During her recent one-woman show, Judith Lucy vs. Men, the Australian comedian made a pithy observation about what the future looks like for women over 50. “It’s like you have two options,” she said. “You can look old — or weird.” Funny, yes, but it struck a chord with me. How do I want to age? Will it be gracefully, or will I go down fighting, forever resisting grey hair and gravity? My friends and I discuss it often, what options we have and how we want to look as we head into the next chapter of our lives. I am in my late fifties; I have friends in their sixties and seventies. We are ageing pretty well: we’ve worn sunblock all our lives, we colour our hair, watch our weight. A few of us have had Botox or minor injectables. But our jawlines are softening, our lids starting to droop, our necks going. No one has had any very obvious work done, but it seems as if we may be in the minority. Increasingly, the fashion seems to be for taut, immovable faces, sometimes misshapen with fillers, and the resultant overblown lips and squinty cat eyes. At its best it might shave off about five years; at its worst it can look like a genetic mutation.
“Twenty years ago, most grandmothers looked old. Today they don’t, they look fit and vital,” says plastic surgeon Dr Warwick Nettle of Silkwood Medical. But health and wellness aside, ‘fit’ and ‘vital’ are not the words that spring to mind when I see an overfilled trout pout or a face that resembles a lioness. Although it is becoming ubiquitous, there is still something about drastic cosmetic work that stops you in your tracks when you see it. It can look strange. Have the aesthetics of maturity changed, and is it a cosmetic club we are all destined to join? Certainly no one wants to come across as desperate. As style icon Inès de La Fressange once commented, “Nothing gives the impression that you’re old more than being obsessed by looking young. It’s very ugly when women refuse to get old.” Perhaps we should not be judging the older woman who has altered her looks. Everyone is entitled to age the way they want.
“I’m actually annoyed at myself that I even care,” says an artist friend who is in her mid-sixties and is resisting any anti-ageing intervention, albeit somewhat reluctantly. “As a feminist, I thought we were supposed to be above all that, and be all Zen and accept that ageing is just part of life. We earned these lines and wrinkles and supposed flaws. In my experience, the people who really love us prefer us the way we are.” But society is sending mixed messages about what 50-plus years should, or could, look like. We can choose whether to age like Katharine Hepburn or like Kris Jenner. It is a dilemma that previous generations did not necessarily face, given they did not have access to the advanced and comparatively safe and affordable cosmetic procedures available today.
“Generally, Western cultures and social norms have placed value on the youthful and lithe, not the wisdom of maturity and the contribution humans make with their careers and endeavours,” says psychologist Jocelyn Brewer. “To a degree, it’s only in the last 100 or so years that humans live regularly into their eighties and nineties, so it’s relatively new to think of women in their sixties as still having value to contribute to society and therefore in competition, to a degree, with much younger women.” If older women are indeed still in the game, it is natural, then, that we may feel the pressure to have a few needles, nips and tucks. Personally, I have no intention of denying my age or playing the role of some delusional coquette, but my eyes are disappearing, ditto my jawline, and I’ve started avoiding mirrors. At this point in my life, I feel I could go either way — I could accept the passing of time, or I could go for the full wind-tunnel facelift. But while surgery may be the ultimate option, there are a lot of anti-ageing strategies to attempt before one heads for the general anaesthetic, and so I start with skin.
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