Have you had Botox?
My friend, a smart and successful entrepreneur, and I were sitting in the sunshine at her house overlooking the bay, when she popped the question over a bottle of Chablis. An hour or more previously I had happened to pass by her gate, on my way to the shop. One of the hazards of living in a place where other people spend their holidays is that running out of milk can become a drinking occasion.
“No I haven’t,” I replied genuinely delighted, “but thank you. That’s such a lovely thing to say.”
This is what we’ve come to: inquiring as to whether someone has had micro doses of a neurotoxic protein produced by the bacterium clostridium botulinum injected into their face is what passes for a compliment to today’s independent, modern and fundamentally self-loathing women.
The entrepreneur confessed that she had been delighted to have been told her she looked emaciated on her wedding day. I told her about my favourite-ever compliment – the long ago time a friend took me aside and told me I that I was in danger of looking haggard if I lost any more weight.
Why is it that women are so desperate to become less than we are – smaller, thinner and, perhaps most of all, younger?
I wish I could be that woman, the one who lets her hair succumb to the incoming tide of grey; who looks on her lines as visible manifestations of her wisdom, experience and moments of side-creasing laughter. But mostly I just look on my lines and grimace. I am 42 and I look 42. Logically, I know I should celebrate it – being 42 is much better than the alternative. I am lucky. But I’m a product of our youth-worshipping culture which sees ageing as an illness, a sign of weakness, and I regularly forget that it is in fact, the precise opposite: proof that you’re a survivor.
Hats off to the beauty magazine Allure, which is attempting to make its readers reconsider how they view ageing. It announced recently that it was banning the term “anti-ageing” – or “anti-aging” – from all of its print and web pages. “Whether we know it or not, we’re subtly reinforcing the message that aging is a condition we need to battle – think anti-anxiety meds, antivirus software, or antifungal spray,” editor-in-chief Michelle Lee said in an issue of the magazine that featured Helen Mirren on the cover, looking undeniably gorgeous at 72 with glossy red lips, cool earrings, and tiny visible wrinkles. Aside from the fact that we do really need to find another role model for older women so that Helen Mirren can have the occasional day off, it was a powerful statement.