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.

, 13 June 2001

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:

  1. Lines and wrinkles
  2. Uneven skin texture
  3. Uneven skin tone
  4. Appearance of pores
  5. Blotches and age spots
  6. Dry skin
  7. Dullness

Olay’s new range of skin care products, the Total Effects range,

promises to actually reverse the ageing process: ‘or your money


Every part of our bodies are potential traitors

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

hand cream.

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.

“Keep young and beautiful

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


I refuse to believe that everything from now

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:

When grey and white reflect in her hair, you

could call it a dirty secret or you could call it silver

or moonlight.

“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’

In 1999-2000

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


  1. Emotional maturity
  2. Wisdom, self-confidence, self-esteem
  3. Owning your own house
  4. Sense of perspective on life
  5. Sexual confidence
  6. Career develops
  7. Financial security

And here are seven signs of ageing as envisaged by


  1. Ability to look sexy with her eyes without relying on eye


  2. Ability to appear confident without using ‘power accessories’
  3. Ability to maintain grace in any situation
  4. Knows how to have great phone sex
  5. Knows that getting a facelift will not make her look younger,

    but will make her look like a woman with a facelift

  6. Wears the clothes she loves, and doesn’t care about the

    fashion industry

  7. Knows that a lifetime of health and happiness will do more

    good for her skin than Oil of Olay.

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