Ahhhh, the politics of age. “How old is she?” is one of the first things we may ask ask about a person (sorry, woman – let’s start this with honesty) as if we can suss out their entire being with that number. I’ve recently started a new job and a recurring thing that people keep saying to me is, “that’s a good job for your age!” As if we’ve gone back fifty years and people like Tavi and Taylor hadn’t already come do their their teenage wunderkind thing and therefore, I thought, made 27 fairly ancient or at least erased those sorts of questions about age vs. ability.
But age is a hotter topic than ever – and mostly because everyone wants to be Benjamin Button it through life: “I got ID’d earlier” is a common humble brag; we spend mortgage-loads of money on serums guaranteed to tighten and brighten our skin up like a foetus; and, of course, legions of women are resorting to wind-tunnel facial surgery which depressingly has the effect of accelerating the appearance of ageing rather than the other way around. So it’s about time someone pointed out how biologically exhaustive this resistance to age is. Enter classicist Mary Beard, being all brilliant, once again. (Aside from the fact that I keep accidentally typing ‘Mary Berry’ because I’ve just discovered GBBO about 400 seasons later than everyone else.)
I’m not one for the classics, but I’ve been a big fan of Mary’s since last year, when A. A. Gill called her “too ugly for television”. I’ll resist picking up my megaphone and yelling through it WOULD YOU SAY THAT TO JEREMY CLARKSON? But Mary rallied, admirably. “I shan’t have a makeover” she responded coolly. In the same vein, she’s calling bullshit on our strained relationship with the human word count. Complimenting someone on not looking their age, she explained to The Telegraph last week, is “one of the weirdest double-thinks of our culture”.
No, I hadn’t ever used ‘double-thinks’ either. But she’s right. It’s like congratulating someone on being a bit thin; it’s near extraordinary that we should reserve praise for someone who happens to retain more collagen in their cheeks (natural or otherwise) than others. In modern day culture’s fucked-up system of values, looking young and thin is unbeatable. Unless, like Mary Beard, you just couldn’t give a shit. I’ve always had a good role model for this: my mum. Ironically, she looks fucking fantastic for her age but she’s never tried to look like anything she is not. She rarely wears make-up or heels and she’s never seen a beautician in her life. Those eyebrows are home grown, baby! But that doesn’t mean that I’m immune to this either.
“Let’s reclaim the world ‘old'” says Marvellous Mary in The Telegraph. I’ve decided that a good replacement might be ‘accomplished’ or ‘distinguished’; when I get to the age that I have to pretend I’m not, I’d like you all to use either of those, please. Because the thing is and let’s not beat around the groomed female bush, here, this is a problem almost uniquely reserved for women. No-one hears Harvey Weinstein crying about how he wished he looked younger. In fashion, an industry in which I predominantly work, girls age in dog years. Despite all the catwalk legislation about age, 14-year-old Roos Abels walked at Milan Fashion Week. A fashion week aimed at women. If 14-year-old girls are now being defined as women, used to sell product to women, is there any surprise that women seek solace in a conciliatory “you look at least 5 years younger!”
Re-evaluating our attitudes towards age should become as much of a priority as it is to celebrate the female form in all its guises. It’s one of the most important steps we can take in feminism. And by that I don’t mean championing age over youth, in the same way that plus-size aka ‘real women’ are being pitted against the super-skinny aka ‘unreal women’, right now. As Daisy Buchanan recently wrote about Meghan Trainor’s ‘All About The Bass’, it’s pretty much the most anti-progressive thing ever to celebrate having “all the right curves in all the right places” whilst dissing “the skinny bitches”, therefore separating rather than uniting women out into diddy little fat chick vs. thin chick piles… all on the basis of how their body retains kcals. Similarly, let’s not pit the old against the young. Tavi Gevinson’s words are as important as Mary Beard’s: not because of their differing ages, but their unique viewpoints. Stop asking people how old they are and ask what they’ve achieved. As women – and yes, I’m going to get all sisterhood on you, now – let’s pat one another on the collective back without trying to work out how many wrinkles might be etched on it.
Ph. from nextchurch.net