A friend and I were discussing the other day the number of women we knew who’d started appearing with new faces. The same new face, in fact, involving a trout pout and weirdly waxen forehead.
‘I dunno,’ my friend said wistfully, after we’d agreed this was pointless and ugly, ‘I’d quite like to have this done,’ and she pulled her face upwards.
After the age of about 43, an increasing number of women are now pretending to be 35 for about 20 years. Successful middle age entails passing yourself off as something you’re not – because obviously, being over 50 is just too loathsome to cope with. There is a King Canute-like pathos about this – and it’s odd, because women over 50 also report in surveys that they’re having a great time, have never felt surer of themselves or more confident in their opinions.
Yet middle age is publicly understood as a time of loss. It’s not only all those birthday cards in which ageing is a punchline; it’s the newspaper and magazine articles about substandard bodies (where standard is youthful and thin); it’s the ads for face cream that characterise laughlines as symptoms of physical deterioration rather than signs of a life well lived.
In restless consumer societies, newness is an economic virtue and youthfuless becomes a moral one. So women buy the Botox to convince other people, and perhaps themselves, that they’re not past it, not unworthy of consideration, that they still matter. There is, of course, nothing wrong with looking after yourself, mentally and physically, with improving your health or trying to make the best of your appearance. But the challenge of middle age is to do all that with grace and humour, and without trying to pass as something you’re not – because the trouble is, if you think it’s your own fault for being ignored because you haven’t used Botox, you turn all the anger in on yourself and forget to be angry with the world for doing the ignoring.