When it comes to female icons, few have lasted in my pantheon for as long as Grace Jones. Usually, something comes along to dull my admiration – the weight-loss video, for example, or an overdose of plastic surgery. But that never happened with Grace.
So while part of me was ecstatic at seeing her steal the show at the Tommy x Zendaya runway show at Paris Fashion Week, another part was blasé. This is, after all, the woman who hula-hooped her way through a performance for the Queen so really, what did you expect?
Except it appears that’s not what some people expected. Or rather, not what they expected from someone 70.
For me, when I saw Grace boogie her way down the catwalk, I was blown away by a strong, confident woman loving life. Forget scowling with a model pout or walking as if she were a prancing pony on steroids; Grace put the Gigis, Kendalls and Bellas to shame.
Yet the media could only see a woman of retirement age who incredibly was still able to dance and look good in fashionable clothes. (They obviously hadn’t read my piece on dancer Dee Quemby!)
After they’d focussed on her age in the headlines, the news reports were filled with admiration about her “age-defying physique” and “ageless body”. “Its hard to believe Grace is 70,” said one caption. (And yes, I know that should be “It’s”, but that is how it was written. Bet 70-year-old Grace knows how to use an apostrophe…)
Shortly after Grace’s performance, I heard about the death of Doña Mercedes Junco Calderon, the founder of ¡Hola! (Spain’s Hello! magazine), at the age of 98. I had the pleasure of working with Doña Mercedes on the fashion specials when I lived in Madrid. She came into the office every day, dressed so smartly that it put everyone to shame, and had just finished the spring/summer fashion special before she died.
Heaven knows what the tabloids would have made of that!
Nor of the woman I met at the Women’s Institute last month – 90 and walking on her treadmill for 30 minutes each morning to keep fit and active. Or the lady Mr 50Sense and I met on the train in 2013, just before – anxious about all we had given up – we set off to Toronto for a six-month sabbatical before starting a new life in London.
She was in her early 80s and waiting for a double hip transplant, but was heading off on holiday with her friends because “life just gets boring, otherwise”. She then proceeded to tell us all her travels, her visits to places in the world I dream of, and left us feeling both ashamed that we had been so anxious and also inspired to start a new adventure.
How did we become so ageist?
Ageism seems to be embedded in our society even though, almost every day, I see older people defying expectations about how they should behave and act.
One of my favourite podcasts regularly – and unconsciously – targets “older people” or (my particular pet peeve and one that often drives me to tweet them) “older feminists” for today’s ills or to dismiss views not considered “woke”.
Or there are the people who tweet about how the older generation has stolen the younger generation’s future by voting for Brexit, ignoring the fact that almost 30% of 18-24-year-olds also voted Leave (mainly men) while around 40% of those aged 50 and over voted Remain.
Now I know this may be a shock, but incredibly – and just like young people – we’re not a homogenous group.
However, subconsciously, we all view older people in a certain way – and it’s not good. While I scowled at Donald Trump (72) telling Brigitte Macron (65) she was “in such good shape” (the subtext being “for your age” – see below), I’ve certainly expressed disbelief over how young/old someone looks. “She’s never that age, is she? Wow!” In the same way, I get told I don’t look 52 and I preen. I’m sorry, but I do.
Consumerism has a major role to play in this. Creams are sold to us as “anti-ageing”, as if ageing – or certainly looking as if you’re ageing – is something to be avoided. Diversity in the modelling world rarely stretches to having older models, unless the clothing range is specifically targeted at that age group (because anyone over the age of 40 should not be going into Topshop or H&M, obviously).
Birthday cards make jokes about “not being another year older” and YouTube tutorials tell us the make-up tricks to look younger.
All in all, the message is that youth is good, age is bad.
Well, I’ve got bad news for you – day by day, we’re all ageing. And it’s pretty good.
What can we do to fight ageism?
Among the many things ageing has taught me is that nothing is forever. There is no reason for these antiquated attitudes to continue. We just need to take a few simple steps:
Just as we don’t expect someone 20 to be the same as someone 30, we shouldn’t lump 60 year olds in with people who are 90.
Stop assuming younger is better
No, we’re not like fine wines, thank you Hallmark Cards. But each day does bring new experiences, emotions, conversations and thoughts that help us grow. We celebrate young children growing older, it’s time to do that every year of our lives. Wisdom is amazing.
We can’t all be Grace Jones or Doña Mercedes, but that is what makes us so amazing. Everyone of us is unique so stop expecting people to be a certain way.
More of us are living longer than ever before and in better health than ever before, which is something to celebrate. Make sure you eat well, exercise and activate your brain and look forward to life because you could have a lot of it left.
If someone is ageist, call them out on it – nicely. A simple: “What do you mean?” will do!
Mind your language
Most importantly, we have to change the way we talk about growing older because words have a huge impact on our mental state of being. After all, if someone keeps telling you something is bad, you start believing it.
So don’t say someone is “XX years young” or that you’re having a “nana nap” (we all know they’re disco naps anyway) and don’t call an older person a cutsie name like “love” or “sweetheart” (they have a name. Use it.)
And definitely – DEFINITELY – do not deliver any of these false compliments:
You’re never that old?
Fifty is the new 40
She’s amazing for her age
I’m young at heart
I’m having a senior moment
She’s over the hill
- You’re still doing that at your age? Wow…
What phrases about growing older do you like or dislike? Let me know in the comments below
Main image: Zendaya on Instagram
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