Why it’s time to stop saying women lose their looks when they get older

Ah, don’t you love inspiring newspaper headlines? Headlines that make you sit up and grab life to the fullest. Headlines that make you want to change the world. Headlines that encourage you to embrace the fact you’re an ugly bugger because you’re old…

I don’t know who in the Guardian wrote this headline:

but you can bet your Sex and the City box set it wasn’t a 50-year-old woman.

I can see them now, clicking away at the keyboard, thinking: “Yes, I have a headline that will be clutched to the heaving, matronly bosoms of women who have lost their looks all over the world,” while confetti rained down upon them and Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus rang out around the newsroom.

Or, more likely, they quickly typed a headline filled with a trope about growing older to hit deadline.

It’s a shame, because there is lots in Gaby Hinsliff’s piece to like and I do recommend you get past the headline and give it a read (jump to the last third and forget the bit where she says HRT is free).

Time for some meno-tweaks?

Women are inextricably bound up in their looks and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t look in the mirror and pull the sides of my face back to remember how I looked pre-wrinkles.

And yes, I’ve had Botox. Twice. The first time because I wanted to look younger and the second time because I’d forgotten how much I hated it the first time. I still google local clinics because now I wonder if I would still hate it a third time.

Time lapse video shows 'little girl growing into an old woman'

My eye bags are different and I would never have fillers. Because eight years after I did try fillers, I’m still left with a small bump under my left eye that is, in my mind, the size of Kilimanjaro when I look in the mirror (as I pull my face taut).

Nope, fillers for my bags are out. Now if someone were to offer me an alternative method…

So for all I bang on about embracing growing older and I’m never ashamed about saying my age, I know that I am as caught up in societal pressure as all the young things sighing over filtered influencers on social media.

But despite my wrinkles and the grey hairs and the jowly Nigel Lawson bits around my chin, I haven’t lost my looks. Far from it.

This photo is me when I was young – 18ish, I think. The beautiful women at the front are schoolfriends and I’m the Rosemary West lookalike at the back.

Fast-forward 34 years and despite the ageing process, I look less like the stereotypical middle-aged housewife than I did then.

Do we lose our looks?

Like many women, experience, confidence and learning to like myself have all played a part in helping me embrace my looks as I get older. (And forget this “invisible woman” rubbish. In January, I was chatted up by the second-most handsome man to ever chat me up. The most handsome man was and is, of course, Mr 50Sense. Except I chatted him up. And I still would.)

Would I like to look fresher? Yes please. Would I like to look like my younger days? You’re joking! They’re looks I’m happy to have lost.

There is so much to like in Gaby Hinsliff’s piece, so why am I frowning? Ultimately, it is the underlying ageism that runs through a piece that ostensibly is trying to empower women. To tell them not to be afraid of the ageing process because that shows their true character and that is what makes them truly beautiful.

All this is spot on and I would be doing the Meryl Streep ovation if it weren’t for this:

For there is something oddly cleansing about the loss of one’s looks, as there is about letting go of anything once hoarded. It’s not so much a feeling of relief as a challenge, a brutal but necessary rite of passage which with luck can still open the door to something interesting; an era when looks alone are not enough, when the millions who were never gorgeous enough to trade on their faces may come into their own, and the beautiful have to think of other ways to get by.

Because it’s not only demeaning to us older women, implying that we’re hackit old crones and should just accept it, but also to younger women who are much more than their looks.

Beautiful women rarely get by just by being beautiful. Elizabeth Hurley is a stunning looking woman. She’s also a successful actress, producer, businesswoman and charity campaigner. Nevertheless, the latest news article about her discusses her beauty regime, just as her looks have been the main topic about her since that Four Weddings and a Funeral dress. (She’s so clever she’s used it to her advantage.)

Looks alone have rarely, if ever, been enough and beautiful people can have as much character and strength and humanity as any Plain Jane (or John).

(Speaking of which, why is the emphasis on women? George Clooney has wrinkles – and grey hair – and so have Richard E Grant, Keanu Reeves, Hugh Jackman, Hugh Grant, Keith Richards, Andre Agassi, Justin Timberlake, Bruce Willis. None of them look the same as they did 20 or 30 years ago, but would anyone suggest they should undergo a “brutal but necessary rite of passage” and say goodbye to caring how they look to embrace their humanity?)

Never surrender

Getting older doesn’t mean giving up on looking good. The women at my mum’s housing complex compare “smart tops” and ask where they got each other’s outfits from just the way they have since they were 14 or 15.

I popped in for a cup of tea with my neighbour the other day. It was lunchtime and I was working from home so I hadn’t bothered to get dressed up. Apart from washing my hair, the only effort I’d made was putting on a T-shirt and a pair of jeans.

My neighbour, on the other hand, had on a nice top and trousers, earrings in, wore a big statement necklace and had applied a light touch of make-up. She’s in her 80s. I pity the person who tells her she’s lost her looks. Or that by caring about them she’s not a fully-rounded character.

Yes, we’re getting older and our looks are changing. But we’re not losing them, we’re gaining new ones.

And society learning to see our wrinkles and grey hair as being as beautiful as a baby’s peach-like skin is what will liberate us.

What do you think? Do we lose our looks when we get older? Leave me your thoughts in the comments below.

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3 thoughts on “Why it’s time to stop saying women lose their looks when they get older”

  1. Michelle Burlinson

    I’ve never been afraid of growing old or “loosing my looks,” I just never saw it in those terms! Yes I’ve turned a few heads in my youth and it was more disconcerting than exciting but then again I never fully was happy or confident in my own skin. Now I’m 54, grey, wrinkles and a few stone heavier, I can honestly say I’m comfortable with myself! I’m not interested in trying to look younger but trying to keep well and healthy. Every day I visit elderly patients in their homes treating them for all sorts of ailments and I’m reminded that health is the most important thing we have, more important than our physical looks. Growing older is a privilege denied by many which very sadly is very pertinent to the current situation we’ve all been in living in for the past year! Try not to focus so much on your looks but more on your health and well-being and the rest will take care of itself.

    1. I love this:

      Now I’m 54, grey, wrinkles and a few stone heavier, I can honestly say I’m comfortable with myself! I’m not interested in trying to look younger but trying to keep well and healthy.

      It is everything 50Sense is about and I am so happy you shared this. Great advice x

  2. Hi. I’ve shared with you before, and really enjoy reading your posts. This one is interesting and thought provoking. Overall, I find enthusiasm for life and willingness to engage with people to be two of my most attractive traits – and they haven’t diminished. However, from a pure ‘beauty’ point of view I do feel ‘faded’ and I hate that. Since the onset of peri menopause my skin became very reactive to all skincare products, makeup and fragrance so I can no longer add a pop of colour (or glow) to lift my looks. And I genuinely miss that. It has affected my confidence at work and socially.

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