Angry and feminist: two words that have coexisted for years, I suspect since feminism first kicked off. I haven’t identified as an angry feminist before, but this morning I got hopping mad about a feminist issue, so I think I’ve joined the club.
As readers of this blog will have seen in a previous post, I am anti-anti-ageing. I think the beauty industry is potentially as corrosive as the diet industry, asking you to spend up to £150 on a pot of cream that will “visibly tighten, firm and refine your face and neck”. My eye it will. You may have read about the £1 Nivea triumph over Crème de la Mer, and despite having no scientific knowledge to back this up, it’s my sneaking suspicion that whatever cream you buy, you will at some stage just look like your mother.
But it’s not about whether they work or not that I’m concerning myself with. It’s the fact that we are repeatedly told not to accept the way we look, or are going to look. Fear is the enemy of progress, and magazines that devote three pages (or even whole issues) to reversing the signs of ageing make me mad because they’re forcing us to worry about things that shouldn’t matter. It’s especially bad when they style themselves as magazines for thinking women. In the very same issue (out today) that Stylist tell us to ‘Prepare your skin for lift off’ (in the article entitled ‘Defying Gravity’), the columnist (who I’ve always liked) Lucy Mangan asks ‘Are we on the cusp of an age revolution?’
It’s bad planning on the magazine’s front. If you are going to promote opposing views on the question of whether or not we should celebrate the older female face, at least do it in different issues. On page 28 Mangan tells us she feels ‘optimistic’ that Nars has chosen 68 year old Charlotte Rampling as its ‘face’, and that other older women are increasingly fronting brand campaigns; on page 44 three pages begin about the latest anti-ageing products that “go way beyond treating wrinkles in order to combat the laws of physics”. Writer Evie Leatham talks about how 30-somethings can buy products that ‘halt gravity around the eyes’, among other age-defying feats.
This juxtaposition of what I consider a healthy view – acceptance, or even celebration of older age – and the simultaneous showcasing of expensive skin products was the subject of a letter of complaint I wrote to Stylist last November, pasted below. I know writing letters of complaint makes me a bit of a mad woman, but there you go. I just think it would be so refreshing to read more about how we should approach ageing in a positive way, looking forward to the confidence and wisdom I have been told it brings, by those between 5 and 35 years older than me. It would be nice to see models with laughter lines, just as magazines have supposedly started to show them with curves (not that I’ve noticed a huge amount of that).
It’s not even that I don’t want to buy beauty products – I do buy them, but my motives are never to look younger (possibly I don’t need to since I got ID’d on Saturday) – but it’s the language and messaging about ageing I believe we need to change. Let’s scrap the words ‘anti-ageing’, ‘defying gravity’, ‘reversing the signs of time’. Let’s be positive about the natural progression of our lives, and not try to fight ourselves, spending money on a little bottle in order to feel more confident. Products can be good, if they prevent sun damage, pollution damage, help people with dry or oily skin go more the other way, moisturise it. Let’s think about another way to look than youthful, and be happy about it.
My letter from ‘Angry, of Croydon’, written in response to a different issue of the magazine, wasn’t answered. I’m pasting it below. Ok, it’s a bit of a mad woman letter, and I suspect my colleagues think I am slightly insane to have SUCH a bee in my bonnet (they get to hear a lot about this, lucky devils). I think we can all agree that after this, I’m probably not going to get to write for Stylist anytime soon! But no matter.
I’d be really interested to know what others think about this issue. Should we enter our thirtieth year with grand plans to freeze time right there? Or even wind it back to when we were – what – 21? 18? 10?!
Subject: Issue 197 – reader feedback Sent 06/11/2013
I would like to preface this email by saying I am an avid Stylist reader and fan; in fact I aspire to contribute to Stylist as a writer in the future. Yet I feel compelled to write in response to your latest issue because I am dismayed at the way Stylist portrays ageing and the need to combat the process with beauty products and procedures.
I don’t remember whether I have previously read that it is your policy not to promote dieting, or if that was just something notably different about Stylist to other women’s magazines. Either way, I am glad of it, because I personally look for more interesting content than the latest fad to make me thinner. Stylist usually champions women’s differences and leaves the reader uplifted, rather than hungry for self-improvement. That is one of the best things about it.
On the other hand, I find the fact your cover rejoices in scientists’ plans to ‘eradicate signs of ageing forever’ disconcerting; and in the magazine itself you promise that the products included in the skincare awards guarantee ‘age-defying skin’. I’m 29, and most of my friends who read Stylist are hovering above and below 30, though a colleague who is 60, also really likes it. Perhaps I’m in the minority, but I really think it’s unhealthy for people at my stage in life to be preoccupied with old age, when we should be, and are, enjoying the prime of our lives. For my friendship group our twenties were a combination of heady, reckless fun and angst-filled discussions about what on earth we’re going to do with our lives, and we’re finally approaching something that feels like contentment, satisfaction, self-confidence. At this stage, I don’t feel in the least that old age is beckoning as enthusiastically as beauty companies would have us believe, and if it is, we should really be wondering how we’re going to embrace it with open arms, rather than iron it out.
To think about defying ageing is exhausting, not to mention creepy. I doubt any of us would want to eradicate the signs of ageing forever really, given that most high profile age-fighters – mainly celebrities who’ve undergone surgery – look frozen, and all the older for their attempts to recreate the smoothness of skin that naturally comes with youth. I am inspired by the words of Helena Bonham Carter on page 9 of this week’s Stylist, when she explains her love of The Velveteen Rabbit. I agree that we should look at ageing as the sign that you are ‘truly loved’, or that you’ve lived at least. I do appreciate some of the tips in the skincare awards, but the line ‘Instead of just claiming to reverse the signs of ageing, award-winning creams must now protect against future ageing too’ seems totally ridiculous and improbable to me at best, and at worst, deeply worrying. But I’ll try not to furrow my brow, lest I get a wrinkle, and what will happen then? The answer, I think, is nothing: no one will love me less, least of all me. Ageing is good, it is natural and it is inevitable.
I totally disagree with your comment that new skincare technologies are going to make us feel ‘very, VERY good’ – I actually think that, as with too-thin models and diet promotion, promoting older women with baby soft skin and peddling wipe-on Botox, has the potential to make us feel very, very bad about ourselves.