I have never liked the phrase ‘age-appropriate’. Its connotations seem prim – more suited to a good few generations past – and, for me, they are words that hold absolutely no relevance for today’s older woman. Surely society doesn’t still us in this way? Adhering to certain hackneyed behaviours we no longer identify with?
And yet – it seems there is still a slice of society that does. I read recently that Martha Stewart had gone viral after being questioned about “dressing for her age”. Her response was sharp. “Dressing for whose age?” she asked. Who indeed.
This is a woman who has numerous successful business ventures. She’s also a television personality, a model, a writer, a publisher, and most recently became the oldest women (at the age of 81) to appear on the front cover of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue – in the words of the New York Times “as nature made her.”
Perhaps it is this last fact that prompted a reporter to question her personal dress code, but what’s disappointing is that it should be a topic for debate at all. Does it really matter? What criteria have emerged that say women of a certain age should dress – and behave, if we’re honest – in a specific way that is acceptable to society?
I shouldn’t be surprised, but I find it repeatedly hard to believe that the stereotypes and assumptions placed on middle age still exist – yet we are presented with examples that they do on an almost daily basis. Even though we consistently prove them redundant and far from the reality of our everyday lives, the criticism levelled at women for behaving in a certain way beyond a certain age is astonishing.
Only recently I read an article by Sarah Vine writing for the Mail Online reviewing the first night of Madonna’s Celebration Tour. Now this is Madonna we’re talking about here – the Queen of Pop and a legend who at the age of 65 does it exactly how she wants and in an endless array of sassy, sexy costumes – yet Sarah Vine’s comment was: “It’s a fitting celebration … but oh Madge, isn’t it time you grew up?”
Why? Give me one good reason why – because we don’t read the same being said of Mick Jagger or Paul McCartney, who actually have a good 15 years on Madonna and are still going strong in pretty much exactly the same way. And it’s not lost on me either that this is a woman reviewing another woman. If solidarity between women can’t be relied upon when we’re up against this kind of ageism, what hope is there?
I’m sure it is as true for men as it is for women, but talking purely female here, I don’t actually think there are many 40, 50, 60, 70-plus women out there now who feel that their age defines who they are or how they should behave – and nor should it – but it is clearly something we still have to contend with when we have this kind of ageist narrative fanning the flames.
According to Martha Stewart in her interview with TODAY.com, age is just a number. “I don’t look my age, I don’t act my act and I don’t want to even think about age”, she said. I like this. I too don’t want to even think about age, because the idea that we should adopt some sort of collective middle-age persona that is ‘age-appropriate’ could not make for a more dull passage of time as we make our way through midlife into old age. Frankly, if that’s what it comes down to, I’d rather be like Madonna.