This month, Sports Illustrated announced their new cover model, 81-year-old Martha Stewart. The chef and entrepreneur wears a bikini and smiles into the camera. Frankly, Stewart looks great – but she also looks unnaturally young. Is this what we are supposed to look like in our eighties? I asked myself the same question when I watched “Hustlers” and saw Jennifer Lopez in her fifties looking fitter and better than ever. Shortly after the movie, she walked down a runway in an updated version of the famous “Jungle Dress” from 2001. When you compare the two pictures, she looks beautiful in both. I cannot believe this woman is in her fifties. Still, I am a bit torn about it. On the one hand, I think she deserves to be celebrated – she does look amazing. On the other, I cannot help but think if we celebrated her as much, if she had some wrinkles or some small signs of ageing. Are we only celebrated if we manage to look younger than we are?
Ageing as a woman is very different from ageing as a man. While men become “even more attractive” when they get older, us women tend to mostly disappear. What happens to us after a certain age, do we become invisible? Invisibility may be better than what we have to listen to if we are being noticed. The pressure relating to ageing and the beauty ideals are definitely different. Let’s look at one of the most famous newspapers and their coverage – the Daily Mail: “Letizia of Spain showed she wasn’t afraid to embrace her greying locks today”. The very same newspaper called Colin Farrell a “silver fox” when he went to get his morning coffee. I do not think that I need to explain a lot here. How can it be that women are being criticised for how we look when we get older while men are being applauded? Letizia of Spain is “not afraid” to show her grey streaks. Are we supposed to be afraid? Because we know that we are definitely not seen “silver foxes”, instead our grey hair is seen as a sign of defeat? A sign that we have given up?
The pressure is not only in the media. I once sat at a café and overheard a young waiter talking to a friend about his girlfriend. “I signed her up for the gym. She needs to get used to it, she may look OK now, but once they reach 20, they become fat and I don’t want a fat girlfriend.” Try to ignore the blatant sexism in his remark (instead of a tip, he got a very “friendly” comment). Nevertheless, what it shows is that women seem to have some kind of “expiration date”. Whether it is 20, 30, 40, whatever, we are always pressured into searching for some kind of fountain of youth.
We put ourselves under this pressure as well. Why else would beauty products, treatments and surgery boom like never before? I feel like the chase for beauty ideals in general has become more extreme due to social media. And talking as a woman who probably has already clearly passed the first expiration dates, I feel that this strive for perfection obviously never stops. We are asked to be perfect when we are young – when it is also often unrealistic but easier. Later on, we are expected to look as “perfect” as we looked when we were in our early twenties. Coming back to the pressure we put on ourselves – maybe we just do not want to look old?
I have to admit that I also see signs of ageing. I see wrinkles, I see the grey hair that starts to become more and more. I still refuse to dye my hair, but how long do I wait? Even my grandmother noticed it recently by blurting out “Do you ALREADY have grey hair?” – already. Well, is it really “already”? The grey hair. Yes, I do not like them either. I do not want to see them. I did try products to prevent this obvious sign of aging. (Spoiler alert: it did not help.) For the time being, I am not changing anything as yet, let’s see what will happen.
I would lie if I said that I will never use any anti-aging products. But what I do not want to become is one of the characters in “Death Becomes One” where three former friends search for exactly that fountain of youth and end up becoming caricatures of themselves. Everything in moderation I guess. But what would help is if there was no societal pressure of being or looking young. As this pressure has existed for centuries, I do not think we will change it anytime soon. But what we can do as women is to firstly, stop giving into the pressure and secondly, contributing to it by commenting on the looks of our friends or celebrities. There are enough comments out there already, maybe we focus on more important topics, such as gender equality and equal pay?