‘ I haven’t had Bo­tox, but I’m thrilled you should ask’

The Irish Times Magazine - - INSIDE - jo­con­nell@ irish­times. com JEN­NIFER O’CONNELL

Have you had Bo­tox? My friend, a smart and suc­cess­ful en­tre­pre­neur, and I were sit­ting in the sun­shine at her house over­look­ing the bay, when she popped the ques­tion over a bot­tle of Ch­ablis. An hour or more pre­vi­ously I had hap­pened to pass by her gate, on my way to the shop. One of the haz­ards of liv­ing in a place where other peo­ple spend their hol­i­days is that run­ning out of milk can be­come a drink­ing oc­ca­sion. “No I haven’t,” I replied, gen­uinely de­lighted, “but thank you. That’s such a lovely thing to say.” This is what we’ve come to: in­quir­ing as to whether some­one has had mi­cro doses of a neu­ro­toxic pro­tein pro­duced by the bac­terium clostrid­ium bo­tulinum in­jected into their face is what passes for a com­pli­ment to to­day’s in­de­pen­dent, modern and fun­da­men­tally self- loathing women.

The en­tre­pre­neur con­fessed that she had been de­lighted to have been told she looked ema­ci­ated on her wed­ding day. I told her about my favourite- ever com­pli­ment – the long ago time a friend took me aside and told me I that I was in dan­ger of look­ing hag­gard if I lost any more weight.

Why is it that women are so des­per­ate to be­come less than we are – smaller, thin­ner and, per­haps most of all, younger?

I wish I could be that woman, the one who lets her hair suc­cumb to the in­com­ing tide of grey; who looks on her lines as vis­i­ble man­i­fes­ta­tions of her wis­dom, ex­pe­ri­ence and mo­ments of side- creas­ing laugh­ter.

But mostly I just look on my lines and gri­mace. I am 42 and I look 42. Log­i­cally, I know I should cel­e­brate it – be­ing 42 is much bet­ter than the al­ter­na­tive. I am lucky. But I’m a prod­uct of our youth- wor­ship­ping cul­ture which sees age­ing as an ill­ness, a sign of weak­ness, and I reg­u­larly for­get that it is in fact, the pre­cise op­po­site: proof that you’re a sur­vivor.

Hats off to the beauty mag­a­zine Al­lure, which is at­tempt­ing to make its read­ers re­con­sider how they view age­ing. It an­nounced re­cently that it was ban­ning the term “anti- age­ing” – or “anti- ag­ing” – from all its print and web pages. “Whether we know it or not, we’re sub­tly re­in­forc­ing the mes­sage that ag­ing is a con­di­tion we need to bat­tle – think anti- anx­i­ety meds, an­tivirus soft­ware, or an­ti­fun­gal spray,” ed­i­tor- in- chief Michelle Lee said in an is­sue of the mag­a­zine that fea­tured Helen Mir­ren on the cover, look­ing un­de­ni­ably gor­geous at 72 with glossy red lips, cool ear­rings, and tiny vis­i­ble wrin­kles. Aside from the fact that we do re­ally need to find an­other role model for older women so that Helen Mir­ren can have the oc­ca­sional day off, it was a pow­er­ful state­ment. In­side the mag­a­zine, there’s a di­rect chal­lenge to the beauty in­dus­try: “We know it’s not easy to change pack­ag­ing and mar­ket­ing overnight. But to­gether we can start to change the con­ver­sa­tion and cel­e­brate the beauty in all ages.” Of course, let’s not get car­ried away. Al­lure is not sug­gest­ing we stop fo­cus­ing on how women look al­to­gether and start fo­cus­ing on what they have to say. Gosh, no. Nor is it sug­gest­ing that hold­ing women up to unattain­able beauty stan­dards is the prob­lem – even if look­ing like Helen Mir­ren is as far out of reach for the av­er­age 72- year- old as look­ing like An­gelina Jolie is for the av­er­age 42- year- old. Mir­ren her­self ac­knowl­edged this, tak­ing is­sue with the word “beauty”. “Maybe we’re at­trac­tive, in­ter­est­ing, or mes­mer­iz­ing, but 90 per cent of women are not what you’d call beau­ti­ful. Of course, beauty is in­side, but still it’s a word. When it’s tied to pic­tures of peo­ple and amaz­ing out­fits on girls who can wear that stuff, it’s in­tim­i­dat­ing for the rest of us.” Al­lure is also, to be clear, not in the busi­ness of en­cour­ag­ing any­one to ditch the skin creams which, as Mir­ren re­cently said, prob­a­bly do “f* ck all” ( com­ments she made in the south of France, while sit­ting on a L’Oreal panel, for which she is brand am­bas­sador. See? The woman needs a day off.) “No one is sug­gest­ing giv­ing up retinol,” the mag­a­zine adds, hur­riedly. “But chang­ing the way we think about ag­ing starts with chang­ing the way we talk about ag­ing.” So no, ban­ning the term “anti- age­ing” is not in it­self all that rad­i­cal. But if it’s the be­gin­ning of a con­ver­sa­tion that makes us re­think our neg­a­tive at­ti­tude to grow­ing older, then it has to be a good thing. Be­cause age is com­ing for all of us – if we’re lucky. Grow­ing older, to use mag­a­zine par­lance, is “bang on trend”: the global pop­u­la­tion of peo­ple aged 65 and up is ex­pected to triple to 1.5 bil­lion by mid- cen­tury. By 2050, one in six of us will be 65 or older – in many coun­tries, the over- 65s will out­num­ber the un­der- 15s. So we need to stop think­ing of age­ing as an ill­ness, a sign of de­cay, a tal­is­man of ob­so­les­cence, a prob­lem to be slathered in creams or erased into sub­mis­sion with tiny nee­dles and neu­ro­toxis pro­teins. I haven’t ruled out Bo­tox com­pletely, by the way. But I haven’t suc­cumbed yet, thanks for ask­ing.

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