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Saturday, February 15, 2014

Forget beige – meet the women who are ageing with attitude

Angela Neustatter Angela Neustatter, author of The Year I Turn ... – one of a slew of books for older women who won’t ‘age gracefully’. Photograph: Olly Hoeben

Apart from a few "frumpy years" in her 50s, when she lost confidence in her right to wear leopardskin tights, author Angela Neustatter says she has never let age define her.

Now she wants her latest book to be a call to arms to young as well as older women to fight back against the "invisibility" that is said to descend once they pass the first flush of youth.

The Year I Turn … is just one of a slew of books and films coming out that suggests Neustatter is among a growing band of women who refuse to go quietly into middle age and beyond.

A trend that began with Lynne Segal's Out of Time: The Pleasures and Perils of Ageing will be joined by In Your Prime: How to Age Disgracefully by India Knight, which is due out in June. Why Frenchwomen Don't Get Facelifts came out in January, with its author, Mireille Guiliano, claiming: "Ageing gracefully is an expression I don't like. Ageing with attitude is what I believe in."

Neustatter, who is 70, added: "This invisibility thing is so ridiculous, ludicrous. And conforming to someone's idea of what you should look like or wear at any particular age is patently not logical. A woman should not be restricted to beige because she is 50. Or not listened to because she isn't young.

"We need to have more confidence in having a voice and I do think, from the people I know and meet, that things are starting to change. Women won't be so easily ignored and younger women are playing a part in that, too. The explosion of feminism again among the young, and their interest in what older women have done, is fabulous."

Interest in older women – albeit those who have always refused to be invisible – bodes well for the latest book by Germaine Greer, who at 75 has rediscovered herself as a conservationist, and for 64-year-old Arianna Huffington's Thrive: The Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a Life of Wellbeing, Wisdom, and Wonder, which is tipped to be a bestseller, even before its March publication date.

The grey women's pound is being chased in film, too. In an interview with the Guardian last week, actress Kristin Scott Thomas, 53, said the film industry is starting to notice that there is a market for films about older people. Pointing to the fact that, for a start, the whole population is ageing – "so they've got to make something to entertain us" – and that teenagers no longer dominate box-office receipts, she pointed to the success of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and its sequel, as well as the return to TV of Birds of a Feather. "I just think there really need to be stories about people who have been through life and are still hopeful."

Even fashion magazines are beginning to regularly feature an older model, or offer style advice for age groups who won't be buying crop-tops this time around, thanks. Designers such as Vivienne Westwood, Donna Karan and Diane von Furstenberg have not allowed themselves to fade away. We've come a long way since Jean Paul Gaultier was still able to "shock" by using grey-haired models on the catwalk, back in the 1980s. Last week's unveiling of an American Apparel underwear campaign featuring 62-year-old Jacky O'Shaughnessy caused very little stir.

"It all comes with the strong caveat, however, that if you are poor, or caring for someone, or suffering from bad health, then none of this will apply," said Neustatter. "I'm aware of that and I am very lucky in that regard. I'm not suggesting for a minute that all is wonderful for everyone, because it is certainly not. But, [there is] a certain group [of older women], who have looked after themselves and think, I will buy those leopardskin tights or wear a shorter skirt, if that's what I am comfortable with.

"I'm not saying 70 is the new 50. Seventy is the new 70. It's very different from being 50 when you're at that stage of 'is that it?' and worrying if you're with the right person or have done enough, but it is also fun.

"There is no reason in the world why you shouldn't be heard. Older women have something to say – and we will say it."

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