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