Beyoncé's age 'scandal' is just another day at the office for those who profit from policing women's bodies

A woman's age matters. In 1970, my grandmother had to lop several years off her real forty-something age in order to land a job at the Inland Revenue

Christobel Hastings
Thursday 22 October 2015 16:42 BST
Sam Bailey is not first to have a suffered a snub from Beyonce
Sam Bailey is not first to have a suffered a snub from Beyonce (Getty)

Another day, another tale of so-called celebrity female ‘indiscretion’ hitting the headlines.

Except this time, it’s not some woebegone soap star that’s put on a few pounds, or a pop singer who’s forgotten to take off yesterday’s makeup trending on the sidebar of shame; but the super starlet and all-round feminist queen Beyoncé that’s been earmarked for scrutiny, after her father Matthew Knowles made searching comments about his daughter’s age in a news interview earlier this week.

Speaking to Power 105.1’s Breakfast Club about the origins of Destiny’s Child, Knowles intimated that his daughter might have lied about her age. Reminiscing about when she was starting out in the music industry, he remarked, “Pink, she's the exact same age as Beyoncé. Usher, he was the same age. They were all 14 or 15 years old.” As many publications dedicated to the pursuit of Beyoncé’s true age have assiduously attested, Pink is 36; leaving Beyoncé, who cites her birthday as September 4th, 1981, coming up short in the numbers.

It’s since been proven that Beyoncé didn’t in fact lie about her age, and that Matthew Knowles was speculating in offbeat comments to the talk show. But this isn’t the first time conspiracy theories have swirled around the truth of Beyoncé’s age – it’s a sad actuality that it’s been a source of speculation for years. Birth certificate leaks and celebrity testimonies have plagued Beyoncé for years, such as Gabrielle Union’s comment that she had been friends with Beyoncé since their teens (Union is 42).

It may only be a two year discrepancy we’re talking about here, but as is evident in the media’s gleeful coverage of the ‘scandal’, it’s just another day at the office for those who profit from policing women’s bodies and behaviour. Toxic media ideals perpetuate the idea that women are only desirable if they remain young and beautiful, thus pressurising women to stave off signs of ageing for fear of vilification. Since youth is synonymous with beauty, and beauty in turn a currency for money, power and status, the myth that women’s assets deplete as they grow older is still flagrantly circulated.

Even worse, news reports insidiously sift every female nip, slip or out-of-context comment to the surface in an attempt to discredit a performer’s work. It can only be matter of time before critics sit poised to pounce in Beyoncé’s future shows to come; every knee-drop that goes askew in Baby Boy will be justified by knackered joints and depleted stamina; a tell-tale sign of ageing on the one hand, a loss of social virtue on the other.

Speculating a woman’s age isn’t simply meaningless chatter. If it were, my maternal grandmother wouldn’t have had to lie about her age on many different occasions. In 1970, she had to lop several years off her real forty-something age in order to land a job at the Inland Revenue. You could say it was essential in her being able to support her family of three teenage children, who were duly kept out of sight from work colleagues, lest there was ‘talk’.

The fact remains that once a person knows your age, you are then subject to a particular set of assumptions and expectations about who you are and what you should be doing in that stage of life, whether that's targeting women in their thirties with fertility adverts, or women in their fifties with cruise ship holidays. Once we pigeonhole someone with a number, we inhibit their potential to succeed, and compound the already sizeable scrutiny put upon on female bodies with our own judgement.

Beyoncé might have been vindicated on this occasion, but the next female celebrity might not be so lucky. Being in fierce pursuit of the proof of someone’s age doesn’t make you an intrepid reporter - it makes you complicit in a negative representation of women, designed to neuter female advancement and individual achievement. If female worth wasn't measured in the preservation of youth, women would go on to achieve far greater successes, and be in celebrated for them in turn.

For women aren’t worth less as they age. They grow more powerful and accomplished, as Beyoncé, the consummate performer, has demonstrated. That’s what should be making the headlines.

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