Honouring the Real Faces of Older Women

The Vanishing Face of the Older Woman

Judi Dench is 77, and we have forgotten what 77 should look like. She looks old, and she looks gorgeous. These two things are not incompatible.

Truly, she is the Only reason why I watch Bond. She’s gorgeous and she gives me courage. I thought I would be immune to this ridiculous and misplaced obsession with youth and abhorrence of anything resembling agedness, but I’ve discovered I’m not. I don’t know which is worse, realizing I’m not immune or feeling that pervasive and insidious insecurity.

I’ve sheltered myself as much as anyone in a large city can. I haven’t had a television in years; I don’t listen to commercial radio; I don’t read beauty magazines. Because of this, I am, for the most part, shielded from the relentless onslaught of negative, agist ads. And yet, only a couple of days ago, I looked in the mirror and noticed how much older I look, how the wrinkles crease around my eyes when I smile, sight of wrinkles stealing light away: they’re not just laugh lines. Yes, I have those, but these wrinkles betray the undercurrent of exhaustion I talk about so freely but was, apparently, hoping never to wear so plainly on my skin.

There comes a point when your face is your badge of honour.

And I do hope there also comes a point when I can appreciate that honour, appreciate the experience behind the exhaustion, the perspective it’s given me, and reach a point of acceptance and, thus, liberation. I would love to trade these flashes of insecurity for thumbing my nose at agism, would love to trade the dearth of older women wearing their own faces for the glorification of life lines.

I give women like Dame Judi Dench and Dame Maggie Smith, my grandmother, and many other older women, my gratitude. Their beauty is in their realness. And if authenticity is something I strive for, and I believe it is, then this is part of my learning curve: to live my life honouring what my face and the rest of my body has to show me.

empowering the female reader

I’ve been reading a chapter on Christine de Pizan (1363 – c. 1430) in The Cambridge Companion to Medieval French Literature, and I came across a passage that mirrored a section of an interview on Caitlin Moran that I read a day or two ago:

‎”If texts such as Matheolus’s Lamentations argue that the female body is vile and monstrous, the allegory of [Christine de Pizan’s] Cité des dames addresses itself to rewriting the discourse of the monstrous feminine so that the implied female reader of the Cité des dames might experience a less disabling form of female embodiment.” p.130 Cambridge Companion to Medieval French Literature

This reminds me of the reason behind Caitlin Moran writing How To Be a Woman:

I wrote “How to be a Woman” for my sister: a twenty-five-year-old single mother living on benefits, who’s never read a book in her life, and only reads celebrity magazines and watches “Jerry Springer” or MTV. She has no idea what feminism is, other than something from the olden days that’s a bore. I thought, The only images she ever sees of women are either of celebrities with “circles of shame” around their sweat patches or berating them for having put on ten pounds or “trailer trash” mums being screamed at by an audience. Her view of being a woman is so terrifying and restrictive. As her older sister, I want to put my hands on her shoulder and go, “The reason you feel weird is because this culture is being rude to you. This has become a very impolite society toward women.” I wanted to write a book that would make her go, “That happened to me! And that! And that!,” so she didn’t feel weird about being a normal woman anymore. And then I wanted to go, “Do you know what feminism actually is? It just means women being equal to men. That whatever they get, and feel comfortable with, we get, and feel comfortable with, too. Are you a feminist?” And she rang me the day she read the book, and went, “I’m a feminist. I’ve always been a feminist.” And I cried. And wished I’d charged her for the book.

Read more: Interview with Caitlin Moran

“…so that the implied female reader… might experience a less disabling form of female embodiment…”

FTR, Christine de Pizan was writing in the early 1400s. I want to say, “The more things change, the more they stay the same,” but it feels so negative to do so. It’s undeniable that there are still, STILL problems and that misogyny is just as monstrous a beast as it was 600 years ago when Mme de Pizan was first writing.

We’ve come a long way in becoming more conscious of the manners in which patriarchal society has threaded itself through our ways of existing in the world, and we’ve still so far to go. Bit by bit, we’ll dismantle it and create the egalitarian world society we would all want to live in, and we’ll do it by continuing to empower the female reader, as well as the male reader: both are equally important. It is so often overlooked how damaging patriarchal culture is to men; they need to be made aware, just as women do, of how women truly exist. Not some impossible idealization of physical beauty or social comportment, but real women with real problems and real solutions and all the variances and nuances in our realness.