There is a subtle trend surfacing in Hollywood. If you happened to watch the recent broadcast of the Emmy Awards, you surely noticed that HBO was the big winner and that, amongst all the awards the network took home, the mini-series “Olive Kitteridge” reigned supreme.
I did not watch “Olive Kitteridge” but I was happy its protagonist, Frances McDormand, was called to the stage to accept her acting award: she is an extraordinary actress, an incredibly smart woman and, lately, she has become the poster child for all those women of “a certain age” (how I loathe this terminology) who will not fall prey to marketing campaigns, beauty products or procedures meant to restore a youthful appearance. Frances McDormand feels she earned her wrinkles and her grays, and wears them proudly. On Emmy night, she ascended to the stage in a dowdy black dress that maybe was meant to evoke her character, but wouldn’t have been amiss in one of Jane Austen’s fictitious households (or a Quaker one), hair messily tied back and no visible make up. The dress was hideous but I admired her guts in clearly wishing to say “I don’t conform” and, mostly, “I don’t give a shit.”
Frances McDormand is very conscious of what makes her who she is, and it’s not breast augmentation or Botox. “I am happy with the way I look” she said in a fairly recent interview with Katie Couric “[the wrinkles on your face] are the roadmap to your life.”
Another Hollywood doyenne also caught my eye for similar reasons: Helen Mirren who, at 70, has become the oldest spokesperson for a make-up giant, L’Oreal. It seems it has become fashionable to sign up older models these days. Finally, as marketing research catches up with reality, older women are recognized for their untapped purchasing power. According to The Guardian, “L’Oréal’s own research shows that half of women over 50 feel overlooked, even though the over-50s hold more than 80% of the country’s wealth and spend more on beauty products than younger women. It’s taken a very long time for the penny to drop, Mirren says, because women have been 50 for a very long time, or 60, or 70.”
(I strongly recommend you read the whole brilliant interview).
Helen Mirren has always danced to her own tune but never more so than now. And she is very open in sharing what has worked for her over the course of her long career. Not feeling the need to conform and not caring what others had to say played a major role. “I hate the word beautiful. Kate Moss is beautiful, so is David Beckham, and I can appreciate a beautiful girl walking down the street. Young is beautiful. But the majority of us are something else, and I wish there was another word for the rest of us. […] I definitely don’t look better now than when I was young. Definitely not. Of course I looked better then. The great thing that happens as you age is that you don’t really give a flying fuck. I don’t look so good, but I don’t care.”
I have always found Helen Mirren inspiring for the attitude that exudes both on and off-screen but I can’t help admiring her now for doing her part in paving the way, in showing how the aging process can be successfully managed without having to hold on to the impression of youth at all costs. Above all, she is showing us we have the power to reshape things differently.
“I had high hopes for Madonna” sofagirl said during our latest Skype chat. “that she would be the trailblazer, that she would show us all how to age differently. Instead, she is recording the same songs and holding tight to her ideal of youth.”
There is nothing wrong in wanting to look our best. If a bit of Botox or a nose job can help our self-esteem, by all means, let’s go for it. In Ms. McDormand’s shoes, I would have basked in the choice of the best couture out there – we are all different. But to think that a facelift or an un-creased forehead will grant us access to the same opportunities we had in our 30s, is not only naive but also does a great disservice to the cause of women’s equality.
If, at 30, we still look for validation in a relationship, in the power our freshness confers us, in a career we are still hoping to shape, twenty and thirty years later, circumstances better have changed. No matter how much we invest in our appearance, it will never be the driving force behind anything anymore. It shouldn’t be.
We have left stupidity, carelessness, appalling utterances and selfishness behind. We are free to build on our wisdom, our expertise, and on everything we have learnt, kept and discarded along the way. Frankly, I could do without that stupid wrinkle by the side of my mouth I earned from sleeping on my side for most of my life. But will filling it make me a better person? A more interesting one? Or even different? Does anyone even notice it but me? Would even my fiercest critic begin a description of me talking about my wrinkles? Hardly. High time I stopped caring
Back in the 1960s, the incredibly talented and Oscar-winning actress, Anna Magnani demanded her photos not be retouched: “Do not dare erase my wrinkles. It took me a lifetime to earn them.” I am not quite sure I can accept wrinkles as a badge of honor just yet but I am fiercely working to get there.