This last week I have been told on more than one occasion, by different people, that I don’t look my age – soon to be 56. What does not looking my age even mean? I know it is meant as a compliment, and I usually accept it as such.
I acknowledge, without boasting or bragging, that the skin on my face is clear and generally wrinkle-free. Thanks Mum. But also (thanks Mum ) I am fat and so it is not easy for my skin to crinkle, although it does mean I have a tendency towards a double chin. But this is genetics, not some secret elixir guaranteeing eternal youth. And anyway – it is only the skin on my face. Look closely at my hands, and not so closely at my upper décolletage, and there it is – signs of ageing. Aagh! Horror.
I’m not bothered. Well, why would I be? My face is that of a child. No seriously, I’m not bothered but I am intrigued why it seems sufficiently important for others to comment on it to me. If I’m feeling negative about myself I think they simply want to find something nice to say to me and that is what they can come up with. When I am less down on myself I accept that I am lucky, fortunate, blessed with good skin genes. I also secretly thank my lucky stars that I don’t have wrinkles, that my skin has a pinky glow and I don’t look as old as her! But only secretly – I try not to judge.
Even when I accept the compliment I sometimes want to start a discussion about what I am supposed to look like at this age. Some old hag, with a crooked, warty nose and moles with a life of their own? It seems the way I look, with my cherubic complexion, is not how women of a certain age are supposed to look. But I study the faces of my friends and see very little difference – we are middle-aged women and we look fine. No warts.
So why don’t I look like my age? I am my age and this is what it looks like, on me. Where is the template, model, specification of what a middle-aged woman is supposed to look like. Wherever it is I think we need to update the library pictures so that I don’t get to feel like a freak when asked how old I am.
There is something odd about it all. That somehow not looking your age is a good thing – but only when you are considered ‘old’ by society norms. I had a hard time as a teenage convincing bus drivers that I was under 16 – I was bigger than everyone else and therefore must be older. I never had problems getting served in a pub before I was 18 – so size does matter. Perhaps there was a perfect time, when my age and the way I looked were in tune. Not sure when that was – must have missed it.
So here I am. A middle-aged woman, not ashamed of my age but having to accept compliments about looking younger. And each time I do, I feel as though I am letting the side down. That by accepting looking younger as a good thing I am supporting the myth that to be of any worth women mustn’t age.
So to challenge the images of women of my age I present three versions of me. This is me, at 55, looking like a 55 years old.