Last week I went for a meal with a group of four female friends. The conversation turned to the generalisation that men become more attractive as they get older whereas women peak in their late twenties (thirty at the latest). Despite my profound disagreement, the four others at the table agreed that this was a fact, an unquestionable truth. Men become sexier; women go southwards, was the majority view.
By perpetuating the idea that women are at their ‘peak’ at twenty-five we are not only short selling our beautiful mothers, and our future selves, but placing too high a value on youth and superficial appearance as important. And maintaining ever-damaging double-standards, too. A man’s wrinkles give character, experience, more authority (and patriarchal power). But our mothers make them look old. What is this about?
Leaving the cinema with my friend having watched the brilliant Please Give, we commented on the breath of fresh air which Catherine Keener’s face provided. Stunning high cheek bones, great hair, she’s undoubtedly never seen any side of the ugly stick. But the humanness of her face, the lack of bizarrely oversized lips / cheeks and small nose which becomes a familiar sight with women of forty-plus on screen, was brilliant. The storyline in which her character’s husband cheats with a younger beauty technician points, again, to the problem.
Conversely, on seeing the pitiful The Women (a film about how women relate to men, i.e. a film which is not about women at all), the statuesque American Beauty power of Annette Bening had long since gone, leaving a face with an uncanny difference to her former self. I winced, watching, wondering where her features had gone – into the surgeon’s bin presumably.
Not only is this about appearance. So smooth skin and plump lips are an ‘beautiful’, but, by making signs of experience ugly in women, we also suppose that elements of naivety and lack of learning, which youth perhaps reflects, is the pinnacle of how culture values women. Experience is threatening, and this is why it cannot be exposed on our faces.
I vehemently believe that these value judgements are incredibly damaging, and entirely arbitrary. Who’s to say that experience is not something to be proud of as a woman? Why do we race through our twenties before our ‘peak’ is over? What rubbish! It’s time for changing these views, and that means no more dinnertime conversations which treat these stereotypes as truth.