This is the time of the year when agelessness, perhaps with a touch of tokenism, is featured in magazines. For some years now Vogue has had an annual issue dedicated to agelessness, this year it was the one that came out in July with Renée Zwelleger, now 48, on the cover.
I feel ambivalent about this idea of 'agelessness'. On one hand, the notion of agelessness taps into our classical cultural roots - classical art and classicism are after all, by definition ageless - on the other, it is a euphemism for 'near-youthfulness' or 'youthfulness' which is what classical art, after all, eulogises. The 'ageless' women we are prompted to regard as aspirational tend to be the ones who have made a success of having been able to defeat the 'ravages' of time - we truly need a different vocabulary to talk about older age, the words we use to discuss it are so loaded!
Very occasionally magazines will show us images of women who really do look their age and point to them as positive templates, see for instance Elle India who recently featured 72 year old India based Belgian model and designer Lou Van Damme. Sadly such initiatives tend to attract negative comments, often from other women. Alyson Walsh in her great blog That's not my age posted photos of Lou and commenters immediately remarked Lou was so wrinkly, she looked 'much older', and she must have been out in the sun for far too much of her time or her face would not be so lined. I personally think her face is rather beautiful, with an amazing bone structure. I do not mind her lines at all.
It is interesting that it's Elle India that carries such a feature. I have seen a more forward looking and more accepting attitude towards old age in Asian countries than in Europe or America. Last year I was in Indonesia and the cover of the September issue of high fashion magazine Dewi, published by the Femina Group, the powerful sponsor of the annual Jakarta Fashion Week, was graced by a 50 plus model, sporting a few un-photoshopped lines on her very beautiful face. I was told it was part of a general warning about botox and cosmetic surgery, making the point that signs of ageing can be graceful - in Indonesia cosmetic surgery is unregulated, and quite widespread among the elite who seem to have been lured into the Hollywood aesthetics of youthful appearance.
Model and actor Sarita Saib who posed for the cover of Dewi September 2015
This is precisely the line of thinking followed by initiatives such as The Age of No Retirement, an intergenerational social enterprise, fighting for ‘age equality’ whilst keeping a firm eye on fashion and how fashion can facilitate its intervention in the public arena or, within the fashion world, by cutting edge model agencies such as GreyModel Agency, which eschews the ‘classic model’ template embraced by almost all model agencies, most of whom currently parade an ageless ‘classic’ division to fill what is perceived as a possible gap in the market. Grey's strategy is to posit the ‘grey’ man or woman as an individual with personality, with all the quirkiness of an individual. The agency’s model recruitment reflects this mission and the models, both male and female, are invariably put forward for roles ordinarily filled by younger models in an attempt to subvert perceptions of age as a leveller and of classic ‘agelessness’ as the golden standard.
Lou Van Damme for Elle India
The insistence on ‘agelessness’ as the only way forward should be questioned, because it creates an impossible standard, one which is not within reach without external interventions, such as cosmetic surgery. Aspiring to be 'ageless', in other words, won't do us any good. That's why I really celebrate Lou's wrinkles.