So 54 is apparently too old for a woman to appear on a magazine cover without getting the airbrushing of a lifetime – if you believe the latest issue of Vanity Fair, at least. The 54-year-old in question is Nicole Kidman, an Oscar-winning actor and no slouch in the beauty stakes: she’s one of eight alternative cover stars celebrated for “breaking boundaries” in Hollywood right now.
So she might be breaking boundaries, but she’s clearly losing the battle to be allowed to look her age. And as for the sexy schoolgirl outfit, redolent of something from a 1960s St Trinian’s film… What is this weird obsession in magazines for grown-up women to look like teenagers? Kidman is a compelling, intelligent actor and she should be celebrated for that. She also deserves plaudits for finally proving that women in midlife can be box-office gold.
She has more than enough clout to carry a film, and is one of the few women in the industry who is finally being allowed to do so. So what is with that cover? I’m not so much taking exception to the outfit – not dissimilar to the one a 16-year-old Britney Spears wore for her Baby One More Time video in 1998 – but the fact that Vanity Fair felt ithad to aggressively airbrush this image of a 54-year-old woman: a woman who already looks a good 10 years younger than she really is, and could probably run a marathon without breaking a sweat.
Why is Hollywood so scared of women who look their age? Idris Elba, on his cover, looks every one of his 49 years – and thoroughly excellent. Ageing is inevitable. It’s also a privilege – and surely it’s better than the alternative? Think of all the benefits that come with age: wisdom, experience, expertise, self-confidence. These are all qualities we celebrate here at Studio10. I know watching our face and body ageing can be hard to accept, but we need to learn to put aside the idea that youthful beauty is the only kind that counts.
I know so many women who only grow more beautiful the older they get – and most of them know that chasing impossible standards only makes them unhappy. Kidman, to my mind, is a far better actor now than she was when she started out. That’s down to experience. She’s been making movies for almost 40 years. She probably has much better judgment these days about the projects she takes on, too. And it goes without saying that she’s beautiful. So why is this Vanity Fair cover so tone-deaf? It makes the magazine look hopelessly out of touch, and it does Kidman no favours, either.
Female celebrities are still under pressure to maintain unrealistic ideas of beauty – how many 54-year-old women do you know who actually look like that cover? The pursuit of perfection, particularly in the celebrity sphere, can have catastrophic consequences: look at what former supermodel Linda Evangelista is going through, after a fat-freezing procedure she underwent in 2016 went wrong, leaving her, in her words, “permanently disfigured” and “brutally deformed”.
For the rest of us, constantly seeing celebs looking 20 years younger than their actual age, and being bombarded with unattainable physical ideals everywhere we look, only make us feel dissatisfied with what we see in the mirror. Who is this situation actually helping? I’m disappointed in Vanity Fair. I had thought the media were waking up to the idea that older women can be beautiful and strong without being made to look like try-hard teens; that the odd wrinkle isn’t a disaster of international proportions; and that the experience that comes with age is worth celebrating. I will continue to do so for as long as ever I can.