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Is Hollywood heralding in new a pro-ageing era?


By Sarah Finnan
16th Oct 2023
Is Hollywood heralding in new a pro-ageing era?

From Sarah Jessica Parker’s comments on ageing to Pamela Anderson embracing her make-up-free skin, Hollywood is having a much-needed conversation about getting older and the double standards women often face.

Two years ago, Maid star Andie MacDowell made headlines when she arrived at Cannes with natural, undyed hair. The face of L’Oréal Paris for 30+ years, the actor has long been revered for her luscious locks – she’s influenced more than a few beauty looks in her time – so when she decided to embrace her greys, the world stopped to listen. 

Debuting her salt and pepper locks on the red carpet – at one of the most glamorous events of the year, no less – the actor said that she wanted to “make silver her calling card”. The transition just felt more her, she told Vogue at the time.  

Though she was initially advised against going for it, MacDowell persisted – knowing that her instincts were right. “My managers had actually said to me, ‘It’s not time’. And I said, ‘I think you’re wrong, and I’m going to be more powerful if I embrace where I am right now.’” So, she followed her gut and let her natural hair colour take over and she has absolutely no regrets. Echoing something beauty writer Sali Hughes said of her decision to go grey, MacDowell admitted that she’s “never felt more powerful”.

“Once I did it, it was just so clear to me that my instincts were right because I’ve never felt more powerful. I feel more honest. I feel like I’m not pretending. I feel like I’m embracing right where I am. I feel really comfortable. And in a lot of ways, I think it’s more striking on my face. I just feel like it suits me.”

However, when it came to finding her own hair inspiration (or hair-spiration if you will), Hollywood was noticeably lacking on that front. “I couldn’t really find any famous women online. The inspiration I was getting was from people that are not famous. I started looking on Instagram… I was looking at real women out there who were transitioning to grey, as well as younger women in their 50s who were choosing to go natural.”

For MacDowell, going grey was the ultimate “power move” – she had nothing to hide and she felt her hair should reflect that. But, the film industry has a reputation for favouring the young and beautiful. Was she worried? Yes and no. 

“I suffered in this business as an actress, with people always wanting me to look younger. For me, it kind of hurts my heart that I can’t embrace where I am because honestly, I feel like I am enough right where I am. 

“I’m in great shape. I exercise all the time. I can pretty much keep up with the kids. I feel valuable where I am. I don’t want people to have the expectation that I need to look younger to have value or to be beautiful or desirable,” she said. 

Sex and the City star Sarah Jessica Parker also has quite a lot to say on the topic. “I am so confused by the fact that the majority of men my age are simply never asked about ageing,” she said in a recent interview with Glamour. “We all wake up, have a million things going on, and just need to get on with our days – I don’t understand the emphasis that is placed on the pondering of ageing.” 

For SJP, it’s all about the freedom of choice and though she tends to stay away from tweakments and surgery, she’s emphatic that everyone should do “what makes them feel better when they walk out the door… We are all different and I love that about women,” she notes. 

Looking a certain way has, unfortunately, always been part and parcel of her job, but things have escalated beyond just Hollywood and now, it seems that everyone is subject to the same pressures. “Everybody chimes in on someone’s figure, their face, their nose, their hair, their weight. And so to me, the pressure now is not from Hollywood. The pressure is from the human race and it’s as unhealthy as the Hollywood pressure. We are as unkind to each other as Hollywood ever was to women.”

Two summers ago, a photo of Parker dining al fresco with close friend Andy Cohen went viral. Bare-faced with no make-up on, she was pictured with her hair scraped back into a slick ponytail. The subsequent tabloid headlines read “Sarah Jessica Parker goes grey!”. “It became months and months of conversation about how brave I am for having grey hair,” Parker noted. “I was like, please, please applaud someone else’s courage on something,” she told Allure last year

“When I walk out the door, I want to feel ok, according to my standards. I can’t even tell you what those standards are – but you know how you feel when you feel most like yourself? Whatever that means. I’m not without vanity, I guess I just don’t care enough about everybody else’s opinion.

“I just don’t understand why I’m supposed to be spending that much time thinking about it,” she continued. “It’s not that I’m purposefully dismissive or delusional. But I don’t really ponder it. There’s been far more peripheral chatter about my time spent on earth than I’ve spent thinking about it myself.”

Both MacDowell and SJP have been vocal critics of how men and women are treated when it comes to ageing. “Andy [Cohen] has a full head of beautiful grey hair, but no one mentioned him, sitting right next to me. Not a soul,” Parker said of the paparazzi frenzy about her greys. “I’m not angry, it’s just an observation… it confounds me because of the double standard that is so plainly illustrated. It’s just not a great use of time, of ink, of anybody’s attention. We all need distractions, to take ourselves away from the headlines that are devastating, unthinkable. But is this the distraction we want? Or do you want to read a book or do a crossword puzzle or talk to a friend? I think we can do better.”

“We don’t do that to men! We love an older man. We love men as they age,” MacDowell noted of the dichotomy between the genders – one that is especially obvious in Hollywood. “I would love the same expectation for women, and we’re getting there… you know, baby steps.”

“What I would like for all of us to do is to stop and consider how we think about mature men and how we think about mature women and really start gauging what we say and what we project. We need to! There are changes that need to be made for my generation of women and the next. I just want people to reflect on it is all.” 

Another woman who is actively helping to change the narrative? Pamela Anderson.

One of many high-profile guests at Paris Fashion Week last month, the actor decided to forgo make-up in favour of a more fresh-faced, natural look. “I didn’t come to Paris Fashion Week and think, ‘I’m not going to wear any make-up.’ I just thought… I don’t know, something just kind of came over me and I was dressing in these beautiful clothes and I thought, ‘I don’t want to compete with the clothes.’ I’m not trying to be the prettiest girl in the room. I feel like it’s just freedom. It’s like a relief,” she told French Vogue. 

“You kind of have to challenge beauty sometimes. You know, if we all chase youth or we’re chasing our idea of what beauty is in fashion magazines and everything, we’re only going to be disappointed or maybe a little bit sad,” she continued.

“I also feel as a woman, and as a woman my age and a woman in the public eye, I just kind of think, ‘It’s also your job to be a model of everything, all sorts of choices’. So I am just being me. You know, my kind of who I am, in all of these great clothes, running around Paris. So I’m very lucky,” laughed Anderson, who later admitted that she is the “happiest” she’s ever been in her own skin. “It’s what’s inside the clothes that counts, and I think beauty comes from within.”

So far, the reaction to Anderson’s rebellion (at least that’s how she referred to it) has been overwhelmingly positive. Jamie Lee Curtis applauded the move, sharing a photo of the former Baywatch star on Instagram and writing, “The natural beauty revolution has officially begun!” 

Male celebrities are widely considered to “get better with age”. Fans extol the virtues of an older man, with George Clooney, Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio still considered to be some of the most attractive in the industry. Not only that, but work seems to come easier to them too. Casting older male actors is rarely a problem. In fact, it’s probably more of an issue to narrow the choices down than anything. 

Can the same be said when filling roles for older women? Doubtful. Of course, there are the long-standing icons – Helen Mirren, Dame Judy Dench, Jane Fonda – but they’re the exception, not the rule. And they face much harsher standards when it comes to their appearance too. We use the phrase “silver fox” to describe older men, but there’s no such equivalent for women… which itself points to a wider problem surrounding the ageing process and how it’s perceived differently for both men and women.

However, with role models like SJP, Andie MacDowell and of course Pamela Anderson, paving the way for us, the promise of change is in safe hands.

Featured photography via @pamelaanderson.