Thursday, 18 June 2015

You're Not 19 Forever

I appear to have reached a stage in life when people like to tell me I don't look my age. Unfortunately aging gracefully seems to be passing me by so my new response "actually this is what 53 looks like" doesn't tend to extend the conversation - at least I smile when I say it which is apparently a great trick for making yourself look younger. Clearly care is needed here - if I accidentally laugh at the misplaced gallantry I could end up in a compliment loop that would turn me into a female Benjamin Button, spinning back to childhood in the best anti-aging campaign ever.

Before you start googling my picture and trolling me all over Twitter, can I be clear - no one is going to ID me for anything ever again. I look my age, it's our perceptions of what age should look like and our obsession with youth that leads to these 'compliments'. Of course the desire to look younger is nothing new - the Ancient Egyptians swore by olive leaves and milk baths, the Chinese have been devotees of herbs such as gynseng for hundreds of years and apparently medieval women used to bathe in wine for soft skin - combining treatment with the best tool of self-delusion, a genius idea.

Those methods seem positively luxurious compared to modern approaches - I'm hoping that this amazing contraption was only to be worn in the privacy of your own home although it does explain the turn of the century fashion for bonnets. As for botox - surely I can't be the only person terrified and saddened in equal measure by the spectacle of beautiful women erasing their lives? And, even if we manage to get the faces altered to fit, there's a whole minefield of sartorial rules waiting to trap the unwary. Never mind the 'to bare or not to bare' upper arms conundrum (a crime of unspeakable proportions past 50 if my mother's to be believed), according to the Daily Mail's Femail (1000s of women hated every month), I'm not allowed any or all of: big necklaces, false nails, eyebrows I've plucked myself, the colour red, leopard print, the colour black, cheap and cheerful handbags or a block heel. Unfortunately I appear to be currently wearing all of these plus a top depicting a tattooed Alice in Wonderland drinking Jack Daniels and am expecting to be stoned to death any minute by the age police.

And don't get complacent if you're a bloke reading this - here is what an ad campaign recently did to Clive Owen. Is he now expected to leave the house wearing a mask in case the Advertising Standards Authority spots him? I know it's easy to dismiss all this as nonsense - we're adults and should have grown comfortable enough in our own skin to leave the angst to teenagers (they do it so well after all).

If only it was so simple - our society's youth-obsession has consequences. Unemployment is a key problem for the over 50s - particularly long-term unemployment which is an issue in both the UK and the USA as governments focus on their younger workers and, although some changes in attitudes are being seen the effects of job loss on wage-earners with the type of family responsibilities most of us have accrued by our 40s and 50s is devastating.

Age-discrimination may be illegal in the job market but it hasn't gone away and, while unemployment among actresses may not bring a huge tear to your eye, some of the issues many of them are currently highlighting have a lot of resonance in the wider world, especially when it comes to relationships. Maggie Gyllenhall recently went public on losing a part because, at 37, she was viewed as too old to play the lover of a 55 year old man - the public, in Hollywood's eyes, prefers its male stars partnered by women young enough to be their daughters with age gaps of over 30 years not uncommon. Sorry guys, it's creepy, unrepresentative and needs to stay as a fantasy in your heads not ours.

I'm not advocating a reversal of the age game - anyone who had the misfortune to see Courteney Cox screeching her way through Cougar Town surely wants that awful word returned to the mountains where it belongs. But a few more films with realistic pairings (whatever the age dynamic) would be appreciated by this movie-goer at least - It's Complicated may not be the greatest movie ever made but at least there was some attempt to match up the wrinkles, the expectations and the experience so I didn't start to feel I was watching something directed by Jimmy Saville (Lost in Translation anyone)... 

Ranting done, it's recast time. Not a film or a tv show for this but one of my favourite books about women (and men) aging beyond disgracefully - the wonderful Wise Children by the equally wonderful Angela Carter

If you haven't read it (and if you haven't, please stop reading this nonsense and go do so) the novel tells the story of the Chance sisters and their insane theatrical family. Dora and Nora are twins, chorus girls, minor theatrical stars and, in my Dad's immortal words, "no better than they ought to be." The book starts with their 75th birthday which sees them rigged out in outfits guaranteed to give the Daily Mail stormtroopers a heart attack (another plus point) and takes the readers through the increasingly carnivalesque story of their lives with a big nod to Shakespeare and magical realism. To paraphrase Doris Lessing the novel plays with the idea that age changes your body but not who you are and therein lies the confusion. Playing the Chance sisters? It has to be those real sparkling sisters of Vaudeville - The Dolly Sisters. Jenny and Rose were dancers before WW1 and in the roaring 20s, film stars, jewel-dripping courtesans and legendary gamblers - Harry Selfridge's affair (with both of them, the girls were close) cost him $4 million at the gambling tables. If you fancy a workout that would knacker Beyonce, in virtually the same outfit, here you go...

So what's the answer to dealing with aging? We could buy-in to 'miracle cures' although I think this rip-off merchant might send you an iron rather than face-cream. We could close the door on the world, embrace beige and elasticated waists and descend into grumpy stereotypes. Or we could just stick two fingers up to the age police who are way more frightened than we are and just get on with it, accepting that most of our face will still be in the sink when we look up at the bathroom mirror but still taking it out to some fun places.

I, for one, prefer that to the alternative (begins with d and none of us want to be there when it happens) - besides we're the baby boomers, we're writing the rules because we stole all the money. Welcome to 80 being the new 40, I'll see you down the rave on your zimmer...


  1. There is far too much focus on age...and on looking younger, I so agree. As an approaching 65 but not speeding Diva, I DO get cross when all the ads for 'wrinkle reducing' cream are modelled by 30 year olds. And I had A MAJOR rant at that sinner of sinners Good Housekeeping, who always photoshop their oldies...thus an interesting article on Dame Judi Dench was spoiled by pics of her smooth wrinkle free skin. I bloody EARNED these wrinkles...and I'm proud of every one.,.laughter lines, sorrow lines, the lot!

    1. I'm with you on that - I've put a lot of work into this life!

  2. The wonderful Angela Carter...still to read Wise Children.

    Great article - hits all the targets. The term cougar is cringing, although not as bad as yummy mummy which makes me vomit, and so is watching films with inappropriate age gaps between male and female stars, or indeed films with totally unnecessary love interests or sex scenes where the female is far more naked than the male. It is astonishing that women are marginalised just as they are reaching a phase of confidence, experienced talent and sexuality, maybe that's why!

    Lost in Translation almost requires a blog post in itself! Although I wasn't sure whether you were for or against it in the context of aging and film couples (against I think?). Still - film has best use of a Jesus and Mary Chain song.

  3. I think if we're honest the sisterhood fails to be sisterly and for every actress who refuses unneeded nudity, 10 more will do it - the older, more established actresses need to be fighting on behalf of the younger girls. I hated Lost in Translation apart from The Jesus and Mary Chain!


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