It’s a sad thing about the human condition that we often long to be someone other than who we currently are. At 15 we want to be 20; at 40 we want to be 30, and at 50 we’d give anything to have those forties back again. Why? Because we live in a society that’s obsessed with youth and beauty; a society in which older women are inclined to be sidelined when it comes to employment opportunities, relationship prospects and all-round recognition.
In her book, How Not to Look Old (Grand Central Publishing), Charla Krupp contends that the best way to cope with discrimination and unfairness – and still stay in the game – is to change the way we look. ‘Until age becomes a non-issue, I don’t think it is particularly smart for women to advertise their age,’ she writes. While thousands agree with her (her book is a bestseller), she’s whipped plenty of women into a froth of outrage and left others, like me, pondering where we stand on this issue.
Women have been adorning themselves since time began, whether with paint, beads or chunks of silver. They have cut their healthy flesh in scarification rituals. What’s changed? The difference today is that a desire to enhance our natural assets with hair colour, cosmetics, clothes and accessories has shifted to a denigration and denial of age and a desire for pretence. We are willing to act our age, but heaven forefend that we should look it.
Much as we love to moan about men, I don’t think we can blame them for this state of affairs. Women fuel the diet and beauty industries; women make billionaires out of cosmetic surgeons who offer treatments to freeze our faces before they fall any further. If we said, collectively, ‘To hell with it! Take me as I am’, the pressure would be off and age would be a non-issue. But we don’t.
No-one ever said ageing was easy, but it seems to me that we have lost respect for the privilege of living long enough to complain about the number of seasons we’ve weathered. I have a feeling we should be more grateful. In fact, I think we should get a grip. I like the opening words of the introduction to Bill Bryson’s A Short History of Almost Everything: ‘Welcome. And congratulations …’
Congratulations on having made it this far, on having escaped death by famine, flood or disaster. We have not been eaten by wild animals; we have not been casualties of war and we have not died in childbirth. Brilliant! What are we moaning about? A few wrinkles and the gift of a generous lifespan? How ridiculous.
Dr Andrew Weil, author of Healthy Aging, a lifelong guide to your physical and spiritual wellbeing (Knopf) says, ‘Wherever you are on the continuum, it is important to learn how to live in appropriate ways in order to maximise health and happiness. To my mind, the denial of ageing and the attempt to fight it are counterproductive; a failure to understand and accept an important aspect of our existence. Non-acceptance of ageing is one of the major obstacles to doing it gracefully.’
It would help if we had role models; if the celebrities of our youth had matured in wise and wonderful ways instead of remaining forever and often frighteningly young. How do we compete and should we even try? Like you, I’ve been young and slim and wrinkle-free, and I can’t say that my life was peachy as a result; it was plagued with the usual array of insecurities and anxieties. I’m happier in my fifties, more myself; I care more about my internal guidance system and less about what other people think. I realise that I like being a grown-up, wrinkles and all. So keep you book, Charla Krupp. Cute is undoubtedly a currency that gets a woman places, but they are places I’d rather not be.
Published in Femina Magazine