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.