The freedom of age: you won’t get my dignity
It’s a fine line between self-love, self-optimisation and self-denial. On the other side of 40, women’s value is too often defined by how they look. How do we escape from this?
It happened. And at a «Seeed» concert of all places. I’ve got a girlfriend the same age as me by my side, along with her daughter and the latter’s boyfriend, both 25. I’m one of those people who goes wild dancing when music that I like comes on – without the slightest bit of concern about my make-up and outfit or how cool I look. At some point, I felt a hand on the sweaty nape of my neck. The daughter’s boyfriend wanted to say something to me at full volume. And that’s when I heard the sentence in my ear: «When I’m as old as you, I hope I’m as cool.»
As old as you. Old. O L D. The word lingered. It was surely meant as a compliment and it was very sweet of the young man, but still a bitter pill to swallow. «Cool?» Sounds right to me. There’s no turning back when you’re «so old». Does being old mean you’re no longer attractive? Why do so many women complain that from a certain age they’re practically invisible to society? And what can I bank on now?
I always had an attractive face. But I was often told – even early on – that I had a «mumsy» figure, even though I never wanted to be a mum. So, I completely relied on the genes my parents lent me in terms of my face. Namely good skin, big eyes and full lips. Up until 45, I hardly aged apart from unwelcome frown lines on my forehead that appeared quite young. But I always smoothed them out with yearly botox injections. Who wants to permanently look in a bad mood when you’re actually happy? I never made a secret of it. People’s reactions were and still remain split. That is, amongst women – men don’t comment on stuff like that.
What to do when your face isn’t as radiant as it once was?
Some ladies were so impressed they wanted my skin doctor’s contact details. Meanwhile, others asked why I was so easily under the thumb of beauty standards. It looks undignified, some said. It’s pandering. Weak. One faction swears by being natural and rigidly rejects little helpers in the form of botox, fillers and hair dyes. They believe that the body shouldn’t be a consumer product and when possible, we ought to avoid craving attention.On the other end of the scale, you have people adding hair extensions, getting boob jobs, lip and forehead filler and jumping from one diet to the next. And when I leaf through magazines, I’m either confronted with super-thin stars in crazy expensive bikinis or a whole palette of diverse beauty ideals – from crooked noses to hairy and curvy girls. The only thing that unites the pictures is that all the women boast a certain youthful radiance.
Now I’m 47 and I don’t have that any more, or at least not as much as before. No amount of three litres of water a day, eight hours’ sleep, regular exercise or all the expensive creams in the world will make a difference.
So I book an appointment at a newly opened beauty centre in Vienna. Under the enchantingly beautiful owner’s magnifying mirror, there’s nowhere to hide. Every wrinkle, burst blood vessel and spot are on display. She recommended a «hydra facial», which is the secret «better-ageing» super weapon of all Hollywood stars. As well as another indulgence I recognise from Instagram: female shaving. «Dermaplaning» is exfoliating with a sharp blade. Rather than just removing fine facial hair, it also gets rid of dead skin cells. The process makes your complexion fresher and more radiant. An added bonus is you get to marvel at your beard hair afterwards. Is that undignified? Am I now one of the many over-40s making a desperate attempt to be «fuckable»? In other words, trying to stay sexually attractive for as long as possible?
Society, sort out your age stereotypes
People often talk about the constantly revamped Madonna in a certain way. Why can’t she just «act her age»? Is she meant to give a wide berth to young lovers, loud outfits and cosmetic procedures? Here’s the counter question: what exactly would acting her age look like? (Madonna is 64.) Pruning her rose garden? Wearing beige pleated trousers? Baking cakes? At that rate, why not just disappear from public view altogether?
Who made these rules? Who decides them? I think the revolution against heteronomy, which decides what we can and can’t do, has to start in women’s heads first and foremost. When they feel free to become older in an individual and cheerful way, over time, the rest of society will correct their age stereotypes. But to do that takes a load of courage. You need courage to accept your grey mane as much as you would your dyed one. Be OK with comfy outfits in the same way you embrace short skirts. MILFs as much as grannies. Wrinkles being as acceptable as botox. Laziness going hand in hand with fitness.
We can learn from men, or at least, from their freedoms, as these are all self-made. Of course, men age as well. They get fat, wrinkly, bald and flabby. But as their value – and with it also their dignity – isn’t purely defined by their looks, they have it a bit easier. Women criticise themselves relentlessly. When it comes to men, the issue is often over with a joke and slap on the back. Simply because we’ve been systemically taught for centuries that the bulk of our happiness depends on our appearance. These days, even men pay a lot of attention to looks and rely on a whole host of anti-ageing offers. But for them, that’s just one normal option amongst many. Women, on the other hand, are more threatened with consequences, such as body-shaming, comments, nasty menopause jokes, poorer job chances. This has to stop. Getting older without looking older is something that ends up being impossible for women at a certain point.
The young man I was telling you about at the start – if he’s lucky, he’ll get old. Older than I am today. And fatter and balder. And his flawless-skinned girlfriend? One day, she’ll have deep wrinkles, not just round her eyes, and her breasts won’t be at the same latitude they are now. I wish them a full life – one that leaves traces, because every year on this planet is precious. I believe you can age with levity and pride. Getting older is a privilege we ought to celebrate.
Health, sexuality, sports and sustainability. Delve into all aspects of this life less ordinary with the right amount of curiosity, humour and a pinch of salt.