Call the new Pirelli calendar whatever you like, but don't call it empowering for middle-aged women like me

As a fully-fledged middle-aged woman, I am frankly exhausted with the hypocrisy that surrounds this excuse for art every year

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Just what does Pirelli, a corporate tyre company, have to do with empowering older women? That’s right, absolutely nothing. Yet this week you would be forgiven for thinking Pirelli was the newly anointed Saint of Middle Aged Women, judging by the absurd fanfare for its 2017 calendar.

For over 50 years, the world’s fifth-largest wheel-maker has been dictating what female beauty should be to us women. Its annual calendar spun us images of exploited and objectified women, clad in rubber, nipple tassels and car oil in places it wasn’t intended.

Yet for the second year in a row, we are being told that they’ve “torn up to rule book” on what makes women desirable. Behold the “minimally retouched” actresses on show, including the likes of Julianne Moore, 55, Robin Wright, 50, Helen Mirren, 71, and Kate Winslet, 41.

According to the marketing spiel, this year’s calendar is all about sending out a “cry against the terror of perfection and youth”. It’s enough to make the middle-aged brigade of this country choke on their avocado-frosted muffins.

As a fully-fledged middle-aged woman, I am frankly exhausted with the hypocrisy that surrounds this excuse for art every year.

We’re told Pirelli’s 2017 calendar is “shaking things up”. How so? Will its glossy pages be filled with scientists, politicians and businesswomen shaping our world today? (Of course not, because they would never go there).

Will it feature an “empowered” cross-section of older womanhood from around the world, in all shapes, colours and sizes? (Of course not, silly me, it’s still hugely dominated by white women from Europe and the US).

But how about this “natural” thing? Great, I think. Let’s run with that. Shaking things up surely means no hair stylists, no make-up, and no surgical interventions – yes, that includes fillers and Botox.

But no – what we are being treated to instead is 14 internationally renowned actresses who, don’t get me wrong, I quite admire, but are pinned into the pages of a Pirelli calendar in a variety of close-ups where they pose in leotards (yes, of course there is still Lycra). It’s blatantly just the 2010s version of the pouting semi-clad Pirelli model, and a serious case of smoke and mirrors.

German photographer Peter Lindbergh who has shot the calendar enthuses: “I feel I’m responsible for freeing women from the idea of eternal youth and perfection.” What I (and any other middle-aged woman) see is that what is still being foisted upon us is pressure to possess unattainable beauty. The idea that even when you are “un-retouched” you really should be looking this good, this blemish-free, this thin. What’s realistic or positive about that?

The Pirelli calendar, with its A-list stylists and professional soft lighting, is saying to every woman over 40: it’s OK to be you – sort of. You-lite, anyway. Not the whole you. That would be offputting.

Brands such as Barbie and Playboy, which recently ended nudity on its pages, have all cottoned on to the power of being seen as feminist, which leads to much cheering and back-patting across news publications and social media. Pirelli is simply hanging its oily radials onto the latest, lucrative zeitgeist. And doing it unconvincingly.

Just two years ago, the fetish-themed 2015 calendar featured a depressingly predictable string of Victoria’s Secret models including Adriana Lima and Gigi Hadid, mostly topless or wearing PVC outfits. All it has done is replaced titillation with dictation.

For some reason Pirelli hopes its glamorous presentation – think pouty, black and white power shots – gives it a social acceptability and immunity from criticism. But is this actually just a cynical commercial flash in the pan rather than a genuine cultural shift? I’d say so. Call it what you like, but don’t call it great for older women.

Next year, Pirelli, do all us “older” women of the world a favour and feature 12 women with their real spare tyres. Now that would be empowering.