“Americans think ageing is something to be pitied, or ignored. The French know that the good things in life get better with age!” Jeanne Moreau.
Promoting her new film, Bridget Jones’s Baby, this week has reheated the “has she, hasn’t she (had plastic surgery) debate for Renee Zellweger. In an attempt to quell the spiteful speculation she wrote an impassioned cri de coeur asking for the stories to stop,
Ubiquitous online and news source repetition of humiliating tabloid stories, mean-spirited judgments and false information is not harmless.
It increasingly takes air time away from the countless significant unprecedented current events affecting our world. It saturates our culture, perpetuates unkind and unwise double standards, lowers the level of social and political discourse, standardizes cruelty as a cultural norm, and inundates people with information that does not matter. We can do better, Huffington Post;
Meanwhile fellow actress Courteney Cox (she of Friends fame) made a confession about her plastic surgery plight (to Bear Grylls – Running Wild). Her comments were a whole lot less hi-falutin’ but perhaps, more honest, “I have done things that I regret, and luckily they’re things that dissolve and go away. So, um, that’s good, because it’s not always been my best look.”
High-brow and low, the commentators and opinion-makers have gone into overdrive adding their pith to the many column inches on the worth of a woman’s ageing looks. And whilst Renee and Courtney have taken different approaches, they should both earn some applause for fronting up to middle-age. Look we’ve come a long way;
Portrait of a Middle-Aged Woman (c.1635), Frans Hals
But the lament against invisibility is growing louder, middle-aged women are trying to make their presence known, but it’s not quite a movement for change, yet. Well-known actresses are speaking out, (and hear, hear to Meryl Streep and Charlotte Rampling); women writers too are finding a ready audience for their work from fiction; Joanna Trollope, Elizabeth Strout, Penelope Lively, Elizabeth Buchan, and Ann Tyler to factual; (read Jane Shilling, Stranger in the Mirror – a poignantly reflective and enquiring memoir told from the perspective of mid-life) and comediennes, like Jenny Eclair are bringing their post-menopausal message direct to our theatre halls.
But where the stories are really lacking are on screen – big and small. And herein lies the problem for actresses here and Stateside – there are so few interesting stories about women’s lives post-40 (and those that do exist are seemingly snapped up by Meryl Streep or Helen Mirren). So who then, can blame our actresses for forever chasing their younger selves? What they need is a screen place to grow old – with style and grace and wrinkles.
“As a woman of 50, I’m surrounded by my contemporaries and what women of that age go through: parental loss, cancer, dealing with Alzheimer’s, children growing up. All these issues that are here in our lives and they’re invisible.” Samantha Bond (The Daily Telegraph)
It’s surely time for a brave film-maker to show us what middle-aged looks like in high-definition. And feels like – focussing on the interior life of a middle-aged woman.
And beauty is not a need but an ecstasy.
It is not a mouth thirsting nor an empty hand stretched forth,
But rather a heart enflamed and a soul enchanted. Kahlil Gabran
Culturally middle-aged women used to just disappear, ghosts of their former selves drifting into the mist. Or so our literary representations would suggest – their presence, in the background, as matron or hag (or the haggard, like Miss Havisham).
So middle-aged women start now, get to your keyboards and write the real stories and then do like Frances McDormand – bring your project to screen (Olive Kitteridge). You’ll be doing women over-40 a great favour – for slowly, slowly the pressure to remain forever young-looking will ease off us all.
Good female biographical writing on what middle-aged feels like is coming through all the time;
The Stranger in the Mirror – Jane Shilling. One woman’s attempt to understand what middle age means for her and whether, as a new generation of women turns fifty, a revolution is under way. I
Out of Time – Miranda Sawyer. Looks at how our tastes, and our bodies, change as we get older. It considers the unexpected new pleasures that the second half of life can offer, from learning to code to taking up running (slowly).
The Middlepause – Marina Benjamin. An inspired and expanded vision of how to be middle-aged happily and harmoniously, without sentiment or delusion.
I feel bad about my neck and other thoughts on being a woman – Nora Ephron. Academy Award-winning screenwriter and director Nora Ephron (When Harry Met Sally, Heartburn, Sleepless in Seattle, You’ve Got Mail) turns her sharp wit on to her own life.
There are many blogs written by middle-aged women, loud and proud – http://thatsnotmyage.com
The Beauty Myth – Naomi Wolf. Wolf argued 25 years ago that beauty is the “last, best belief system that keeps male dominance intact”. What has changed or improved since? https://www.theguardian.com/books/2005/oct/18/classics.shopping
Glad to be Grey – Mary Beard. In this highly-authored BBC Radio Four documentary, Mary Beard investigates a growing reluctance to embrace grey hair.
Kim Cattrell – Womans Hour, BBC Radio 4. Kim discusses ageing, life without children and being single later in life. Why does she feel “romantically retired” and how would anyone chat up Kim Cattrall?
Look: Here photography captures women ageing in different ways.
Watch: Not a lot to choose from but these do all put the interior lives of middle-aged women to the forefront;
Mum, BBC2 – Subtle family sitcom following Cathy as she moves on from the death of her husband. Starting with the funeral in January and ending on New Year’s Eve, the story unfolds through the events of a year.
Olive Kitteridge, HBO – A look at a seemingly placid New England town that is actually wrought with illicit affairs, crime and tragedy, all told through the lens of Olive, whose wicked wit and harsh demeanor mask a warm but troubled heart and staunch moral center. The story spans 25 years and focuses on Olive’s relationships with her husband, Henry, the good-hearted and kindly town pharmacist; their son, Christopher, who resents his mother’s approach to parenting; and other members of their community.
Happy Valley, BBC1. Catherine Cawood (Sarah Lancashire) and sister Clare Cartwright (Siobhan Finneran) give us their view of middle-agedness in this gritty Northern drama.
There really is no big screen in-depth examination on the lives of middle-aged women!
The Calendar Girls – Precursor to many theatrical productions, the original film starred Dame Helen Mirren, Julie Waters and Geraldine James. Middle-aged friends throw their clothes to the wind for a local Women’s Institute’s fundraising effort for a local hospital.
Advanced Style – Documentary examining the lives of seven unique New Yorkers whose eclectic personal style and vital spirit have guided their approach to ageing.
The Age of Adaline – Blakely Lively stars in this sumptuous story of a woman who remains forever 29.
The Illusionists – American documentary examining the lies of the billion-pound beauty industry.
Renee Zellweger and Courteney Cox – http://www.justjared.com/
Portrait of a Middle Aged Woman, Frans Hals, National Gallery