That may well be the ‘ideal’ – but there is something to be said for ageing disgracefully as well
In all the shock-horror coverage of Renee Zellweger’s new face (don’t worry, I am not about to add my two-bits to the raging debate) the one phrase that popped up the most was that old cliché: ‘ageing gracefully’. The implication here, of course, was that Renee was ‘ageing’ but not at all ‘gracefully’. Instead, she was resorting to every trick in the book – tanning lotions, Botox, fillers, plastic surgery, and God alone knows what else! – to keep the depredations of Nature at bay (never mind that the actress herself put her new look down to being in a happy place in her life.)
I don’t know about you but if there is one phrase that is guaranteed to raise my hackles it is this one. ‘Ageing gracefully’. As if there is some societally approved standard of how every woman – and it is nearly always women who are discussed in this context – must age if she doesn’t want to fall foul of the Look Police.
She must not have had any obvious ‘work’ done. She must have a few wrinkles in place and her forehead should actually move. Any dyeing or primping must be so subtle as to be practically unnoticeable. It helps if she is the same size at 60 that she was at 30. But even so, she must not frighten the children by wearing short dresses, leather trousers, tank tops or (the ultimate transgression) bikinis at the beach.
‘Ageing gracefully’. You see it used in the media all the time. But it can’t be a coincidence that it is always used in the context of drop-dead beautiful women, who remain attractive despite the ravages of age. Leading the pack is the effervescent Meryl Streep, who wears her laugh lines and crows feet as a badge of pride. Following closely is Helen Mirren, who can still rock a red bikini at 60-something. Diane Keaton is another name that crops up on this list. Susan Sarandon was always given an honorable mention before she went and let the side down with a subtle facelift. Back home, we have our own icons of ‘ageing gracefully’ but the one who gets the most name checks is the late Gayatri Devi.
Whenever there is a shock-horror story about an ageing (by that I mean anyone on the wrong side of 30) star’s cosmetic surgery gone wrong, you can be sure that these women will be dragged into the narrative as examples of the ideal that all of us should aspire to: ‘ageing gracefully’.
Really? While I bow to none in my admiration of these ladies, they are hardly representative of our sex, are they? What they are is freaks of Nature, one born every 10 million or so, who are destined to be effortlessly beautiful, and remain so no matter how old they grow.
The rest of us? Not so much. We need help to look even marginally attractive when we are in our prime. So, what is wrong with trying a little harder as time goes on? Nobody blinks an eye at monthly waxing and bleaching appointments, fortnightly manicures and pedicures, six-weekly root touch-ups, and quarterly highlights: the minimum standard required for grooming these days. So what is wrong with pushing the boat out a little further when you feel you need a little more help? What’s the harm in trying to look like the best version of ourselves?
Do you look (and feel) permanently angry because of that frown line that glowers furiously from your forehead? Do you think a little Botox might make you feel better about yourself? Go right ahead and do it. Does the face looking back at you from the mirror look older and more tired than you feel? Will a few discreet touches of filler make a difference? It’s entirely your call. Do you (like Nora Ephron and millions of other women) feel bad about you neck? Get a little nip and tuck if that’s what you want. It’s your face, your body, your life, your choice. Do what makes you happy. And pay no attention to the naysayers around you.
On the other end of the spectrum, do you want to ‘age disgracefully’ in an entirely different way altogether? Give yourself permission to do so. Cancel the gym membership, fire the personal trainer, and junk that hideous diet regimen you’ve signed up for. Go for a walk in the park or do a little light yoga instead. Or just lie in bed and eat chocolate. It’s your life. And you’ve earned the right to live it as you wish.
As for me, I am determined to age as disgracefully as possible. Here, in no particular order of importance, are just some of things I intend to do as I get older:
• Cut my hair really short (think GI Jane) and dye it purple. (Grey is such a boring colour.
• Wear red leather trousers to all my business meetings.
• Tell it like it is – no more mealy-mouthed platitudes.
• Throw out all my high heels and live in ballet flats.
• Lie on the sofa all weekend watching endless reruns of Friends/Frasier/Modern Family.
I intend to do what I like, when I like, and to hell with the rest of the world. And while I’m at it, I’m going to retire the phrase ‘ageing gracefully’ from my vocabulary. Instead, I am going to celebrate ‘ageing disgracefully’. Now that has a nice ring to it!