The desperate lengths women go to in a bid to stay youthful: LAURIE GRAHAM says… Fighting ageing What a waste of your life!
11:21 GMT, 6 August 2012
There is a friend of mine who sums up our times. I’m not going to tell you her real name because I value her friendship, but if I call her Bunty it’ll give you a sense of her bouncing, bright-eyed refusal to make any concessions to age.
What Bunty doesn’t know about antioxidants isn’t worth mentioning. Selenium — a supplement, apparently — is her big thing at the moment. Without selenium she seems to feel we pensioners might as well throw in the towel and order the mobility scooter.
Bunty’s on the tennis court every day, weather permitting; and when she’s not on the tennis court, she’s giving her brain a Sudoku workout.
Ageing gracefully: Laurie Graham as a young woman (left) and today (right)
I don’t think she’s had a brow lift just yet, but she’s definitely up for teeth whitening. Her sex life, she claims, has never been better, thanks to the pomegranate seeds she adds to her husband’s cereal.
Bunty, in her 60s like me, is determined to take on Old Father Time and win, which is absolutely fine, except for this: she believes that anyone who isn’t doing likewise is somehow being defeatist. Age has become something to fight, and Bunty has appointed herself commander-in-chief.
Let me now lay my own yellowing cards on the table. I’m nearly 65, and if I look slightly dewier than my mother did at this age, it’s probably because my life has been easier. The point is, I don’t feel I should declare war on ageing. On the contrary, I’m ready to make peace with it. Every age I have so far been has brought its pros and cons — anyone fancy being an acne-blighted teenage train wreck again No, me neither.
And since the alternative to ageing is death, I think it’d be daft to waste whatever time I have left fighting flesh droop. Age brings its compensations … and in a minute I’ll remember what they are.
To everything there is a season, and the autumn and winter of life brings a lessening of certain obligations. Yes, it means some of us have to become carers, but at least we don’t have to be on the 7.29am to London Bridge every day.
We may have to wear shoes with Velcro straps, but at least we can stay home on a Saturday night without our friends deriding us as social sad sacks. Unless your friend happens to be Bunty. She’d love to go out clubbing, and once her husband gets his new knee, I fear there’ll be no stopping her.
As people live longer, the ageing picture inevitably shifts. Today’s 70 may well be a previous generation’s 60, but we’re all — apart from Dorian Gray and Benjamin Button — heading in the same direction. Destination: end of the line.
The Bunty Brigade want to get there looking taut, tanned and ready to rock and roll, all vim and vigour — right up to the moment they close the zipper on your body bag.
In 2010, spending by the over-50s on cosmetics was 2.1 billion,
They seem to have no interest in the traditional dividends of old age: rest, contemplation, the little pleasures of life in the slower lane.
Of course, we may yet see a reversal of this longer life span. As the first generation of unrepentant binge-drinkers and junk-eaters comes lurching over the hill, who can say what shape they’ll be in
But old age, whether you admitted to it at 70, 80 or 90, used to bring with it a well-defined role. First and foremost, oldsters were supposed to share whatever wisdom they’d managed to accumulate.
It was also accepted that they would embarrass or amuse the younger generation with their eccentric opinions, their elasticated waistbands and their dancing.
Ultimately, they were expected to drop off the twig in a dignified but timely manner, thereby making room on earth for new arrivals. They would be sadly missed and fondly remembered, but life goes on.
This arrangement worked to everyone’s satisfaction for thousands of years. So what happened My generation, that’s what. We post-war kids were the ones who tore up the rule book. Roger Daltrey spoke for us. We hoped we’d die before we did anything as unthinkable as growing old.
And we had good reason, because we were the ones who invented the worship of youth. We were the ‘dudes’ who began the trend of treating older people with disdain.
You’d think, though, that even self-absorbed baby boomers must have been aware, somewhere in the depths of their spaced-out brains, that most of us will live long enough for time to present us with its bill for wear and tear.
But then, just as my generation began to feel the creak and sag of age, America introduced us to lunch-hour facelifts and other easily available cosmetic procedures.
The youth-obsessed met the droop-fixers and so created a perfect storm of age denial. We can now be pumped and lifted ever higher. If you want to, you can reach 90 looking like an inflatable Joan Rivers doll. Charge it to your plastic. Pay for it whenever. There’s plenty of time because you’re going to live for ever.
Unfortunately, many people forget that just because we can do something, it doesn’t mean we should. So now we have reached the point where women who don’t have ‘work’ done are at a disadvantage to those who do. This is especially true in television, a visual medium that panders to moronic levels of superficiality.
That’s why female TV presenters are in the front line. They argue that if they don’t get Botoxed (at the very least), they’ll lose their jobs. I think they’re deluding themselves. They’re going to lose their jobs anyway.
Being eye candy always was a short-term career, and here’s the reason. The world finds young women more attractive than old women because youthfulness signals fertility. Girls whose eggs aren’t past their lay-by date are essential to the survival of the species; crones are not.
This is basic biology. That’s why senior TV executives, who are almost always male, replace potboilers with tender young chicks. It’s so instinctive they hardly know they’re doing it.
The fight to stay looking youthful can be both costly and time-consuming
Agreed, it would be nice to think these men could get a grip on their primordial drives and stop firing women just because they have laughter lines, but I hold out little hope. The supply of young chicks is too abundant.
These are the facts, and women of a certain age should get over it and move on. Vanity is, anyway, a deeply boring trait, and there are plenty of worthwhile things you can do with your life after you’ve acquired a turkey neck.
Of course, the ageing thing isn’t just about looks — health is truly wealth. But let me ask you what I asked Bunty. If you could take a pill that guaranteed you’d reach your 90th birthday, would you
Bunty says she absolutely would and she was about to launch into the benefits of selenium again when I stopped her in her tracks by telling her I have no ambition to reach 90.
To people like Bunty, who are determined to live very long and to do so in a state of relatively plumped-up gorgeousness, this is heresy. She didn’t even want to hear my reasons, but I told her anyway.
As one ages, eventually, no matter what regime you’ve followed, no matter how fiercely you’ve fought the fight, good health becomes harder to maintain. It may disappear overnight or simply dwindle, but with every year that passes the odds shorten.
And then what Have you noticed what happens to sick old people these days The horror stories of abuse and neglect Does society want us hanging around till we’re 103 I don’t think so.
Actually, when you look at the fate of many of those who’ve grown too frail for the Seniors’ Zumba Club, you get rather the opposite impression.
‘Time’s up, you old waste of oxygen,’ society seems to be saying. ‘Don’t lie there staining the mattress. If you can’t be marvellous for your age, then shuffle off.’
I suspect one of the reasons Bunty is trying to stare down death and decay is that she has no close family.
Which is not to say that family is automatically a comfort to the elderly. Children and grandchildren can be neglectful or even predatory, especially if they think you’re hanging on too long, frittering away their inheritance on hearing aids and Saga cruises.
Nevertheless there has to be something about watching grandchildren and great-nieces and nephews coming into the world and growing up that helps to place ageing in the natural order of things.
They are the harvest, if you like, of what your own generation sowed when you were young. And they’re a reminder that you can afford to ease up because there are now younger, fitter people to whom you can pass the torch.
That’s how people used to view old age: it was a cue for a change of pace; it gave you permission to wind down. There was a time when all you had to worry about was the waiting list for bunion surgery and remembering where you’d put your pension book for safe keeping.
Now, if we look or act our age, we’re letting down the side. Cliff Richard has a lot to answer for, although not half as much as Cher does.
I’ve tried to impress upon Bunty that she and her Forever Youngsters are creating obligations that some of us don’t want.
She says if she doesn’t shape up and colour her greying hair she’ll become invisible. I say there are many worse things than invisibility, so bring it on.
If people no longer notice me, so be it. They’ll certainly be able to hear me. I’ve found that seniority brings with it the confidence to speak my mind and to complain, where previously I’d have suffered in silence.
The way I see it, if your appearance suggests that you’re one of those benighted old nuisances, then why not make everyone’s day and be one.
Joking aside, the drive to look and act eternally young is troubling. However hot Jane Fonda may believe she still is, there’s something more pathetic than icky about sexual braggadocio from a 75-year-old. I mean, wouldn’t she rather potter in a greenhouse
I’ve suggested a deal to Bunty. If she’ll stop lecturing me on super-foods, if she’ll quit harassing me to buy co-enzyme Q10 and just allow me to relax in a deckchair and tell my grandchildren about the olden days, I solemnly promise to vacate my room by the age of 85.
That should free up some NHS funds for her hip replacement and it still gives me another 20 years in which to be an annoying, nit-picking old besom. So, a win-win proposition, really.
A Humble Companion, by Laurie Graham (Quercus, 16.99).