Celebrity in­flu­encer makes a state­ment

Make like ac­tress He­len Mir­ren and slip on a back­pack as you head out for your daily ad­ven­tures. It’s a hands­free ad­van­tage, writes Mar­garet Jen­nings

Irish Examiner - Feelgood - - Ageing With Attitude -

MOST of us think that He­len Mir­ren can do no wrong. The 73-year-old Bafta-win­ning ac­tress is a ta­lented, self-as­sured, and beau­ti­ful celebrity icon for all of us in our later decades — as well as for lots of younger women — who find her in­spir­ing.

So it’s no sur­prise that when she gets any hint of neg­a­tive feed­back, it goes vi­ral — as was the case when she re­cently shared a pic­ture on her In­sta­gram ac­count, don­ning — hor­ror of hor­rors — a back­pack!

Sport­ing over­sized sun­glasses and wear­ing a light salmon coloured sweater, she posted the half-body pic­ture in Vil­nius, Lithua­nia, where she was work­ing, with the cap­tion: “Off to the mar­ket with my new favourite bag, my back­pack by Tumi.”

Not all of her 500,000 fol­low­ers were fans of her look, de­spite the black back­pack with gold zips, priced at around €330, be­ing far re­moved from the cheapie ver­sions us or­di­nary mor­tals use.

Among the less-than-pos­i­tive, even ageist com­ments, in­cluded one posted by a fan who said: “No, no, no, He­len! You are so beau­ti­ful gor­geous per­fec­tion… Why mess­ing with that [sic]. It’s a no-no af­ter 19”.

The me­dia frenzy be­gan, ques­tion­ing if, at her age, He­len was ac­tu­ally too old to wear a back­pack. While it brought price­less pub­lic­ity for the US lux­ury line Tumi, it per­pet­u­ated the ageist as­sump­tion that we should de­bate whether any woman is “too old” to wear any­thing she damn well likes.

“Chal­leng­ing some­one for wear­ing a back­pack be­cause of her age is non­sense,” says Ir­ish fash­ion stylist and model Celia Hol­man Lee, who will be 68 next month.

“We should be al­lowed wear and do what we like — it’s no­body’s busi­ness. Give us a break, leave us alone. I am just a few years younger than He­len, who I think is ab­so­lutely fab and is at her peak as an ac­tress. We should be ad­mired at our age, more than crit­i­cised.”

Al­though Celia, who won the Most Stylish Ever cat­e­gory this year in the VIP Style Awards, has never worn a back­pack her­self, she says she would “have no is­sue with wear­ing one what­so­ever”, if it suited a ca­sual look she was try­ing to pull off. But be­cause she is in the fash­ion busi­ness, she needs her bag to be “a lit­tle bit classier and dressier” to suit her out­fits.

Adamant, how­ever, that older women have earned their place to wear what­ever they are com­fort­able in, she quips: “If we want to put the bag on our head and walk around, leave us off.”

Wear­ing a back­pack shows that an older woman has “sense and at­ti­tude” as well it be­ing a prac­ti­cal choice, says Joyce Wil­liams, an 83-year-old re­tired phys­io­ther­a­pist born in York­shire.

In her en­ter­tain­ing blog called Grandma Wil­liams, Joyce fights ageist views, chal­leng­ing out­moded me­dia stereo­types and “the sad wrinkly ver­sion of old age”.

It’s no sur­prise then that she be­lieves older women can wear what they like. But He­len Mir­ren, as a vi­brant celebrity in­flu­encer, may also be do­ing us a favour, lead­ing the way with her back­pack choice.

Those of us who carry hand­bags, shoul­der bags, shop­ping bags and brief­cases, are choos­ing the “silly” op­tion, Joyce tells Feel­good. “It pro­duces lop­sided mid­dleaged peo­ple with back­ache.”

Our loads, and some­times we do carry ev­ery­thing but the kitchen sink in our bags, should be car­ried with the weight trav­el­ling down the spine, she ad­vises. “Why? For pre­ven­tion of Dowa­ger’s hump (the for­ward cur­va­ture of the spine re­sult­ing in a stoop)! Pulling your shoul­ders back, head up, lift­ing your bust line... the back­pack al­lows you do that per­fectly for good pos­ture.

“And it leaves your hands free. You can walk hand in hand to­gether down the years, with your part­ner, or hold on to an er­rant grand­child, or to the dog, and lick an ice cream!”

Be­ing hands-free is help­ful for stairs and rails too, she points out. It al­lows us to bal­ance our bod­ies so we re­duce our risk of top­pling over — a com­mon oc­cur­rence as we age. “Prac­ti­cal­ity has to come high, doesn’t it? Have a back­pack big enough to hold the daily shop, milk, gin and the dark choco­late. Who wants to carry bot­tles in a plas­tic bag, clunk­ing around your knees?”

Joyce says her neigh­bour, “an older lady and a uni­ver­sity pro­fes­sor, strides off ev­ery day with a back­pack of books and pa­pers”. She has told her that wear­ing a back­pack has made catch­ing a bus much eas­ier; there is no putting down bags, while you rum­mage for cash or a pass.

A woman with a back­pack also shows she has at­ti­tude, Joyce be­lieves, “hav­ing pride in be­ing old, up­right, and strid­ing out”.

But where do you put your credit cards and phone? “A tiny pretty purse on a string is fine. Rather sexy to keep it tucked into a deep plunge neck,” says Joyce.

An oc­to­ge­nar­ian with plenty of at­ti­tude in­deed.

AGE DE­FY­ING: He­len Mir­ren, the award-win­ning, ac­tress re­cently up­loaded a pic­ture to In­sta­gram of her wear­ing a back­pack, lead­ing to a back­lash from some fans.

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