The Signs of Ageing
Wrinkles? Come and have a go, if you think you're hard enough. Go on then, crows-feet, you don't scare me! I laugh at you! Ha ha ha! Grey? Grey? It's silver, you imbecile. Yes, you too can have this attitude to ageing. Just follow our three step plan, click here. By Catherine Redfern.
Did you also know that “what every woman wants for
Christmas” (or Easter, or Mothers Day) is “younger looking skin”? Did
you also know there are seven signs of ageing? Oh yes. According to
the cosmetic company Olay, it’s not just ‘ageing’ in general
that women fear, but now there are seven separate ‘signs’ which
they’ve helpfully and very generously identified for us.
These are, in no particular order:
- Lines and wrinkles
- Uneven skin texture
- Uneven skin tone
- Appearance of pores
- Blotches and age spots
- Dry skin
Olay’s new range of skin care products, the Total Effects range,
promises to actually reverse the ageing process: ‘or your money
that will reveal the dreaded secret of our age.
Fear of ageing is part of female culture in our society. Fair
enough, part of it is due to plain fear and denial of what will
eventually come to us all – death. This affects men too. However, when
you really think about it, society gives women certain images and
ideas about age that encourage us to try to halt the visible signs of
the process. Many female beauty routines are an attempt to erase or
prevent the signs of ageing. Women are encouraged to dye their hair to
get rid of grey; use age-defying creme every morning and night; if our
faces get saggy there’s always surgery; if our breasts droop we can
get implants to keep them perky. And, as Olay point out, every part of
our bodies are potential traitors that will reveal the dreaded secret
of our age – even our hands: ‘To tell a woman’s age, they used to say,
look at her hands. Not any more.’ That is, only if you use Olay’s
The other thing is, it’s never too young to start this pointless
process of holding back the years. Olay have regularly targeted young
women as well as old, telling them if they start now, years before
even a whisper of a wrinkle will appear on their peachy smooth skin,
they’ll benefit later. Another recent tv advert showed a young women
who can’t have been more than 22, running through fields, twirling
round giggling, hands clasped to cheeks in a goofy smile (you know,
the usual), while the voiceover intoned: “First wrinkles? I never even
think about them.” (yeah, right). “I just use [insert pretentious
brand name here] every morning and evening.” If that’s what happens
when she never thinks about it, I’d hate to see what beauty routine
she follows when it is on her mind.
If our fear of age was purely about getting closer to death, then
surely that problem would best be dealt with by coming to terms with
the inevitable, preparing our minds to cope with it, rather than
simply trying to appear visibly younger – constantly chasing after a
impossible goal in a constant state of denial. There has to be
something else going on. Profit is a big part of it. But so is the
idea of beauty we are presented.
It’s your duty to be beautiful.
Keep young and beautiful,
If you want to be loved”
The problem is that beauty has always been associated with youth.
Cosmetic companies just cannot comprehend the notion that beauty and
youth are not inextricably connected. Its little wonder we don’t want
to get old when things like Olay’s seven signs suggest this is all
ageing brings: dullness, uneven-ness, blotches. Ugh. Olay’s Total
Effects foundation gives you ‘younger looking skin’, and this, it
follows, ‘helps you look beautiful and stay beautiful’. The less than
subtle implication being that if you do not look young you are not
beautiful. Just look around you: all the women you will see on
posters, in magazines, on tv, are young. When female stars get beyond
a certain age, their shows get cut despite how popular they are (think
Cybill Shepherd in the USA). Think of a male newsreader with
grey hair. Now think of a female one. Exactly.
Here’s a telling fact as told in the book ‘Beauty Bound’ by Rita
Freedman: as women age they are judged not only to be less beautiful
but also less feminine. Youth is seen as an essential
element of femininity. With every second that passes, we are becoming
less womanly. Well, bollocks to that.
Despite the fact that women live longer than men, and we have a
rapidly ageing population, older women are practically invisible in
everyday life. What happens to them? Do they disappear? Or are they
on will be a gradual depressing decline.
Now, I am still a young woman. I haven’t got wrinkles yet. But one
day I will. The question is, how am I going to handle that? I
sometimes wonder what age has in store for me, but I’m trying to
inculcate a positive attitude within myself about it. Unlike
mainstream culture, I refuse to believe that everything from now on
will be a gradual depressing decline. I try to look to older role
models to inspire me, but think of the few older women we do
get to see: Gran from the Royle Family; or her equivalent, the Queen
Mum, whose only newsworthy activity is stumbling.
But this is easy for me to say now. Perhaps when it comes to the
crunch I’ll do the same as Erica Jong, who explains (in her book ‘What
Do Women Want?’);
“I don’t believe. . . that age equals ugliness,
or that youth and beauty are synonymous – so why should I change my
But then when a friend comes back from cosmetic surgery she
decides to do the same.
“I did it implusively – but as I came up from the
anesthesia, I was sure I had made a terrible mistake. My face felt
like a mask glued on by an evil genius.”
She must, she explains, learn to ‘surrender’ to her new face.
“It is not so very different from the old, but it has its
new imperatives. The brow is softer and less lined. There is no fat
under the chin or rings under the eyes. It is not a young face but a
new face. It is a moon into which no craters have been
In other words, it is blank. All the history and emotion has been
erased, gone for ever. This strikes me as rather a shame.
Anyway, aware that its going to take more than pure will power to
come through the ageing process intact, I have developed a simple
three-step plan to reverse negative views of ageing. Here goes
The Three Step Plan to Reverse Negative Views About Ageing.
Formulated and controlled by laboratoires Redfern.
Guaranteed to reverse your opinon – or your money back!
STEP ONE: Re-education
We need to hear beautiful, inspiring words about age, about looking
old, about celebrating our wrinkles. We need to change the way we
think and change the way we see an aged female face. Here’s something
which really inspired me, from Naomi Wolf:
could call it a dirty secret or you could call it silver
“You could see the signs of female ageing as diseased. . .
Or you could see that if a woman is healthy she lives to grow old; as
she thrives, she reacts and speaks and shows emotion, and grows into
her face. Lines trace her thought and radiate from the corners of her
eyes after decades of laughter, closing together like fans as she
smiles. You could call the lines a network of ‘serious lesions,’ or
you could see that in a precise calligraphy, thought has etched marks
of concentration between her brows, and drawn across her forehead the
horizontal creases of surprise, delight, compassion and good talk. A
lifetime of kissing, of speaking and weeping, shows expressively
around a mouth scored like a leaf in motion. The skin loosens on her
face and throat, giving her features a setting of sensual dignity; her
features grow stronger as she does. She has looked around in her life,
and it shows. When grey and white reflect in her hair, you could call
it a dirty secret or you could call it silver or moonlight. Her body
fills into itself, taking on gravity like a bather breasting water,
growing generous with the rest of her. The darkening under her eyes,
the weight of her lids, their minute cross-hatching, reveal that what
she has been part of has left in her its complexity and richness. She
is darker, stronger, looser, tougher, sexier. The maturing of a woman
who has continued to grow is a beautiful thing to behold. Or, if your
ad revenue. . . depend[s] on it, it is an operable
Naomi Wolf, The Beauty Myth
Or how about poetry? Here’s one from Jenny Joseph which looks
forward to being an old woman:
When I am an old woman I shall wear purple
With a red hat which doesn’t go and doesn’t suit me.
And I shall spend my pension on brandy and summer gloves
And satin sandals, and say we’ve no money for butter.
I shall sit down on the pavement when I’m tired
And gobble up samples in shops and press alarm bells
And run my stick along the public railings
And make up for the sobriety of my youth.
I shall go out in my slippers in the rain
And pick the flowers in other people’s gardens
And learn to spit.
You can wear terrible shirts and grow more fat
And eat three pounds of sausages at a go.
Or only bread and pickle for a week
And hoard pens and pencils and beermats and things in boxes.
But now we must have clothes that keep us dry
And pay our rent and not swear in the street
And set a good example for the children.
We will have friends to dinner and read the papers.
But maybe I ought to practice a little now?
So people who know me are not too surprised
When suddenly I am old and start to wear purple.
Jenny Joseph, Selected Poems, (Bloodaxe Books,
Finally, how about some art and images which show beautiful,
confident, characterful older women, wrinkles and all. This ‘Women
of Age’ website includes some fantastic paintings of older women,
created by Alice Matzkin. They certainly prove that beauty doesn’t end
with youth. Who’d want to erase the wrinkles here?
STEP TWO: They’ve been there, done that.
We need truly inspirational older role models (factual or
fictional – whatever!) who remind us that even if society thinks we’ve
nothing left to offer we can prove them wrong. Here are a few to
start you off:
- Doris Haddock a.k.a. ‘Granny D’
this 90 year-old grandmother walked across America from California to
Washington D.C. to protest against the involvement of ‘big money’ in
U.S. politics and in favour of election campaign finance reform. Let
me repeat that: NINETY years old! She’s got her own website and will
be releasing an autobiography soon.
- Mother Teresa
Died aged 87, she was probably the most famous Christian woman on
the planet in recent times. Her face was a mass of wrinkles but
this only added to her beauty.
- Mary Harris Jones a.k.a. Mother Jones
At the age of 83 she was described as ‘The most dangerous woman in
America’ by the then president, T. Roosevelt. This woman was an
activist and agitator who fought for striking miners in Illinois and
is now a major heroine of American labour history. For more info see
the website of the magazine named after her. You can bet she didn’t
give a damn about ‘uneven skin tone’. . .
- Betty Boothroyd
In her 70s when she retired from her job as speaker of the House of
Commons, the first woman to do the job. No one could say she wasn’t up
to it – in fact finding her replacement recently was a difficult task
and commentators agreed she would be a virtually impossible act to
- Judi Dench
Possibly Britain’s most famous and loved actress, the 66 year old is
respected worldwide for her talent.
- Marta Aurenes
Just this year, 91 year old Marta Aurenes who lives in Norway, signed
up to train to become a pub bouncer. You go, girl!
- Granny Weatherwax
My favourite older fictional character is Granny Weatherwax from Terry
Pratchett’s Discworld novels. She’s about 60-70ish. She’s a witch.
She’s incredibly intelligent, strong, resourceful, independent and
doesn’t take any crap.
STEP THREE: The Real Seven Signs
Olay are way off track. Here’s the real deal: the NEW
seven signs of ageing. Finally, something to look forward to. This is
what’s to come, girls. I tell ya, it only gets better from here
- Emotional maturity
- Wisdom, self-confidence, self-esteem
- Owning your own house
- Sense of perspective on life
- Sexual confidence
- Career develops
- Financial security
And here are seven signs of ageing as envisaged by
- Ability to look sexy with her eyes without relying on eye
- Ability to appear confident without using ‘power accessories’
- Ability to maintain grace in any situation
- Knows how to have great phone sex
- Knows that getting a facelift will not make her look younger,
but will make her look like a woman with a facelift
- Wears the clothes she loves, and doesn’t care about the
- Knows that a lifetime of health and happiness will do more
good for her skin than Oil of Olay.