Fifty-something and … Who Cares What We Look Like, Anyway?






‘Popular wisdom insists that you’re not allowed to hit your  fifties and be gorgeous.’ ~ Cassandra Khaw, science fiction and fantasy author.

It’s true that people are surprised when they come across an ‘older’ woman who is conventionally good-looking, i.e. slim, shapely, sexy, well dressed.

When it is confirmed that she is in her fifties (sometimes even forties) or older, and, yet, all or at least two of these things, people act like they want to give her an award.

The belief is that the older you get, the less attractive you will be.

The belief is that it’s important to women to look attractive whatever their age.

The belief is that to qualify as looking good (for your age or at any age) you need to tick certain boxes.

What if, unlike Ming-Na Wen, you were fat, grey-haired and wrinkled at fifty? Would you be seen as having let the side down? Would young women look at you in horror and, shaking their heads, say you had ‘let yourself go’?

Why is a twenty-something author concerned with the physical appearance of women in their fifties? Why is she rooting for these women to look ‘gorgeous’? Are gorgeous fifty-somethings more worthy? Would a fifty-something woman who didn’t live up to conventional standards of beauty be seen by Ms Khaw as a disappointment? A failure? And why isn’t someone fat, grey and wrinkled gorgeous anyway?

These are tired, old questions, and I’m feeling very tired and old. People say, admiringly, that I don’t look fifty: I am fifty so I must look fifty, or fifty must look like me. Right?



Sorry, Not Sorry

A number of years ago, I was asked to participate in an ad campaign for Origins’ new skincare range. Participants were invited to fill answer questions about our skincare regime, what we disliked about our skin and what we wanted to improve.

We were then given Origins’ new products and asked to test them out for a month before answering more questions, this time about how we’d found the skincare range. We were then made-up and photographed. We were asked to rate the products from 1 to 10, and we were (supposed to be) photographed holding up the corresponding number of fingers to show our approval of the range.

The plan was to use our pictures in Origins’ local (Malaysian) promotional campaign for the products, but mine were never used because I didn’t rate the products. The reason for this was I didn’t actually notice a difference in the way my skin looked and felt. Mind you, I’d not expressed any dissatisfaction with my skin during the first round of questions. My skin care regime has always been just to wash with whatever soap I happen to be using in the shower and then slap on the ‘moisturiser of the moment’, i.e. whatever I can afford to get, usually Johnson’s Baby Lotion. I have never spent more than a minute on my skin and don’t pay it much attention, so I really would not have noticed even if the products had resulted in any changes.

It’s been said that the beauty industry would collapse if women were happy with themselves. Cosmetics companies depend on us finding fault with our appearance. Not noticing wrinkles, pigmentation and goodness knows what else women are supposed to stress about with regard our skin meant that I wasn’t an effective tool in persuading other women to part with their cash.

I never had a single pimple growing up, and I’ve been told how lucky I am in that respect, but I wonder if dealing with spots would have been easier than worrying about what others identified as my ‘weight problem’. Acne seems a more acceptable adolescent challenge than being overweight: Apparently, no one asks to be pimply, but you only have yourself to blame if you’re fat.