Aging, Charlotte Rampling and Uptown Funk

At Christmas, I received a book on how to maintain a stylish, attractive image, from thirty to eternity. While the book contained some solid advice, an undertone of anxiety led me to think about many books of the genre. Why is looking your age so often presented as deeply wrong, something to strenuously avoid?

During the same week, I saw a photo of Charlotte Rampling published in The Guardian, along with a forthright interview

I was drawn to the frank display of lines and freckles, the deep-set, uncarved eyes (she has always had hooded eyes, used to devastating effect), the strength in the face. Her attitude was a refreshing refutation to the Age of Concealment.
At 68, Rampling continues to resist shots and scalpels, saying, on The Talks "... we’re all vain, we’re all narcissistic, we don’t like to grow old. Who wants to grow old? Who wants to get lines? Who wants to not be young? But we can’t be. We’re going on." 

In another interview, she said, "You've got to wait. You've got not to panic, not to be frightened, and not to change your face. You need your face to grow with you..."

She is, however, but one example. I know many women who project such singular character and I'll bet you do, too. I'm not against making efforts to look pretty, but I'm disgusted when told that hiding my age must be my primary goal.  

Age-averse books and posts (which seem to multiply by the month), usually use three linked tactics:

1. Ratchet the realization of physical changes into full-blown fear.
You will, they insist, not look your best, but if you tend every inch of yourself, disguising time's effects, you can then feel confident. Is confidence really conferred by a cream?

A woman is celebrated for looking "years younger than..." (whatever age she is). We need self-esteem of steel to resist this cultural meme. If we bite, we're hooked, and easy pickings for the next two tactics.

2. Present high maintenance as a just war. It's no longer enough to look after health and grooming, now we must be Sun Tzu in an LBD, arming ourselves with "weapons" specifically for aging and enlisting experts in "the fight". (Military metaphors abound; words like combat, defy, vanquish, and defend are favourites.) 

Clothes must be neither too young nor too old, unless they are classics, which are fine except when they are too classic, and therefore aging. (The charge that a given item "ages you": kiss of death.)

3. Endorse pursuit of a futile quest. Consume an ever-changing array of products and procedures. Spend as much as you can, or more. Try anything tenders or friends recommend. (The saddest refrain in one book was "I think I see a difference.") The cycle: Buy, Enjoy Brief Respite, Feel Vulnerable, Repeat.

I truly care about my 3 Ms: mind, mobility, and mojo*. The rest is icing on a cake that isn't so fresh anymore, but so what?  

*Operational definition:"Girls hit your hallelujah!"

Uptown Funk, flute of rosé bubbly, a spritz of favourite fragrance—a gift from Le Duc—and lots of hugs: so far I'm in the Charlotte Camp, and thank her for such succor.


Anonymous said…
Love it! Recently a makeup sales person lamented my 'hooded eyes' and applied very strong eyeliner below to 'fix' it. She was surprised I wasn't thrilled. I'm in my 40's and have always had, and quite liked them.
I'm adopting your three M's as my guiding mantra!
frugalscholar said…
Thank you. Sometimes I think I am one of the few women in my area/of my age who hasn't had plastic surgery. Stay strong!
LauraH said…
Had to laugh, you summed up the numerous pitches for 'anti-aging' products so well.

Must admit I'm guilty of feeling good when someone tells me I don't look my age, ouch. And when a nice young person offers me a seat on the subway I always want to ask 'do I really look that old?!'. Some days it's hard to see the signs of age on my face but it is what it is. I'ld rather take care of myself so I can keep moving, stay involved, try new experiences, be content with life.
Susan B said…
Hallelujah indeed! I've always thought Rampling was stunning, and she still is. Again, I love the little bit of lipstick and not much else. (See also Jane Birkin, Linda Rodin.) Love the Bruno Mars my morning bouncing right along.
Anonymous said…
Very few women in my circle get involved in surgery or Botox . There is one friend who works out at the gym every day , has Botox treatment & had an eye lift recently & yes ,she looks good . BUT she is the 'worrier' , the one least comfortable in her skin & somewhat discontented with her life . The rest of us , whilst trying to make the best of ourselves ,don't place too much importance on the signs of aging . It must be far harder when everyone around you has had these treatments , I guess ,so I wouldnt condemn but bound feet were the ultimate 'must have ' at one time
Wendy in York
Duchesse said…
Meg: It's especially galling to me when a feature that defines you is thought to need "fixing".

frugal: Rampling is not saying "never" and neither am I, but for now it is not in the cards.

LauraH: And some days, don't we just take that seat?

unefemme: She probably takes really good care of her skin, (short of the shots and surgery), and wow, she looks so naturally marvelous.

Wendy: I have sat across the table from some over-Botoxed and lifted faces, while the woman tells me how natural she looks. But then I also have friends who do look natural.

Here is an interesting piece on the recent death of the last woman known to have bound feet:

I learned it was made illegal in 1912 but the practice continued. Imagine if we tried to outlaw vanity surgery, which has a far, far greater geographic reach!

Madame Là-bas said…
I have always found it sad that "looking younger than one's years" is valued so much in our society. Being a kind person, having lead an interesting life or having significantly touched the lives of others are much more worthy aspirations. As an actress, wanting only to "look pretty" certainly would mean missing out on the most interesting roles. I love Broadchurch and can't wait to see Rampling in it!
Unknown said…
I'm usually a lurker, but just had to respond to the terrific sentiments in this post. I am, very defiantly it seems, not opposed to looking my age, and am always very frustrated at articles and comments which proclaim that looking younger is the only way to go. Why is being our age, and owning it, so very confrontational? I let my hair grown out to its natural gray about 10 years ago, and while I do get compliments, and I would never to back to hair dye, most women protest, "Oh it looks great on you, but I could never do that" or "That just wouldn't be acceptable where I work" or where they live, or to their kids, etc.

I'm not saying "au naturel" hair is the way to go for every woman, and as Passage notes, I make an effort every day to look as presentable and pretty as I can, but have no interest in looking younger. I love my age, I love my life, and I'm not in competition with 20- or 30-somethings for anything. I just wish more women would feel more confident about their age, their bodies and their faces, wrinkles and age spots and all. We've earned all our signs of aging; when did aging become something to be ashamed of? As you can see, I feel strongly about this!!
Kristien62 said…
I walked behind a woman at a mall in Pa. one time, who, from behind, looked to be 30 - 40ish. When she turned around, I was aghast to see a face stretched back harshly, with lips obviously puffed by injections. It was a shock to me. I have been afraid of plastic surgery since that day. Looking younger is not that important to me. Now if I could BE younger, perhaps 40, I would be on board.
Vivian, you look great.

I would like to point out that some of us ARE in competition with 20 or 30-somethings - hopefully not for sex partners, but in the labour market. This makes matters more problematic than just a question of simple "acceptance" and probably fuel much cosmetic surgery.

Foot binding was a status symbol; mostly for the husband, who was showing he could afford a wife unable to do physical labour. It was horribly crippling.

The problem with cosmetic surgery is, where does one draw the line? Plastic surgery was first developed to restore a human appearance to soldiers maimed in the Great War, a century ago, but there is a great grey area between that, and severe congenital deformities and simply hiding wrinkles.
materfamilias said…
Absolutely! I must admit that I'm lucky in my usual circle -- cosmetic surgery is very rare and most of my friends are minimalist at best when it comes to makeup. In fact, most could identify well with your Three M's, although I'd never have put it like that -- I will from now on. What a great slogan!
Unknown said…
Lagatta, thanks for the compliment! And I completely understand that the demands of the marketplace - in entertainment, for sure, but also in other careers - forces some of us to bend to the prevailing viewpoints. I just find it sad that "showing one's age" has, for part of society, become synonymous with lack of competence. When, as we age, we become, if anything, even MORE competent!
Susan said…
I want to say this: looking my age fascinates me. I remember as a child, wondering what I would look like as a teenager (and hoping against hope that I would look like my older sister). So, I have the same curiousity now. What will I look like as an older woman? I have no desire to be botoxed and altered in any way. Right now, I am studying all the videos showing how to fashion long hair into a lovely bun (no sock buns please). Great post Duchesse.
What a great post! I am so tired of reading this anti-aging propaganda that shames women into buying into an unattainable beauty standard! I turned thirty this year, and I personally feel that I have never felt and looked better - but it amazes me that even at such a young age, some of my girlfriends are so fearful of being out of their twenties. How sad, I have never felt that a number should define me - and I am always puzzled when someone tells another person, "Oh, but you look great for your age!". What does that even mean??? I am a avid advocate for daily glamour and pampering yourself, but to adhere to some standard that makes a dent in your self-confidence, I just can't support that. I once dated a man, who honestly was very charming and such a gentleman, but one night he asked me, "Does it bother you that men get more charming and distinguished as they age, and that your beauty will fade?". I cringe when I think about that question. This is the kind of propaganda our society sells to us today. It is truly a tragedy to see intelligent and powerful women being belittled and beat into submission by these ridiculous "standards" of beauty.
Duchesse said…
Mme: Your comment raises so much. First, I suppose we get compliments on "looking younger" because the other attributes are not external ones. But a friend recently told me I had "mellowed as I aged" and I did not particularly like that, either ;)

Vivian Jung: Thanks for commenting! There are many tings women can do and a good first step is being open about how old we are. I dropped by a friend's yesterday and she had a large area rug at her door that had "68" emblazoned on it. It's a souvenir from her last birthday party and she's keeping it there.

lagatta: Competiton is real and so is ageism. Just as I was preparing tho publish this a friend told me of her mother, who earned her PhD at 50, and, wanting an academic position with tenure, got a facelift that my friend swore clinched the deal (and also ,she said, looked completely 'real'). What can I say?

What a world, that women feel they must resort to surgery to get hired.

Susan: I used to wonder that too, and the answer grandmother (LOL)

Comrade: "Used to date" says it all- but some men can be engaged in a more searching conversation, and I hope your reply caused him to think (and keep thinking).

Jane in London said…
We Brits love our Charlotte Rampling. Here, she is regarded as sophisticated and sexy just as she is - my husband was utterly delighted to see her in Broadchurch! None of my circle in London (we are around age 55 - 70) has so far felt the need to have cosmetic surgery. But most of us have spent money on good, natural-looking dental work.

I agree - it's obvious that, no matter what, you can't really beat the clock. One part of you may be hide your age but another area gives it away. It's sad to see older women try so desperately hard to look young.

How much better (and more beautiful)to embrace generativity as we age rather than frittering away our money, energy and maybe health on a futile struggle for youth.
LPC said…
I am shallower, and admit that in my mojo I want to remain desirable, and stylish in a recognizable female way. But I will not weep for my aging self, or fight it. I'll just cosset it a bit, and deck it out as best I can.
Jill Ann said…
Fun (!) topic! My comment to Comrade von Pussycat: quite honestly since you are 30, you have no clue (yet) what this is all about. Most of my friends haven't had any surgical interventions, that I know of. I'm 57 and my friend group ranges from early 40s to early 60s. The in-joke with my 50-ish friends is that we look good "for our age". In fact someone said that to me today! I admit to being distressed about my baggy eyes and saggy neck, but not enough to have surgery. I'm afraid to end up looking like "not myself"!
Anonymous said…
I have such mixed reactions to this, Duchesse! In theory I agree with you. In my own, vain life I am very happy to look young for my age--well, I always have, and it wasn't always good. I have also done the skin care thing, and of course i had the genes. (And also, parents who did value good looks and who were rather young looking and prided themselves on that ...they still do at their advanced ages. Why not?) So I dunno. I don't have a partner and my job is threatened by youngsters. So ... yeah ... I do care about how old I look.
Anonymous said…
This definitely resonates with me. I will be crossing the half century mark this year. My husband likes the way I am, without any make up. But as a professional seeing new people everyday, I start to feel more comfortable with a little make up, eye shadow and lipstick mainly. This is actually quite a new way for me, I never put any make up until last year. Some color seems to help with my aging complexion.

So am I being vain? I do not know. I wish I do not have all the aging spots on my face, I see my future in my father's face and I do not like it. So maybe people who are blessed with beautiful skin do not need to worry so much about aging? But others like myself may need or want to spend a little time or money on some treatments or products? Perhaps there is nothing wrong with this? Or perhaps it is all a futile pursuit any way and why bother?
Susan said…
I don't think treating age spots with a few treatments (creams) available for that issue is nearly in the same league with Botox injections and surgery. Others may disagree.

Duchesse, I, too, look like my grandmother (who was born in the late 1880s!). I have a framed photo of her in our library and it caught my eye as I walked by about a year ago and I did a double take. She was, in the photo, about the age I am now, and looked ELDERLY! I mean really elderly. A lot of that was dress, a lack of makeup, rimless old fashioned eye-glasses, and her hairstyle. (It was a bun.) I could see my face in her's however, and it warmed my heart. If only she knew how she lives on in my daily thoughts.
Duchesse said…
Jane: I am completely hooked on Broadchurch too- David Tennant AND Charlotte Rampling, bliss.

Carolyn: Beautifully put, thank you.

LPC: Carolyn's comment sums it up. As I said, nothing wrong with wanting to look your best; it is the implicit and often explicit idea of feeling shame for our age that I'm against.

JillAnn: Actually I find 30 the new 40 in that 30-somethings are being targeted for treatments, even surgery, as "proactive" and "preventive" measures. If a woman can feel secure early in life, she is not as likely to be swayed later on by false promises.

Anon@9:55: As Rampling said, we're all vain! And once you look beyond yourself and your genetic gifts, can you not see the BS women your age are being told and sold? (If I were in the dating scene I'd care that I looked as good as possible, but there is a limit to what I'd do.)

Anon@11:32: If you're nearly 50 and got that far without wearing makeup-to work at least- that's quite remarkable. I do advocate conventional grooming and at the risk of sounding grindingly conformist, I think customer or client-facing roles require a minimum of lip gloss and a bit of eye makeup, depending on colouring.

But I am writing about certain posts and books that think women should freak out about every wrinkle, whose writers seem to hate their own aging, and who justify self-absorption and purchase of so-called anti-aging products by the rationalization of "taking care of yourself".

Susan: My hope is that each woman who reads today's post will think about her limits. But more important, I return to the central question, why are we told to hate our own age and the evidence of it in other women?

When we look at those old photos we have to remember that many of the subjects looked current for their time. My physical features are my grandmother's but I do not wear rimless glasses and a flowered silk dress and hat!

Dr. V.O. said…
Hear, hear Duchesse...ITA. Living in the OC where plastic surgery is rampant has actually soured me to the idea. When I walk down my local beach and encounter a "carved up" woman of a certain age with skin taken away and plastic added to the face, often looking sad and grim, or, interestingly, lonely and disoriented, I feel so sad for the woman. Those faces are not faces of triumph but faces of grief, portraying fear, insecurity, abandonment, worry (as your other reader pointed out), and sadness.

But I must say about Mlle Rampling that I don't think her underchin and neck are untouched...that is often the feature (pace Nora Ephron) that is a dead giveaway. My neck is what worries me...I admit.

What's a woman of intelligence to do? Your thoughts dear Duchesse?

Duchesse said…
Dr VO: I would count the "underchin" as the face and if she says no injections or surgery, I believe her... but she may have those thermage treatments. And not every woman of 68 has jowls. Also, my neck looks just like that- when I use the retouch tool on iPhoto ;)

I do know women who have had various procedures and do not look worried or unhappy. In fact they look just great, that's a fact.

What to do depends on how much one cherishes looking a certain way or is convinced it "must be done" for reasons some readers cite. But I wish it were not so; I wish the beauty of every age was admired and respected.

Anonymous said…
I applaud Ms.Rampling's attitude, but as someone who has worked for plastic surgeons for most of my career, I think (my opinion) that she has had some filler in her upper lip.....there would be more lines and there is a fullness that, to a knowing eye, is altered. She would change her look should she ever have her eyes done. She is magnificent, still.
Duchesse said…
Anon@7:59: You are implying she is not being honest-via an anonymous comment. That's not cricket.

Eleanorjane said…
Excellent post and interesting discussion. I love your three M's and I think they're the real key to successful aging.

Someone said that as people age they get more competant. I'd say that totally depends. If you don't keep active in body and mind, keep reasonably current with tech etc, keep some awareness of trends of thought etc. then you're going to start to slip behind at work or in your personal life.

Thinking about people I know in their 60s and 70s, some of them have lost confidence, get flustered easily, stay at home doing nothing all the time, have outdated racist and sexist views etc... and some are inspirational, living life, continuing to grow and develop, staying active etc.
Duchesse said…
Eleanorjane: I realized I could substitute any two (adult) decades for your last para; there are both types all the way though life, although the views of some in their younger decades are not due to their becoming "outdated" as much as the result of limited exposure or inability to think critically.
Share my Garden said…
'THIRTY to eternity' - good grief!! Thirty is surely carefree youth. I'm in my seventies, older than Charlotte Rampling and can categorically state that I'm never going to go down the plastic surgery route. At the 'eternity' age I think that the things to value are good health, both physical and mental, good friends and good humour. Do you note how well Charlotte Rampling stands, her head erect, her gaze confident? I believe attitude beats wrinkles every time. Not that I don't rely on a really good skin cream! Temple spa skin truffle is my absolute favourite, described as 'total facial rejuvenation' - but that's advertising for you!
Anonymous said…
I've noticed that many blog sites don't allow anonymous comments any more. There are many reasons one comments that way...not all are as you, unkindly, assumed. I will not comment, again. Gracious kindness is not here.
Duchesse said…
Anon@7:04: There is nothing to prevent you from signing your name (a username, which is what most persons do) to what you write, even if you think you have a good reason for using an anonymous comment feature.

You have judged that Rampling, who has made a public statement, is not telling the truth. (And •you• are upset you have not been received with "gracious kindness"!)

I, however, feel no compunction to silently condone your behaviour nor that of anyone else who exercises such tactics.

Duchesse said…
Share My Garden: Yes, I did notice the posture, the gaze. Now, can the average woman (those of us not known as "Le Légende" in France) summon that? I hope so, yet I see women of various ages who come into a room fussing and tugging at themselves, who are clearly fretful- not in a small part because we have 'bought' the message of these books and blogs: that we are failing by the day unless we cover our wrinkles, spots and sags.

I do see mature women who meet the world head on, as they are, uncowed by such propaganda. You sound like one of them!

Share my Garden said…
Mm - i'm what's described in Blighty as, 'rather bolshie'!
Tash said…
Great post!! And thank you for sharing the Charlotte Rampling interview. I just love her and happy to see her grace Season 2 of Broadchurch.

I work in a private clinic downtown and have begun to see an influx of very young women (early 20s) in the waiting room awaiting a consultation with the plastic surgeon. It appears this preoccupation with looking young and never aging has affected our youth to the point of beginning prophylactic botox (their words, not mine).

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