The Sunday Telegraph - Sunday

Don’t tell me how to age

Is your look ‘age-appropriat­e’ or midlife rebel? Marina Gask looks at the politics of getting older


As gravity and grey hair take their toll, how do you handle it? Thankfully, the idea that it is unacceptab­le to look your age is not universall­y embraced. In fact, in contrast to the anti-ageing messages perpetuate­d by the beauty industry for decades, in the past few years a pro-ageing movement has gathered force, arguing that instead of “fighting” the signs of ageing, we should be celebratin­g beauty at any age. After all, what’s wrong with an older face?

There is no right or wrong way to present yourself to the world. But as we get older, society is quick to judge people who are careless enough to look their age. As actress Sarah Jessica Parker put it, following the online furore on social media about how much older she looks nowadays: “What am I going to do about it? Stop ageing? Disappear?” The pressure to look a certain way – ie, not old – can be enormous, even for those who don’t happen to be famous.

Feeling like you have become invisible can be one of the hardest things about getting older, and investing more in how you look is often driven by the need to feel more relevant and be taken seriously. According to the 2018 JWT Women’s Index study Elastic Generation: The Female Edit, 86 per cent of the 50- and 60-year-olds surveyed believe style is not defined by age.

Unlike previous generation­s, many of today’s over-50s are opting to eschew society’s view of the “right” way to do middle age. They are matching white hair with a confident sense of style, instead of granny cardies and elasticate­d waists, and marking birthdays with another tattoo or a liquid facelift instead of a cruise. And for today’s relatively wealthy midlifers – a 2014 Saga study showed that over-50s accounted for £320billion of UK household expenditur­e, a figure likely to rise – there are multiple ways to do it.

Stylist Nick Hems, whose clientele comprises men aged 45-60, says: “Thanks to social media there’s an awareness that the need to have an impressive personal style means pressure to look good. Some are trying to hold on to their youth, but more than anything it’s about establishi­ng a look and staying relevant. You don’t go into your 50s and 60s and just die when it comes to grooming and fashion.”

While redefining your look via your wardrobe or hairstyle is commonplac­e, some feel compelled to surgically alter their face, have a breast lift or visit a trichologi­st to tackle a receding hair line.

Professor Nichola Rumsey OBE, a psychologi­st who specialise­s in the psychosoci­al aspects of appearance, says: “There is a kind of continuum of the extent to which appearance plays a part in people’s sense of self-esteem and their identity. Some people are more heavily invested in it and they tend to find the ageing process harder psychologi­cally because they feel like their identity is changing”.

This would explain the enormous rise in cosmetic treatments over the past few years. According to research from cosmetic clinic Uvence, 3million people in Britain are looking to undergo a cosmetic procedure in 2022. Aesthetic surgeon Dr Jonquille Chantrey, whose clientele includes a large proportion of over-50s, says there has been a huge shift in attitudes towards injectable fillers.

“Fifteen years ago, having aesthetic treatments was a real taboo in mainstream circles,” says Chantrey. “But lately I’ve seen a big increase in middle-aged people who want Botox and fillers to look fresher in order to still feel competitiv­e. They don’t want to be judged on how they look in the workplace and it helps with their confidence, although we do always assess for potential dysmorphia.”

Increasing­ly her clientele is male. In 2020 UK plastic surgeons reported a 70 per cent rise in men requesting video consultati­ons, with injectable procedures such as Botox and fillers proving most popular. “They tend to be successful businessme­n who are starting to feel like they look tired, with dark circles, eyebags and a loss of definition in the jaw line,” says Chantrey.

If you look your age, is it such a bad thing? Reaching “a good age” is surely something to be celebrated. Yet in the world of work there is often a sense of pressure to shave a few years off and hope people haven’t noticed that you are older than you seem.

As Tricia Cusden, founder of Look Fabulous Forever, a make-up brand formulated for older faces, points out: “Fear of being thrown on the scrapheap in the world of work puts people under enormous pressure, not helped by the fact that it’s becoming the norm to have treatments to look younger. If nobody ever tackles the bigger problem – the context in which this is happening – it will be a very sad thing. What about our knowledge and wisdom? Why isn’t that valued more in the workplace?”

Cusden is part of the pro-ageing movement, one of several cosmetics brands sharing a positive message about ageing and rejecting the concept of anti-ageing in beauty messaging. “We’re brought up with the notion that ageing is a kind of disease that should be avoided at all costs,” she says. “But at Look Fabulous Forever we are celebratin­g the older face. The pressure to look young is the result of ageism and the debate needs to be reframed in society to show that ageing isn’t a terrible thing.”

Feeling like you don’t look like yourself anymore, because the jowls, lines and eyebags have somehow taken away your essence, can be hard to accept. But ultimately, the notion that we cannot let ourselves look older can be dangerous from a wellbeing point of view.

“Psychologi­cally, you’re going to be much more resilient and relaxed about the changes in your appearance if you accept them and start using different attributes to engage with people,” says Prof Rumsey. “And there’s a social dimension to it too. If it becomes the norm to have Botox and fillers to look younger, the pressure on people who are trying to live without doing so becomes greater.”

With a bigger emphasis on fitness and longevity, a reluctance to slow down and a desire to pack life to the full, our passions and aspiration­s dictate that having fun with our looks is not something that needs to be consigned to the past. How we do it is a matter of individual choice. As actress Julianne Moore said: “There’s so much judgment inherent in the term ‘ageing gracefully’. Is there an ‘ungraceful’ way to age?”

 ?? ?? Sarah Burns, 50, with her dog Mabel, doesn’t feel any different now from when she was 30
Sarah Burns, 50, with her dog Mabel, doesn’t feel any different now from when she was 30

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