An older friend of mine says that when she turned 40, she decided to stop caring about her appearance. She ditched the make up, ditched the heels, and has resolutely stuck to comfortable clothing ever since.
She’s now in her mid-50s, the same age as my hairdresser. The hairdresser is slender, elegant and has a flawless face – she’s pretty open that she’s a botox user. Anyway, although my hairdresser and my friend were in the same class at school together, they look about ten years apart.
When I turned 40, I went and got a great haircut from the hairdresser. And after staring at her furtively in the mirror for an hour while she cut my hair, I left the salon and made a botox appointment.
I’ve done it a few times since.
According to Invisible Woman in the Guardian, this is buying into a marketing and media construct:
Do not think for a moment that we believe the manufactured myth that ageing is a problem to be solved, and please stop treating the entirely natural process of ageing as though it is a crime, a personal failing or a disease with a cure – it isn’t.
She’s right, of course. Ageing is a natural process and it’s not a crime. But if you’re female, it might as well be – and don’t tell me how fabulous Joanna Lumley and Helen Mirren look, despite the fact that they’re wrinklies. They looked fabulous when they were young, too, and having great cheekbones protects their looks somewhat as they age. But it’s noteworthy that many of their contemporaries have fallen by the wayside. We hear about Mirren and Lumley so much because they’re the exceptions, not the rule.
When I was 20, the age of 30 seemed impossible to contemplate. At 30, the age of 40 seemed a safe distance into the future. At 40, 50 suddenly feels all too close. And 50, if you’re a professional woman, is a bad, bad place to be. It’s the age at which you fall out of the work force if you’re unfortunate enough to become unemployed. Or if you get back in, you can expect to do so at a lower rate of pay. I think a lot about the big Five-Oh and what I can do in my 40s to make sure I’m not unemployed in my 50s. Keeping on top of technological skills is one thing. Getting obsessive about maintaining looks is another. Don’t get fat. Protect the skin. Keep exercising and maintaining muscle mass.
There are a few ways out of this. One is to be wealthy enough not to care. Wealthy European women don’t go round with botoxed faces and artificial hair colours – they let the wrinkles and grey show. Good for them. Then again, they don’t have to go to the office every day.
Another is to be incredibly successful early, like a friend of mine who’s a partner in a major law firm and who has her mansion paid off, the kids’ school fees under control and a fat pension pot. Or someone else I know, who retired from her role in a hedge fund age 42. Neither of them need to work again, so it doesn’t matter if they suddenly get fat or develop double chins.
A third option a woman can take is to become a powerful politician, like a minister or Angela Merkel. Or be a world leader, like Hilary Clinton or Christine Lagarde.
Oh, hang on, these are all the same things, aren’t they? If you’re wealthy and powerful, you can escape the trap.
I guess if you’re entrepreneurial, you can spend your 50s starting successful businesses, though good luck with that. Mostly people who are successful entrepreneurs in their 50s are successful because they started their business a long time ago. The ones I know who have attempted to go out on their own in their 50s are eking out a precarious existence as ‘consultants’ or freelancers.
There are many professions where looks don’t count, like medicine. But for the rest of us, especially anyone working in a corporate environment, you literally can’t afford to let wrinkles and grey hair show, because the financial fallout will be punishing.
I don’t know what the answer to this is and I’m acutely aware that by getting botox and whitening my teeth I’m perpetuating a trap. But at the same time, I’m not going to do anything to jeopardize my earning power.
So botox it is. And yoga and salmon and weights and sunblock and dieting.
Yeah, I know. It’s crazy and expensive and ultimately futile. Age will come, whether I like it or not. But if anybody has a way out of the trap that doesn’t involve magic amounts of wealth that will suddenly appear from the sky, let me know.