Things Fall Apart: J.Lo, Brad Pitt and the annoying double-standards of ageing gracefully

When Liadan Hynes' marriage fell apart she had to work on adjusting to the new reality. In her weekly column, Things Fall Apart she explores the myriad ways a person can find their way back to themselves


“THIS WOMAN IS FIFTY,” the line screamed across the Instagram story post. Posted by a 20-something-year-old clearly stunned that a woman this age could look, well, this good. The strong font used, for maximum effect. The line was pasted across that picture of J.Lo from last week, bestriding the Versace catwalk, in that green jungle dress she first wore in 2000, causing Google, so eagerly was the image searched for that first time, to invent the Google image search function.

It was everywhere late last week, that image of J.Lo, looking essentially identical to her self of almost 20 years ago. And of course, that was the point of much of the furore. Yes, she’s 50, but look at her. She doesn’t 50. She looks decades younger. In fact, she looks better than most women decades younger; fitter, glossier, more toned.

There’s a film trailer going around at the moment for a movie starring Donald Sutherland (84) and Brad Pitt (55). The camera pans slowly over both their faces, lovingly lingering on each pore, wrinkle, crease, every mark of age glaringly obvious if beautifully lit, for all to see.

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Nobody’s gasping at Donald and his ability to look thirty years younger than he actually is. Donald is allowed to look is age. You probably know a man who looks sort of like him. Because famous men are allowed to look like reality, or close enough approximations of reality — sadly, I’m not sure many of us could claim to know a Brad-alike in real life.

Not knocking J.Lo

My aim is not to knock J.Lo here. I too did the gasp in admiration when a friend showed me the shot. The woman is operating on a level of confidence that could probably power vehicles of its own accord; that kind of thing should be applauded in a woman.

It’s not J. Lo — it’s our reaction to her. It’s the fact that women outside of certain parameters are only celebrated when they look nothing like the reality of most women.

Sure, J.Lo has probably applied the efforts of a professional athlete to looking the way she does. And I suppose we can applaud that effort, although it is her job. She is getting millions for it. But the message that this is some sort of celebration of age which trickles down to benefit the rest of us? Because here is a 50-year-old woman being allowed to appear in the mainstream media? Or she’s somehow proving 50 can look this good.

It’s the exact opposite — a denial of the ageing process. She’s getting all that praise and attention because she looks nothing like a 50-year-old woman. It makes real women that little bit more invisible. Sets us up again to strive for some sort of ridiculous physical perfection.

I wrote a piece about this kind of thing relating to Joan Collins years ago and a friend of my mother’s came at her saying I was age-shaming. "You’re missing the entire point", my mother informed her. By celebrating someone’s age purely on the basis that they don’t look it, we’re saying women of a certain age, who really look that age, are wrong in some way.

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Ageing is normal

It’s ok to be 50 ladies, as long as you look like a hot 20-year-old. It’s more of the same double standards of physicality — any old thing for men, absolute perfection for women.

I Googled plus-sized models recently for some work research. The results were depressing. First, how could these women, some of whom appeared to be barely a size 12, be considered plus-sized? But even when they were larger than that, they all still subscribed to a notion of perfect. There wasn’t a bulging stomach amongst them.

Plus-sized, such as it is, is allowed in the mainstream, when it is restricted to having a large, although perfectly toned and pert, bottom, actual boobs, and hips that flare out from your waist. The perfect hourglass body, in other words.

This kind of thing isn’t widening the parameters to make all bodies, or ages acceptable. It’s celebrating the exceptions to the rule. It's this kind of thing that got us to the point where young women revealing their stretch marks on their Instagram account is greeted as brave. Showing the reality of most women’s bodies is 'brave'.

Again, it’s not the women at fault here; they’re pushing back. It’s the belief systems we live in. Depressing stuff.

Not seeing a version of yourself in the world is demoralising. Women who look something like you, who seem to contend with the same things, share the same struggles, enjoy the same things. Seeing an alleged version of yourself, one which in reality will only make you feel less than, does none of us any service.

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Raising a daughter as a single parent, examples of women who exist outside such oppressive standards of perfection is something I think about a lot. We need to see ourselves reflected back at us. Real versions of ourselves, not perfect ones.


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