Respect the energy of youth, but embrace the wisdom of age

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The Independent Online

If I am, as a recent survey said, too old to wear a miniskirt, I'm too old for leather trousers or a boob tube, but I'm still allowed to have long hair and wear knee-high boots. But not for that much longer.

The "survey" was conducted by a nutritionist for a diet-food delivery company. It was conducted, in other words, by a company with a vested interest in making women feel bad. The study wasn't about what female i columnists should wear. It was asking women what other women should wear. And the women, in a spirit of what you couldn't really call sisterly generosity, decided that over a certain age they couldn't wear much at all.

The survey reminded me of Warning, once voted the nation's favourite post-war poem. "When I am an old woman," says the ostensible author of the poem, "I shall wear purple." She will, she says, wear it with "terrible shirts" and she'll "make up for the sobriety" of her youth and spend her pension "on brandy and summer gloves". She'll "pick the flowers in other people's gardens" and "learn to spit".

The poem was written in 1961. Now, it sounds like something from another world. It sounds, in fact, like something that might shock the women in the diet-food survey, who may have forgotten to add the colour purple to their list of prohibitions. In today's version, the woman in the poem would be more likely to mention bikinis and Botox. She'd spend her pension on Sauvignon and spaghetti-strap tops. She'd ditch the flowers and focus on picking up young men. But she probably wouldn't feel the need to mention any of this, because she's probably doing it already and she probably plans to carry on doing what she's always done.

Many women, or at least many women who don't take part in diet-food surveys, are refusing to adapt their wardrobe, or their behaviour, to their age. So, of course, are many men. The journalist Catherine Mayer has even coined a word for it: "amortality". "The defining characteristic of amortality," she says, "is to live in the same way, at the same pitch, doing and consuming much the same things, from late teens right up until death."

The book gives many examples. Her father, she says, still dives in his 80s. Her mother still runs a PR company at 77. And then there's Hugh Hefner, still notching up Playmates, publicity and wives, at 85. Hef's path to eternal youth – to marry a woman many years younger – is one that's been tried and tested down the centuries and found to be jolly nice for the man.

And then there's Simon Cowell. Cowell's model of Peter Pandom – cosmetic dentistry and Botox as a routine, "like cleaning my teeth" – is more recent. But it's not just his looks that he's keen on preserving. "All the things I used to like as a kid I still like," he told Piers Morgan. "My tastes haven't changed at all."

I doubt that many of us ever really feel 85. Or 77. Or even Cowell's 51. I feel 29, though I'm very clearly not.

But if my tastes hadn't changed at all since childhood, I think I'd be a bit worried. I'd be worried if I thought that the Bay City Rollers were better than Beethoven and that The Little House On The Prairie was better than War and Peace. I think I'd be worried if my response to life's setbacks – and you can't reach mid-life without a few setbacks – was always "It's not fair!"

I reserve the right to wear a bikini, if I want to. I'm happy to ditch the boob tube, but I'd like to keep the vest. I think people should be shot if they wear Ugg boots.

I'd like, in other words, to carry on wearing what I like and what I think suits me and I trust my friends to tell me when it doesn't.

I don't want to look 29. I don't want to be treated like a woman of 29. I want to be treated like a woman who has lived a bit and learnt a lot. I don't want people I've never met to send me emails saying "Hey" and signed with lots of kisses. I don't want to be cool.

What I want is to live in a society which appreciates the energy of youth, but which also respects the wisdom that comes with experience and age; a society where young people can get jobs, but where over-50s aren't too "unsexy" to employ. I want to live in a society that recognises that its population is getting older, and doesn't see this as a nuisance, and doesn't think that older people, and in particular older women, should be shut away.

I'd like to live in a society where people stay fit, and intellectually agile, and productive, for as long as they can, but aren't written off when they don't. And where those who can no longer look after themselves are treated with respect. And where people can shed some of the conventions that forced people into certain kinds of behaviour at certain ages without also shedding every last shred of what used to be called dignity. I'd like all this very much.

And pigs, in Ugg boots, might fly.

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