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Age Before Beauty?


Dorian GrayI really am quite easily excited. Take this last Wednesday for example when, having already got a 2 for 1 cinema offer for my sister and myself to see ‘Dorian Gray’, Bob* the lovely ticket seller also charged me the discounted student rate (which I sadly no longer qualify for). This was a much needed ego boost after recently discovering that after this year I am no longer considered a young person. This means no Young Person’s Rail Card, ineligibility for the Vogue Young Writers Award, and if I want to visit the remaining outline of an Iron Age hillfort I will have to pay the National Trust full price. Well… it’s the principle. But the point is- my youthful days are numbered. And this knowledge made me sad despite the fact that I wasn’t absolutely sure why this should be so.

I was rather more enlightened after watching the film.

‘Dorian Gray’ is about an extraordinarily handsome teenage man-child who flippantly barters away his soul in return for eternal youth and beauty. The remainder of the film, set amongst a whirlwind of indulgence, excess, lust and the pursuit of pleasure, is spent assessing the validity of the claim that youth and beauty are “the only two things worth having”.

Despite the seemingly obvious absurdity of this statement, we as a society seem to be buying into the fantasy of eternal youth. And Hollywood is cashing in. Just look at the industry’s latest obsession. Vampires are no longer the terrifying, psychopathic, blood-sucking monsters of horror films; they are our romantic heroes, the stuff of amorous daydreams and objects of lust. Consider the Cullens of ‘Twilight’, the characters that have so thoroughly captured the hearts and Cullensimagination of teenage girls the world over (and perhaps just as many girls of rather more advanced years).They are impossibly fast, fantastically strong, and live outside the normal boundaries of possibility. Oh- and they are exquisitely, inhumanly beautiful and will stay that way. Forever. Even Bella, the modest mortal unaffected by vanity, feels the pressure of growing older while her immortal lover remains a perfectly preserved seventeen for the rest of eternity. Understandable maybe, but most of us don’t need a vampire boyfriend to identify with her aging anxiety.

I recently threw a make-up party for my friends and family. Actually I threw two: one for my age-alike friends and one for more mature ladies. I collected together images of beautiful celebrities to inspire my guests to recreate their favourite looks but I ran into difficulties when looking for women that I thought my older friends would relate to. With no shortage of ‘pretty young things’ to choose from there was a distinct scarcity of beauty role-models after the age of 50. My aunt had requested Twiggy as her beauty inspiration but when I searched for pictures of the model I was confronted by a dichotomy of images. I was confused by the apparent existence of two ‘Twiggys’; one captured sans makeup on the street outside the photography studio and one airbrushed beyond recognition in the final commercial adverts. Why the need to go to such extremes to make this successful, beloved, fashion icon appear so drastically reduced in age?

Michelle Pfeiffer ageThank goodness for Michelle Pfeiffer, the poster girl for more than just growing old gracefully, but getting even more beautiful as she does it. USA’s OK! Magazine even crowned her queen of their ‘More Beautiful with Age Poll’, edging out Cindy Crawford for the top honour. This seems to be a double edged sword however as along with this recognition comes incredulity, surprise and cynicism. In almost every interview with the actress I have read, the issue of her age and beauty consistently arises- as if it is incomprehensible that the two are able to exist together.

Perhaps this is why she took the role in ‘Stardust’. Director Matthew Vaughn was outspoken on his vision for the film as an ironic comment on society’s obsession with staying young and beautiful. In response to the role, Pfeiffer herself spoke of “the degree that women will go to find eternal youth and how we mutilate ourselves for it”, illustrating the level of “desperation” that exists in our society around the concept of getting old.

And it is not just Hollywood actresses who are feeling the strain. Women everywhere are being put under more and more pressure to slow down the aging process. Girls in their twenties are already being encouraged to spend their money on expensive anti-wrinkle creams while many of these products  have come under fire from the Advertising Standards Authority for misleading adverts based on a lack of objective measures, records or really any hard proof that they work at all.

I can attest to having my own mini-meltdown when on the eve of my twentieth birthday I discovered something that gave me heart palpitations and a sudden urge to research Botox treatments. There, right between my eyebrows, plain as day (to me if not ANYBODY else I frantically pointed it out to) was my first wrinkle. Thankfully my rather more grounded friends talked me down from my hysteria and at 20 I managed to survive my early-life crisis. Surely I am now mentally prepared for 30, 40… 50?

I have used the phrase ‘youth and beauty’ numerous times in this article- as if they naturally go together. the fact is that they have become synonymous; we equate youth with beauty in such a way that we have come to believe that youth IS beauty.

I think people have lost sight in some ways of what is beautiful

– Michelle Pfeiffer

Another actress who found getting older to be a positive process is Teri Hatcher who, on hitting the big 4-0, declared “I feel more comfortable with myself now…I feel more whole”. As I discussed in a previous article (Makeup- Concealing or Revealing) beauty is as much about feeling good as looking good, and many older women agree that with age comes greater confidence. This is often manifested in a conviction and serenity that was conspicuously lacking in their youth. And let’s not forget those truly hideous fashion moments- no matter what age, we have all had them- that hopefully diminish as we grow older and develop a greater awareness of our own personal style.

So am I nearing the end of the ‘best days of my life’? I sincerely hope not. Not that I am in denial of getting older- for as Elle Macpherson sagely notes “Either you age or you die, so I’ll take the ageing option, please”- just denying that these were my best days. I am riddled with self-doubt; what to wear, who to date, what job to take, where to live… Am I doing the right thing? Is this really what I want? What do other people think?…

So I am taking the advice of Jennifer Aniston to heart: “You don’t know as much as you know in your 20’s as you do in your 30’s as you do when you are 40… It’s good!” And if worrying gives you wrinkles- why worry about getting older! Instead enjoy every experience of a hopefully long and rich life and, to finish with one more quote from the lovely Ms Pfeiffer, ““I’m a really happy person, I enjoy life. I think you see that on people. I think there is nothing more aging than misery.”

*Names have been changed to protect the lovely ticket seller

5 Comments leave one →
  1. Adele permalink
    05/04/2010 19:41

    Love it! Best article yet.

    Warning tho- dorian gray is scary!
    A x

  2. Emma permalink
    16/09/2010 16:27

    Love how oscar wilde’s novel is more relevant now than when it was written. Also, on a unrelated note – Ben Barnes was second in line to play Edward Cullen- what is it about British guys that always gets them cast as the hot bad guys?

    • PrettyinPrint permalink*
      17/09/2010 17:30

      Absolutely! And also interesting is how everybody assumes Dorian must be good because he has the face of an angel, as if physical beauty is some measure of purity. In reality we have all seen how outward beauty so often corrupts- I don’t know what that says about Robert Pattinson or Ben Barnes!

  3. 16/09/2010 16:36

    You may have lost your “Young persons” rail card BUT-Look what you have to look forward to… your OAP CARD!! Free rides on buses!!
    Wonderful article!
    A Shirli-ism …”Aging is not lost youth” But a new stage of opportunity and strength!
    As someone once said…
    YOUTH is the gift of nature but AGE is a work of art!

  4. Sweetpea permalink
    21/09/2010 17:30

    do you know who Carmen Dell’Orefice is? She is 78 and still a model…gorgeous! Image search her on google. I want to look like her one day…

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