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
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.