The other week, wearing my other Guardian hat (fashion), I wrote a piece in praise of the selfie (http://bit.ly/1tMWhHE). I don’t mean the selfie as in “Look at my thigh gap”, or worse, “Look at sexy me in my sexy paisley pyjamas” (you know who I’m talking about) – I mean the selfie as a way of showing who and what you are. I’ll admit to feeling a little disappointed with the response, which was largely that as older women, my readers did not feel a pressing need to get with the zeitgeist. The message was, “We will plough our own furrow, thanks. We don’t need photographs at our time of life, and anyway, we don’t like taking them, or having them taken … in fact, we don’t like seeing pictures of ourselves at all.” All very valid reasons, I’m sure, but beside the point, which is that women over 50 enjoy a media presence akin to that of the unicorn (that’s why I write under the mildly ironic name of the Invisible Woman, what with me being a woman over 50 and everything).
But are we not being a tad precious about ourselves and playing into the hands of those for whom a universal fear of ageing is very much to their advantage? The anti-ageing industry is worth billions, after all, and is an economic model constructed almost entirely out of our own insecurities. Wouldn’t a few middle-aged selfies go at least some way to normalising media images of older women? Such images are conspicuously lacking at the moment, and I can’t help thinking it’s about time this changed. And if you’re a man reading this, don’t think I don’t mean you as well, although it must be said that a world which persists in viewing things through gender goggles (like beer goggles, but much less fun) does, in fact, treat you more kindly. You are often described as “craggily handsome” or “distinguished”, whereas all we get is “tired” or “showing her age”.
I read somewhere that you can’t be what you can’t see, and this is certainly true of, say, the 50–65 age group of women. We think no one’s interested in us, only in our disposable income, so we’ve stomped off in a bit of a sulk and taken our lovely dateable selves away. I think that this is wrong-headed, and that what we should be doing is showing off how glorious and clever and wonderful we really are. Look at it this way: if you were the last macaroni penguin on the planet, you wouldn’t be trying to change yourself into a hummingbird; you’d be looking for another macaroni penguin. Think of Wall-E endlessly roaming a deserted landscape, tidying up and hoping against hope that he will find another Wall-E (with a view to poss LTR, GSOH essential) to swap tidying tips with. The middle-aged are not the last penguin on the planet, but we might as well be if we can’t start changing things ourselves instead of waiting for someone to do it for us. We retreat and then complain when we’re overlooked.
As things stand, anyone who’s not in it has a vague idea that middle age is a bit like North Korea – they don’t know much about it and they’re not sure they want to. When we’re younger we find the whole concept of being older dull and rather frightening when the real truth is that, liberated from a great many responsibilities and hopefully fit and healthy, there is an awful lot to be getting on with, not least of which is having fun. And then we forget that fun comes in many different forms, is not necessarily lover-shaped and almost never comes looking for you – you need to make some sort of effort.
As I see it, the big advantage of the selfie is that you can fiddle about until you take a picture that you like … and no one need ever see the rejects. I’m a beginner at this too, but the best tip I’ve been given is to always take the picture from slightly above you because when you’re looking up you lose any tendency towards a double chin (and who doesn’t have such a tendency?) and eye bags mysteriously vanish. If you like you can fiddle about with whatever simple editing app you’ve got on your phone, but try not to do this too much because (a) it’s cheating and (b) people can tell. The main thing is to get a sense of you, and no one knows you better than you do, right? You may also find, as I did, that it’s a good way of looking at yourself more objectively in terms of make-up and wardrobe because you see yourself more as others see you and that’s actually quite different from looking at yourself in a mirror.
So do get snapping and posting because it’s only by debunking the myths and horror stories around middle age that we’re going to make anything better for ourselves – and until we get ourselves out there we’ll continue fishing in an under-stocked pond or, God forbid, no pond at all.
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