anne Karpf offers a bleak alternative, whereby at a certain age women should just give up trying to look good, and worry about more important things such as healthcare, pensions, and trying to remember the names of all their grandchildren. Indeed, women should have the choice to focus on health, rather than their looks, but there is no harm in taking pride in one’s appearance. After all, isn’t it a case of looking good, feeling good?
Instead, young women need to be assured that aging is a beautiful, beautifying process. Women need to learn to embrace their wrinkles, and not fear them, as each line tells a tale of a life well lived. They need to be educated about the joy that being 'old' brings: wisdom, confidence, and inner beauty. They also need to realise that grey hair doesn’t have to be short, boring, or even grey (just look at Fabulous Fashionista’s Jean Woods, Kristen McMenamy, or Zandra Rhodes).
To do this, we need to give more visibility, and positive media attention, to women of a certain age: we need more photographers like Ari Seth Cohen, who roams the streets of New York capturing on camera the "sartorial savvy of the senior set"; more brands like Louis Vuitton, who had Catherine Deneuve as the face of spring/summer 14; and more awareness of models like Jacky O’ Shaughnessy (62), Pam Lucas (66), Daphne Selfe (85) and Carmen Dell’Orefice (82), all of whom dispel the myth that beauty is age defined. With these women, it is their inner vitality and self-confidence, expressed through the way they look and dress, which makes them beautiful. Ultimately, we must redefine existing norms of beauty, and change our attitude to the tropes of aging.