Coco Chanel. Wikimedia Commons
I spent a couple of hours yesterday being interviewed by Zoe Bennetts, a second year BA Fashion Journalism student at London College of Fashion. I like working with students; after all, teaching was what I did for the best part of my working life.
Zoe wanted to have my views on ageism in the fashion industry; we were introduced by Jacynth Bassett of the bias-cut.com. I answered her questions as best as I could. I had not prepared anything so in hindsight I could have said a lot more. The interview has been video- recorded, so I hope to post it at some point when it is edited.
Zoe reminded me of an event in which I took part last year, at the South Bank Centre. It was a discussion on fashion, style and age scheduled for (B)old, a festival celebrating older men and women. I wrote about it here. My co-discussant on that occasion was Jacynth Bassett.
I remember how excited I was to be speaking and how difficult it was too because the panel discussion clashed with the Royal Wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. Even I could not wait for it to be over - the discussion, that is - so that I could go and watch the wedding which was screened live everywhere at the South Bank. Like millions of people around the world, I wanted to see the famous dress, a Givenchy gown, as we all know - some thought it did not fit properly but I loved it!
Portraits of me, May 2018, by Oida Beide
I will not repeat here my views on ageism. All I will say is that yes, it exists, it is rampant in the fashion industry (and not only in the fashion industry), and we need to eliminate it. The best way to do it is to stop thinking of age as a problem.
Older people are no longer young - now that I have written that down it sounds silly, I know. What I mean is that there are specific issues that pertain to growing old and it would be foolish to deny their existence. Not being ageist does not mean that we remove age from our vocabulary or that we deny that there is a difference between the old and the young. It only means that we regard both old and young with the same respect, acknowledging difference but not discriminating on the basis of that difference.
Personally, there are moments when I absolutely hate getting older. My favourite phrase is "this ageing business is no fun" something a friend of mine said once with reference to various aches and pains in her body. As you grow older, your body changes and that can be a bit of a shock. Acceptance is key. For example, I am very active but my knees are not as strong as they used to be, so I have problems jumping or sometimes even squatting can be painful. It takes me longer to warm up to be able to stretch to my fullest. Gone are the days when I would jump out of bed and immediately engage in a gruelling workout. I need to warm my muscles gently and prepare my body for exercise. I also find that increasingly I cannot tolerate alcohol anymore; I am thinking of ditching it altogether.
Artistic nude by A.J. Kahn. Model Marlo Dell'Antonio, Amorphous Series #4
Several years ago I interviewed an art model who was at the time 65 years old. Photographs of her had won prizes and many excellent photographers, such as A. J. Kahn had had her as their model and muse. I was younger then and just starting out as a model. I sincerely admired her. Then something rather unpleasant happened to her and she disappeared from public life, severing all contacts. The interview can still be found online but I will not link up to it as she would not like her name to be revealed, even though she used an art name. She will probably never read this post, but it is the principle of it, I would have to ask for her permission if I were to write her name.
I am digging all this up because she discussed age in that interview and her answers impressed me for their clarity. Ten years ago people hardly ever discussed ageism, the word had not even entered our vocabulary. But age as such was discussed, it was part and parcel of modelling - remember supermodel Agyness Deyn who at 29 was being passed off as a twenty-three-year-old by her agency because she was 'too old'? Age was especially an issue in art modelling.
When questioned about it the model I interviewed said :
"I get weary of focus on my age. Prior to modelling, my age was generally a non-issue. I don't remember anyone asking what it was, and I never thought a lot about it, except to be grateful for having a long life. Now not a day goes by without someone sending a message centred on my age. It is always cast in positive terms and meant to be a compliment. But no 20-year-old model could even imagine age as such a central factor in her everyday life. I could never have imagined this either. It came as a shock to me. When someone says, meaning it in the best way I am sure, "You don't look 65," I want to say, "What do you think 65 looks like?" It's right up there with saying, "You don't look Jewish." I don't know what these comments are supposed to imply."
There is an affinity between human age and that of clothes. When clothes are new they all look good; the proof is in 'the wearing' them - just made that one up, along the lines of 'the proof of the pudding is in the eating'. Old clothes of quality are 'vintage' and much sought after; they may, sometimes, need some careful repairing but we are always proud of owning them and wearing them and look after them. But old clothes of poor quality are deemed to be rags; we would not be seen dead in them once they are worn out.
In other words, the most important thing about getting older is not so much the way we look but the way we present ourselves to the world - with elegance, grace and confidence. Then age as such becomes immaterial.