We need more older women to look their age

62-year-old American Apparel model, Jacky O'Shaughnessy.

62-year-old American Apparel model, Jacky O'Shaughnessy.

“Sharon Stone Tells Shape She Doesn’t Want To Be ‘An Ageless Beauty,’ Is Still One Anyway” goes the Huffington Post headline. It’s refreshing, says the reporter, that Stone doesn’t long for eternal youth. It’s refreshing, also, we’re clearly meant to agree, that she looks eternally youthful.

This is how we celebrate older women, I’ve noticed, when we celebrate their beauty. And often, unfortunately, we are celebrating beauty first and the rest later, in a smaller room in the back. We praise those women who, like great illusionists, amaze with the magic trick of their appearances. We are impressed with women over forty for looking like they’re not yet. We admire women for confusing us at first sight, we show respect to the ones who can manage, mysteriously, to look nothing like nature suggests they should look.

I am in my late twenties, and it would be nice if the future of my face wasn’t so dire.  

62-year-old American Apparel model, Jacky O'Shaughnessy.

62-year-old American Apparel model, Jacky O'Shaughnessy.

But maybe that’s just life. Maybe these are the cold, hard, disappointing facts. You get older, you look worse, so deal with it.

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OK, fine. I think that would be fine, if we could all agree that looking “worse” isn’t a big deal. Actually, I can imagine a world in which everyone agreed that we all look crappier and crappier with each passing year, but simultaneously, we care less and less about the way we look, so it’s practically irrelevant. Sounds like fun! I picture myself, seventy-seven and sloppy, my hair buzzed for convenience, sunbathing in the floppy nude on a European beach. Now that’s the life.

The problem is, we can’t agree on this vision for the future (what? The rest of you don’t want to see me naked on the beaches of my sunset years?). Every other commercial directed at women over forty trumpets the miraculous properties of its anti-aging formula. The models demonstrating the product’s effectiveness appear to be twenty-three. The goal, it’s always implied, is to look as close to twenty-three as is humanly possible, no matter how many decades past it you happen to be.

Sharon Stone on the latest issue of <i>Shape Magazine</i>.

Sharon Stone on the latest issue of Shape Magazine.

The lesson is learned. Many of the older women I know seem to be wrestling with their own biology in order to look more like my peers and less like themselves. That’s why I’m so glad to see examples of women looking like they aren’t twenty-three anymore in the sphere of fashion and beauty, like Jacky O’Shaughnessy, the American Apparel model. Her image floods me with relief and pride, but that’s part of the problem. Right now, she stands out like a radical statement, like a shout in a quiet room. The relief is a result of her unexpectedness. We need to join in and raise more voices until it sounds more like a party and less like a museum.  What would it feel like to live in a world where being beautiful with wrinkles and white hair was normal?

Of course, we should look up to older women first for their accomplishments and wisdom. But obviously, and automatically, we are looking to them for clues about our whole futures. We need more examples of women looking comfortable looking like themselves. When we get them, it’ll be much clearer that what matters about being a woman isn’t primarily superficial, and that our experience of the way we look shouldn’t revolve around trying to look different.

As young women, we need that message. We are steeped in a culture of endless dieting, exercise fads, cosmetic surgery, and unrealistic beauty standards. The ceaseless subtle urge to change just a little, just a little more, until we are different enough to finally look better begins early and often relentlessly pursues us throughout our lives.

And yet, as Sharon Stone ironically said in the article that accompanies her ageless, airbrushed photos: “… This idea that being youthful is the only thing that’s beautiful or attractive simply isn’t true. I don’t want to be an ‘ageless beauty.’ I want to be a woman who is the best I can be at my age.”

In my late teens and early twenties, I fought hard to look different, to change myself in order to fit an image of beauty that loomed so large it felt inescapable. A couple years later, sitting around a table with friends, it turned out that most of us had grappled with one or another form of disordered eating. “Can you look at this?” my smart, serious twenty-seven-year-old friend asked the other day, leaning in, pointing at her forehead. “Is that a wrinkle? I’m scared it might be a wrinkle. Do I look old to you?”

We’ve learned that looking old is like a vicious beast, panting at our heels, always about to catch us and drag us down into the pit of eternal ugliness.

“Definitely not!” I said immediately, reciting my lines, “I don’t see anything! You don’t even have to think about that. We’re so young!”

We won’t always be so young, though.

Does it have to have such an ominous ring?

It’s been a long road for me, already, to feeling OK about myself, inside and out. To not harassing myself over my reflection every time I see it. I’d like to keep feeling more comfortable with who I am, including my appearance. I don’t want to look forward to a future of looking backward. None of us should.

So let’s declare war on anti-aging. Let’s celebrate women for being, and looking, themselves. It’s not only important for women over forty, it’s important for me, and for my friends, and for teenaged girls and little girls, too. It’s important for the thirty-somethings. It’s important for everyone to see and believe that there is no shame in being a woman, at any age.

47 comments

  • As a simple living photographer I never could bring myself to glamour photography, not that do not admire good looking woman , I just never saw appoint in making a woman look different from who they are. Yes I worked in my studio with my lights to make sure the 'lines' came out perfect, yes I won many awards for just that simple style. Maybe I do not like makeup when used as a polyester coating to disguise who you really are? To me simple honest beauty is enough. My ex partner is allergic for every chemical on the planet. So she kept her skin healthy with some natural jojoba oil and that was it , she lives on healthy organic food where possible and just looks good . Now she's over 50 ( see her at irmart.com.au ) and she beats most woman in her age or often 20 years younger. Whit out any artificial assistance! And see that is what men like ( well men like me as least ) an honestly ageing lady who shows to look after herself without any plasterwork or crazy distracting smells , not needing a sudden spooky diet, just plain healthy living will show who you are , 'cause on the end ( in the evening or early morning ) every decorum every plasterwork will have to come off unless you want to sleep sitting upright in a glass cage …. Enjoy life as it comes , be honest and dare to be who you really are …. and be surprised ;-)

    Commenter
    jacob the photographer
    Location
    wisemans
    Date and time
    February 27, 2014, 8:11AM
    • jacob, some of us are not blessed with "simple honest beauty". Harsh but true.
      And there's nothing wrong with using makeup to enhance the way we look.
      When people constantly ask me if I'm ill due to the naturally occuring multitude of bulging, blue veins under my eyes that make me look like I have a couple of shiners, it's a reminder that I do in fact look quite rubbish without putting a bit if makeup on them.
      Even if you mean well, saying that women should go without makeup just reminds some of us how awful we look without it, and going on to say how terrible makeup looks to you makes it even worse. It's a lose-lose situation for ladies like me and not a nice feeling at all.

      Commenter
      Ames
      Date and time
      February 27, 2014, 12:24PM
    • I can honestly say that every person I look at, I see beauty in.

      Having thought about this, I think it comes down to how you define beauty.

      It does not have to be conventional, and often when I have commented to a friend that I think so and so looks lovely, they say 'oh they have bags under their eyes, they have wrinkles, they have grey hairs'.

      I just honestly do not see these things - well I see them but they do not compute. Maybe beauty is not in the eye of the holder. Rather it's in their heart.

      Commenter
      Ageless one
      Date and time
      February 27, 2014, 5:05PM
  • I'm one year older than Jacky O'Shaughnessy, and I agree she looks great.

    But where are the wrinkles? I don't know anyone my age who hasn't got a few. How has Jacky O'Shaugnessy avoided them so completely?

    And what about stretch marks?

    And that hair looks dyed,too. Personally I stopped dying my hair because the dye colour never seemed to go with my skin colour -- which has also changed from when I was younger.

    I'm sorry, but Jacky O'Shaugnessy looks to me like an attempt to glamorise getting older. I have to wonder about plastic surgery and photoshopping the photos.

    And bear in mind that people are always telling me I look younger than my age!..

    Commenter
    Older woman
    Location
    Melbourne
    Date and time
    February 27, 2014, 8:30AM
    • What are you talking about? Jacky O'shaughnessy's hair is grey, it looks to me like she hasn't dyed it. Also, she has wrinkles around her neck, between her brows and on her body. To me she just looks like a very healthy, normal 62 year old.

      I work at an airport and process hundreds of people a day, so have a very good idea of what a certain age looks like. Naturally aged 60-somethings vary considerably, from women covered in wrinkles to some who look as good as Jacky. I guess it depends on how well they have looked after themselves, as well as the gene factor. But let me tell you close up, those face-lifted ladies have a certain blanked out stretched look, like trampolines, even though you can see that their skin is old.

      Commenter
      Megan
      Date and time
      February 28, 2014, 9:20AM
  • "We need more older women to look their age"

    No, we need more women to be happy.......who cares if they look old , young or anything else

    Commenter
    Carstendog
    Location
    Here
    Date and time
    February 27, 2014, 8:30AM
    • You are absolutely spot on. Lets forget about what we look like and think more deeply about what's happening on the inside.

      Commenter
      LK1
      Date and time
      February 27, 2014, 1:00PM
    • +1 Carstendog! And (as this article says) - part of that is women being confident that they will be judged on their achievements and wisdom, rather than on how they look. (And if you don't think women are judged on how they look, send the same CV to an employer twice with a photo of a pretty girl on the first one and a photo of an unattractive woman on the second - see who gets the interview!).

      Commenter
      andilee
      Location
      Melbourne
      Date and time
      February 27, 2014, 1:43PM
  • "I don’t want to be an ‘ageless beauty.’ I want to be a woman who is the best I can be at my age.”

    But isn't that exactly what your opinion piece is railing against?

    Setting aside cosmetics and surgery (which is a whole 'nother discussion) what is wrong with leading as healthy a lifestyle as you comfortably/possibly can and having the results on the inside, and probably on the outside?

    Yes, we should be looking up to older women "for their accomplishments and wisdom". But a woman who has taken the best possible care of her health and has achieved positive results for herself (health-wise and/or aesthetically) is no less deserving of positive feedback.

    Commenter
    Farr
    Location
    Sydney
    Date and time
    February 27, 2014, 8:37AM
    • The currency of society: youth and beauty. Then, now and always.

      Commenter
      reality bites
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      February 27, 2014, 9:12AM

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