My own looks may have faded but I still admire young beauty… so stop painting us mature women as embittered old witches
22:22 GMT, 11 April 2012
Firm skin, rosebud-pink lips, long glossy hair, a handspan waist… I am in no doubt that youth and beauty are two of the most highly-valued commodities in the world today. And just because I am over 50 doesn’t mean I have lost my ability to appreciate beauty.
But if I’m to believe the prevailing wisdom, I ought to detest the power that this combination can harness — simply because I am no longer young myself.
That’s what older women do, isn’t it Undermine, criticise, psychologically trip up any young thing who threatens to steal their thunder. Bitter old crones, the lot of us.
Jealous: Julia Roberts as the Queen in Mirror Mirror, left, who resents her step-daughter Snow White (played by Lily Collins) for her looks
Consider the Queen in Snow White, so affected by the budding beauty of her stepdaughter. Her mirror cannot lie: Snow White is more beautiful than she. Cue vengeful sobbing, much gnashing of teeth, and a call to the huntsman to sort out that young girl.
This spring, we have two new takes on the Snow White legend at the nation’s multiplexes.
Mirror Mirror, released two weeks ago, stars Julia Roberts camping it up as the jealous Queen and Lily Collins (daughter of singer Phil Collins) as her unwary nemesis. In June, Snow White And The Huntsman, which appears to be much whizzier in the special effects department, pits a vicious Charlize Theron against Twilight’s Kristen Stewart, who is saved when her eponymous enemy not only frees her but becomes her protector.
Seeing as the old folk tale is up for not just one but two new cinematic versions, one has to ask: is the theme itself — the pathological jealousy felt by the older women when faced with younger competition — perennial because it is true
Or, in the age of easy anti-ageing antidotes such as Botox, fillers, hair extensions and gym membership for all, have we moved along from such unsavoury emotions
As the editor of Psychologies magazine, I spend a lot of time focusing on what women feel, rather than the way they look.
Young beauties: Louise admires the looks of, from left, Michelle Williams, Emily Blunt and Clemence Posey
But in our offices, which are shared with several glossy fashion magazines, ravishing young beauties are two-a-penny, and I have at least one mirror moment daily — though this one doesn’t speak back to me. I’ll be in the communal bathroom attempting to prettify myself with a sack-load of cosmetics while a gorgeous filly flicks her locks and glosses her lips right next to me.
The comparison is obvious: I am old enough to be her mother. But do you know what, I can handle it. I believe that most women my age can.
We may not feel neutral when we’re put to the comparison test, but by the time you are old enough to have had teenagers yourself — say, over 45 — you will also have gained some perspective on life.
Beauty and youth are valuable commodities, but they are in no way the most precious. Savvy grown-ups also give good health, sanity, friendship and solvency more of a look-in.
I love young beauty. My personal favourites among the ever-photographed celebrities are at the more interesting end of the scale: Emily Blunt, Romola Garai, Clemence Poesy and Michelle Williams.
But I have favourites who are my age and older too. I love the sophisticated, intelligent faces of 60-somethings like Lindsay Duncan (currently in BBC drama White Heat) and Susan Sarandon (about to appear in movie Jeff, Who Lives At Home), and middle-aged French actresses like Juliette Binoche (in Elles).
Just as beautiful: Older actresses, from left, Lindsay Duncan, Susan Sarandon and Juliette Binoche
I also like Hillary Clinton with her new longer hair and sleek trouser suits. She’s a great example of a woman who actually looks better as she gets older — not because she’s turning back the clock, but because she’s finally found her own style and is comfortable with it.
In the original Brothers Grimm version of the Snow White story, the Queen was not actually Snow White’s stepmother but her own mother. The plot was changed to make it less disturbing for children.
Most mothers these days are proud of their grown-up daughters (I certainly am), but that doesn’t mean they don’t feel some twinges as they watch their girls come into bloom just as they themselves start to fade.
But such feelings are usually cut through with the knowledge that, as George Bernard Shaw said, ‘youth is wasted on the young’.
Youthful self-consciousness is so much stronger, as is the solipsism. Once you’re past it (an unfortunate turn of phrase), you start to see the strengths and weaknesses of your looks through more realistic eyes.
As one friend said to me as we looked at pictures of our teenage selves: ‘We were so gorgeous, but we didn’t know it!’ To which I replied: ‘Imagine how awful we would have been if we had.’
Improved with age: Louise thinks Hillary Clinton looks better now she's older, left
You can do a lot to stay looking younger nowadays, using everything from make-up to weekly trips to Topshop, but most women end up feeling that while some maintenance is healthy, they have more to offer than just their appearance anyway.
Snow White has never been portrayed as a little minx working the naive fairy-tale world for all her worth, but some young women are pretty unscrupulous when it comes to cashing in on their loveliness.
Even so, I’d still say most women my age won’t lower themselves to nastiness when dealing with younger women, unless provoked by serious love rivalry (and then all bets are off).
For some women I spoke to, it’s a principle they have adopted because they remember being put down by older women when they were young.
As one said: ‘I may occasionally have ungenerous thoughts about the abilities or behaviour of a younger woman, but I try very hard not to be destructive about it.
‘It’s not fair on them. It’s not their fault that we are getting older and may feel a bit sensitive about looking it.’
And, anyway, what is the alternative Madonna’s airbrushed photos fool no one: they simply make it more disconcerting to see the paparazzi shots of her in trying-too-hard lingerie and peculiar, fingerless gloves to cover the ropey veins in her hands.
No, far better to face it, and remember that our looks are not — and never have been — the most defining part of ourselves.
Louise Chunn is editor of Psychologies magazine