It’s hard to evade the stereotypes and assumptions placed on middle age and beyond, despite the fact that we consistently prove them to be far from the reality of our everyday lives. And yet – ageism continues to have an unwanted place in society and we can still be made to feel invisible. So it’s particularly refreshing to see Dame Helen Mirren turning archaic conjecture on its head by making herself very much seen at the Cannes Film Festival this year with a fabulous head of statement hair. I like her attitude – and the fact that the rebel in her has never diminished.
When I was younger, I held a very set view of what midlife looked like. All of the older women I knew fitted a definite stereotype and it seemed beyond the realm of possibility to break it. I assumed there’d be a point – probably menopausal – where I would simply morph into this woman. I’d suddenly love the look of a waterfall cardigan, modern music would start to sound like noise, and I’d be happy to let my years of adventure fade into memory.
What actually happened was that, as I approached the milestone midlife birthday, I actively pushed back. I baulked at the idea of switching weekends at festivals for gentle day trips, I answered society’s call to dress ‘age-appropriate’ by combining my daughters’ wardrobe with my own, and I adamantly refused to give up my nights spent dancing – and with Ibiza on the horizon for me, I’ve pretty much continued in the same vein ever since.
Still, I couldn’t help but wonder – was it just me who felt a niggling sense of the deadening of all things fun, that wild times should be replaced with staid routine, sedate fashion and just another way to keep older women in their place? Of course the answer is a very definite … NO. There’s a whole raft of us out there who will happily abandon the traditional middle age label well into our twilight years, if that’s what we choose.
I think the point to be made is that our inner rebel isn’t about trying to look younger or staving off the inevitable passage of time. It’s about choosing to age on our own terms, about not letting go of our individuality, and about challenging the stereotype image society places on us – something Dame Helen Mirren does extremely well. Her fabulous Rapunzel-length platinum hair at Cannes this year was a sassy, defiant “why the hell not?” statement.
Interviewed for You Magazine back in February and asked how having once said she wanted to grow old disgracefully was going for her, she said: “Not very well, actually. Because as you do get older you don’t really want to be disgraceful. You want to be graceful. That doesn’t mean you can’t have fun …” And that’s exactly it! Growing older doesn’t mean we have to surrender all things fun, take up knitting and make chutney for the rest of our days.
Perhaps midlife and beyond rebellions do become a little more graceful, but the idea that we should start to calm down as we reach a certain age is absolutely no fun at all. And why should we? Sometimes I want to let my hair down and just bask in that heady feeling of letting loose. I may get the occasional disapproving look from my daughters, but what’s a little rebellion without a stickler to ignore? There’s a fabulous rebel in all of us – we just need to keep them firmly in the limelight.
Image by World Nation News.