I should probably preface this opinion piece by stating that I’m acutely aware of the fact that Cher, 67, has never exactly been a pin-up for the ‘natural and realistic beauty’ brigade.
Having said that, the cover of her new album released this week took her never-ending quest to cartoonise herself to new and terrifying levels. In a trademark negligee, sporting long blonde hair extensions and face airbrushed almost beyond recognition, utterly devoid of even the hint of a wrinkle, Cher looks younger than Miley Cyrus.
It’s poignant that the release of the image has happened at the same time as Marks & Spencer have launched their ‘Britain’s Leading Ladies’ ad campaign, which features 68 year-old Helen Mirren. In sharp contrast to her contemporary Cher, Helen frequently features on the red carpet and in images with every single wrinkle on her magnificent face proudly displayed, silencing anyone who’s ever believed being beautiful means being young.
Long gone are the days where one was given a three quarter length polyester pleated skirt and cardi combo for one’s fiftieth birthday and expected to sport them unfailingly every day until we shuffle off this mortal coil. That’s quite right of course. Everyone has the right to rock their own brand of gorgeous, regardless of age. As a thirty-something I’m inspired by the array of fabulous older women amongst my acquaintance and relieved to note that growing older doesn’t have to involve eschewing anything stylish. (May I cite Vivienne Westwood, at this juncture?)
However, for every Annie Lennox, there is a Madonna. For every Jamie Lee-Curtis there is a Melanie Griffith. There’s a vast difference between refusing to fade into the background because you are no longer of child-bearing age and wilfully attempting to fool people into believing you are younger than you are. The former is a celebration of your body, the second an apology for it. So why all the apologising?
As a body confidence campaigner, the second biggest demographic who share their concerns and opinions with me, after teenagers, are middle-aged women. They tell me that, in a culture where a woman’s worth is measured by how closely she resembles our notions of beauty and in which age is seen as the kryptonite of attractiveness, they feel utterly invisible.
Whilst amateur anthropologists will argue that men of all ages are programmed to find teenage girls sexually desirable (ick) and therefore one’s beauty DOES indeed hinge on how closely one resembles a sixteen year old, all this serves to do is further reinforce the notion that a woman ‘s success is directly proportional to her beauty and her beauty is indicated by how many people wish to shag her. As a result, we find ourselves in a situation where women are silenced just as they reach an age where they’ve gained the wisdom, perspective and life experience which means they should be more respected and their opinions more acknowledged than ever.
Rather than examine our attitudes and redress the imbalance, instead individuals choose to inject poison into their faces to freeze the facial muscles to reverse the effects of ageing, have bits of miscellaneous fleshy type tissue sucked out of and injected into their bodies, frittering away time, effort and money which could so much more easily be ploughed into something more rewarding and useful for humankind.
Never is the discrepancy between how men and women are perceived more pronounced than in the world of entertainment. I won’t patronise you by listing all the examples of television programmes that feature an ageing male host alongside a young, glamorous female one, or all of the male rock-star pensioners who are still deemed to be ‘sex symbols’ without apparently having subjected themselves to surgery.
Cher has an understandable the desire to keep herself ‘fresh and current’ and to compete with a pop-machine endlessly churning our increasingly infantile and woefully generic female starlets. Despite this, there is undoubtedly something undignified and vaguely sad about her latest album cover. For a woman of Cher’s calibre, whose career has spanned five decades, to suggest that her continued success depends on her denial of her advancing years proves how far we still have to go. In 2013, we still need to diversify our collective ideas about beauty, but also learn how to respect women of all ages as human beings.