Edel Coffey: Don’t be panicking about your age

Edel Coffey: Don’t be panicking about your age

I was in a clothes shop in Dublin last week, queuing up waiting to pay. As I stood in the queue, bored, I noticed a woman in the line beside me. She was buying a slinky magenta-pink dress. The cashier ooh-ed and ahh-ed over the dress and I stole a glance at the woman. She was probably mid-fifties and looked a bit like Michelle Pfeiffer. Ice-blonde hair, brilliant bone structure and a huge smile. She caught me looking so I told her what I was thinking — the dress would surely look fantastic on her.

She deflected, as many Irish women of a certain age are wont to do, and replied that she had a brutally honest daughter at home who she would probably run the dress by before wearing it. I suggested that maybe she shouldn’t bother asking for the daughter’s opinion at all and just enjoy wearing the dress instead. “I’d rather know,” she said. “If my daughter is thinking it other people will be thinking it too.” I had to think about that one. 

This woman had nothing to fear from wearing this dress, I thought. This woman looked to me like she could wear the original Michelle Pfeiffer black patent leather cat woman outfit if she wanted to. But the old notions of what we can and can’t get away with as women of a certain age were clearly at play. As a doomy phrase floated up from the recesses of my mind, ‘mutton dressed as lamb’, one of the worst crimes an ageing woman can commit, I smiled and conceded she was probably right.

I had been thinking about age-related happiness over the last few weeks for a few reasons. One reason being the high-profile octogenarian marriages that had been reported in the news. Kerry GAA legend Mick O’Dwyer marrying for the second time at the age of 86, and the astronaut Buzz Aldrin marrying for the fourth time at the age of 93. Another reason I was thinking about this was because the oldest woman alive, Maria Branyas, was newly announced. She’s 116 and is on Twitter with the gloriously arch bio: ‘I’m old, very old, but not an idiot.’ (Underestimate her at your own risk.) 

But while the octogenarians seem to be living their best lives, the demographic that I belong to — working women in their 40s with small children — seems to be in a state of panic and attrition, torturing ourselves about underachieving in our careers, not spending enough time with our families and self-flagellating our bodies as they refuse to defy free radicals and gravity and continue to age in spite of our best efforts. We watch in horror as the edges of our jawlines grow craggy like the high cliffs of Connemara, the ones that are visited only by the hardiest of rams with three years worth of wool growth. We wonder is it time to finally get botox.


I’ve noticed a lot of women my age are genuinely worried about the transition from young, sexy, relevant women into what they assume will be the opposite of all that. But it doesn’t have to be that way. My c

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