The Femail face-off: Is it sexist to say women should age gracefully?


American actress Julianne Moore slammed the phrase ‘ageing gracefully’. Pictured, Melanie McDonagh

NO

by Melanie McDonagh 

Julianne Moore is allergic to the phrase ‘ageing gracefully’. She thinks it’s ‘totally sexist’ because it is most often applied to women.

‘There’s so much judgement in the term “ageing gracefully”,’ she said in a recent magazine interview. ‘Is there an ungraceful way to age?’ Well yes, Julianne. There’s your way, and there’s my way.

Julianne Moore is all of 60, and she looks younger; should I even be saying that? But in Hollywood, where parts for older women are still in ridiculously short supply — though not for Julianne’s male contemporaries — being over 40 is, if not career death, at least a handicap. No wonder she’s defensive.

And obviously, she’s right when she says: ‘No one has an option about ageing, so why are we always talking about it as if it is something we have control over?’

As Helen Mirren said: ‘You either age, or you die’. That’s about the size of it. But how men and women age is another story. And it’s not sexist to point out there’s a difference.

Any woman, like me, born in the 1960s, has struck lucky with HRT. It’s been as transformative as that other hormone fix, the Pill, only with far fewer downsides. But even with HRT, there are good and bad ways to age. Moore has cracked the good way. One look at her tells you she exercises and doesn’t eat to excess. She probably stays out of the sun and doesn’t drink too much either.

This week, we saw a cohort of actresses over the age of 50 on the red carpet at Cannes, and they looked fabulous. Carla Bruni, 53, Helen Mirren, 75, Jodie Foster, 58, were showing us how it’s done. It doesn’t mean looking like Demi Moore, who recently posed with her daughters in swimsuits as if she were their sister, not their mother. That’s not ageing gracefully; it’s desperate.

Is it sexist to say that? No.

The reality is that men can age badly, too. Men who try too hard to look young can come across like Dirk Bogarde in the film Death In Venice — a bit tragic. Tony Blair, who had Peter Stringfellow-style hair in lockdown and looks like he’s had work done on his face is an example of how not to do it.

Coco Chanel once observed that a woman has the age she deserves. God knows what age that makes me. I’m in my 50s and my daughter cruelly calls me ‘old woman’ (I’ll get her back). I eat way more than I should and it shows. Sometimes I even drink to excess and that shows too.

Would I mind if a man told me I looked good for my age? Don’t be silly. I’d be pathetically grateful.

YES

Melanie McDonagh and Bel Mooney (pictured) share whether they think it is sexist

Melanie McDonagh and Bel Mooney (pictured) share whether they think it is sexist

by Bel Mooney 

Some years ago, an old friend questioned my objection to grey roots. In her 50s, she already sported a long silver streak.

‘Don’t you want to grow old gracefully?’ she asked.

My reply was a merry, but firm, ‘**** that!’

These days she’s elegantly white-haired while I stockpile home-colour kits from the chemist and keep the auburn mop afire. And why shouldn’t I? What does it mean to ‘grow old gracefully’? It sounds rather pious to me, like sitting passively cross-legged under a tree to meditate calmly on ageing and death.

The actress Julianne Moore calls it ‘sexist’ to use the phrase ‘grow old gracefully’. And she’s right, you don’t hear men being told it, do you?

In my experience, women tend to be more anxious about the ageing process, especially in a society so obsessed with image and sexuality.

How many times have you seen a well-turned out older woman with a slobbish man displaying his beer gut in an old T-shirt? It creates a rather frustrating double standard. They can do as they please whereas we must age in a certain prescriptive way.

I say, it’s entirely up to you; let your hair grow white or colour it, but don’t listen to anybody’s judgment on your actions.

If you want to tweak your face, feel free, but do it for yourself, not because you want to conform to any anti-ageing stereotype. All women should do exactly as they please, but for me there’s nothing graceless in putting up a fight against the years.

Yes, men and women alike have to realise all of us must grow old and die, and accept it with dignity and good grace. But you can help yourself to mitigate the whole process, and it’s a life-enhancing sign of bravado to do so.

I reckon men as well as women can try to remain young at heart for as long as they can, and translate that attitude into taking care of themselves. Like many women, I slap on serums and creams, wear make-up and generally make an effort, but that’s not because I deny the process of ageing.

No, I do it for me. Moisturiser gives inner confidence; I see no virtue in premature wrinkles. We frisky oldsters keep trying because we have one chance at life and want to seize the remaining time with both hands. Grannies used to be expected to behave and dress appropriately.

Pah! I’ve just wrecked an expensive pair of high heels, swigging vodka and dancing the night away with my family in my own home. That’s what’s called growing old disgracefully.

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