Louise O’Neill: Getting older

Louise O’Neill: Getting older

I was 18 when Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle was released in 2003. I still remember the hype around Demi Moore’s cameo in the movie, the breathless gushing over her body, the rumours about plastic surgery. Photos of her in a bikini were published in the gossip magazines, commentators saying – can you believe Demi looks this good? At her age?!

She was 41 at the time and it seemed to be inconceivable to the general public that a woman didn’t shrivel up and turn into a crone once she hit her forties.

It’s interesting to me because there are plenty of women around the same age in my gym classes now, women who don’t look good ‘for their age’, they just look good.

When I think of my grandmother when she was the same age as my mother is now, she seemed much older.

Perhaps it was the way she dressed – I can’t imagine her sharing clothes with her daughters, the way my mother and sister often do – but I also think it’s because we are constantly re-defining what a certain age ‘means’. 40 is the new 30. 50 is the new 40.

We are able to maintain ourselves – in how we feel and in how we look – more successfully than the generations that went before. For so long, the accepted wisdom has been that men age better than women. They are more ‘distinguished’ as they get older, but we become increasingly haggard. But honestly, I don’t know if that’s true. 

I look around at my peers and the men are wearing the same checked shirts tucked into crisp denim jeans while the women I went to school with still look cool – “oh this old thing?” they say airily. “Picked it up in a flea market in Paris, it really works with my Veja sneakers don’t you think?”

They are all visions of gleaming skin and tousled hair, while the men look as if they’ve been exhumed from a shallow grave.

We can’t discount the role skincare plays in this – while the modern man has begrudgingly given in to using a basic moisturiser, women are bulk buying retinols and vitamin C serums.

Not to mention the SPF, which every woman I know wears religiously and every man I know seems to think is a novelty item they pick up at Malaga airport before a sun holiday.

And then, of course, we have the ‘tweakments’. It is much more common for women in their thirties and forties and beyond to dabble in non-surgical anti-ageing treatments such as Botox, Profhilo (injectable hyaluronic acid) and Ultherapy (an ultrasound procedure that tightens the skin) than it is for men.

I certainly don’t think every woman using Botox to get rid of her frown lines is doing so because of The Patriarchy – sometimes it’s just nice to look rested even if your toddler has been waking you up at 4am for ‘chats’ – but it’s worth having a conversation about how gender intersects with ageing.

Perhaps men are less likely to get Botox or dye their hair because a few grey hairs and wrinkles are said to make them more attractive, not less.

We mock actresses who have had visible ‘work’ done, ridiculing them for their attempts to cling to their youth, while simultaneously being appalled by those who have the temerity to look older.

We expect women in the public eye to stay the same as they did when they first became famous but we do not want to see any evidence of what they might have to do to achieve that.

And while yes, men are biologically capable of

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