The sheer lunacy of women refusing to look their age
Casting a shadow: The papers didn”t reprint many images of the star n a wheelchair – the way she really looked for the last few decades of her life
The sale of Elizabeth Taylor’s jewellery this week was another chance to see fabulous pictures of the celebrated actress in her 20s, when she was considered one of the most beautiful women in the world.
That’s how most fans want to remember her — the papers didn’t reprint many images of the star in her 70s, in a wheelchair, the way she really looked for the last few decades of her life.
Indeed, one (male) film critic described her death as ‘a blessed relief’, adding ‘it stops the . . . legacy of her as this kind of grotesque, wheelchair-bound, bewigged, bejewelled kind of monster . . . to refocus back on the beauty and on the kind of skills she had as an actress’.
He was right to celebrate Elizabeth’s talent, but why shouldn’t an old woman appear in public wearing wigs, flashy jewellery and baggy clothes as her health is declining Should old stars just top themselves, or enter nunneries That critic’s attitude to beauty is repugnant, but so typical of our age.
My generation, the baby boomers, are in our 60s and are terrified of ageing, looking less perky than we did in our prime — it’s the elephant in the room, the big fear no one wants to talk about.
There are a greater number of old women than ever — and plenty of celebrities in their 60s — but we’re all obsessed with the futile process of attempting to turn back the clock.
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We’re bombarded with images of famous women who seem to be successfully cheating time — but the truth is that they are willing to go to ludicrous lengths to rebrand themselves as youthful in order to still have a commercial value.
If they looked the way pensioners really do — wrinkly, saggy and a bit stiff around the knees — they would never make a record, appear in a movie or present a telly programme.
Magazines are full of ads in which well-known women claim to be ‘defying’ time by slapping one kind of cream or another on their cheeks.
Utter bilge — but these carefully airbrushed fantasies encourage modern women to spend a fortune on something that’s unattainable: permanent youth.
While the beauty industry calls it ‘looking your best’, I call it ‘acting out a dream’. But many will pay any money and go through any surgical procedure if they can afford it. I find that deeply troubling.
Shouldn”t we admire Brigitte Bardot as a strong woman who won”t conform to stereotypes of beauty
The problem is that we have no role models — hardly any famous old women look their real age. The only one I can think of is Brigitte Bardot — one of the most naturally beautiful women of her generation — who stopped making films in her 30s, so she had no pressure to work at holding onto her looks.
Over the years she’s gained weight and not bothered much about her skin or her hair and so has been accused of ‘letting herself go’ as if it’s a crime to get wrinkly.
While her Right-wing politics might be hard for some to stomach, shouldn’t we admire Brigitte Bardot, 77, as a strong woman who won’t conform to stereotypes of beauty — and who refuses to talk about her glamorous past
A group of academics last week held a symposium at Birkbeck College at the University of London to discuss the impact of ageing and celebrity, and their findings are fascinating. They concluded that because most famous women refuse to tell the truth about their looks, the rest of us buy the myth that somehow ageing can be defied or arrested in its tracks.
George Clooney, Jack Nicholson and Michael Douglas are revered by fans as they age, go grey and flaunt their wrinkles, but famous women have to work much harder to be chosen by directors and stay working.
As a result, most cheat like mad while peddling this preposterous myth that their glowing good looks are down to genes, exercise and healthy eating. Please!
Exhausting: Diane Keaton said that “the effort to control time by altering the effects of age doesn”t bring happiness”
Take Diane Keaton, for example. The 65-year-old star wrote in her autobiography that ‘the exhausting effort to control time by altering the effects of age doesn’t bring happiness’.
Yet this is the woman, who appears in L’Oreal’s Age Perfect Hydra-Nutrition Golden Balm advertising campaign, with the line ‘I’m more comfortable in my skin now than I’ve ever been’.
The picture of her is clearly airbrushed — I promise you she looks very different in real life.
Andie MacDowell is another female star who appeared in ads for L’Oreal aimed at older women and looked as if she was airbrushed.
And then, of course, there’s Jane Fonda. The 73-year-old was on U.S. TV last week wearing a similar leotard she wore in the Eighties to promote her latest exercise regime. Fonda, who has written a book about sex and lifestyle for seniors, tells reporters that her looks are down to good genes, regular exercise and plenty of money to pay for a personal trainer.
The truth is that she’s undergone extensive cosmetic surgery and ended up remodelling herself to look eerily like she did 30 years ago.
She’s got less muscle tone in her face and is thinner — in fact, she’s starting to end up with the asexual body of a young boy, something that often happens to older women who constantly diet and exercise. She’s continually tinkering with her appearance to try to stop the clock.
Jane Fonda looks remarkably similar to her 1982 physique (right), but has undergone extensive cosmetic surgery to try and preserve her youth
According to historian Professor Pam Cook, younger stars such as Nicole Kidman cleverly rebrand themselves as they approach middle age.
In 2010, Nicole’s Kidman’s career seemed to be stalling, so she changed her almost-frozen appearance to a more ‘natural’ look and said she’d stopped using Botox.
There’s been a supposed Botox backlash among high-profile women who’ve been pilloried for looking eerily expressionless, and many stars from Kylie to Madonna claim they don’t use it any more.
Those who saw Kylie at George Michael’s recent concert at the Covent Garden Opera House were not completely convinced.
Backlash: Stars such as Kylie and Madonna claim they don”t use Botox anymore
These women may not be using a product actually called Botox, but their carefully made-up faces show no signs of ageing whatsoever, are suspiciously wrinkle-free, have taut skin and eyelids that remain strangely undroopy. That look requires regular specialised technical maintenance, not face cream.
Even relatively young celebrities, such as Gwyneth Paltrow, who is 39, do not offer us a realistic way to age. She implies that careful diet, exercise and the right mindset can keep you looking young.
But to live Gwyneth’s lifestyle costs a fortune. She spends vast amounts on clothes and never leaves the house looking less than perfect. Paltrow offers us her ‘natural’ look, but it is a high-cost, high-maintenance attempt to not appear like an ordinary middle-aged mum. The money she makes, it’s no wonder she goes to such an effort.
Misleading: Relatively young celebrities, such as Gwyneth Paltrow, do not offer us a realistic way to age
Meryl Streep, who is riveting as Maggie Thatcher with dementia in The Iron Lady, knows all about what happens to an actress as she gets older. Meryl, 62, plays Maggie aged 49 to 85, and will surely be nominated for an Oscar, but she told an interviewer that when she turned 40, she was offered only three film roles — all as witches!
But in Hollywood, she commented: ‘Once women pass child-bearing age, they can only be seen as grotesque on some level.’
I had dinner with Meryl recently, and she looked fabulous — with glowing skin, fine hair and a ready smile. Her grace and charm come from within — and she has three beautiful grown-up daughters. She’s a rarity in the film business: a woman who can still take a leading role in her 60s. But where are the rest of the role models
I used to think that when I got to 60, there would be so many women my age that we’d be able to be ourselves and not mimic the young. In fact, no one wants to admit that women in their 60s who are stylish, well- balanced and normal-sized exist.
Perfection ages: What on earth will Cheryl Cole look like at 50
Only last weekend, I turned to the fashion pages of the Sunday Telegraph’s Stella magazine to read an article entitled Generation Fashion — How To Make Cocktail Tailoring Work At Any Age.
The story ended with women in their 50s and a picture of Julianne Moore. Where are the clothes for me and Meryl What about mature readers — of whom there will be many — who don’t want to wear a Jane Fonda leotard or Mary Portas leggings, but something age appropriate
Where are the women on TV, in movies and on the stage who say ‘I’ve had no work done on my face’ and it’s true What on earth will Cheryl Cole look like at 50 Or any of those girls from The Only Way Is Essex
That’s why a modern woman’s biggest fear is not living alone, it’s looking her age. We will never admit it, though.