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Age before beauty: Is it important not to look your age?

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Mary Beard says she wants to create an 'old movement' to encourage people to take pride in getting older.

Mary Beard says she wants to create an 'old movement' to encourage people to take pride in getting older.

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Mary Beard says she wants to create an 'old movement' to encourage people to take pride in getting older.

Time and tide waits for no man - or woman for that matter - and we are all aware of the tell-tale signs of ageing. The odd grey hair turns into a full head while a few wrinkles around the eyes eventually morph into something a lot more visible.

But while most of us make some attempt to curb the ravages of time with regular trips to the colourist, fancy face creams and fitness regimes, one outspoken woman has said it's time to embrace reality and stop trying to look younger than we really are.

UK historian and campaigner against the prejudice faced by older women in society, 59-year-old Mary Beard says she wants to create an 'old movement' to encourage people to take pride in getting older.

"Old instantly connotes the hunched lady or gentleman" she said. "I want an old movement - by the time I die I want 'old"'to be something we say about ourselves with pride."

Speaking at the Cheltenham Literature Festival last month, she said that she found it insulting that so many people want to look younger than they are.

"I think we have to look quite hard at the vocabulary we use to talk about ourselves and our ageing," she said. "One of the things that's most surprising is the way it's a compliment to say 'gosh you don't look 75'. What's the matter with looking 75?

"Somehow, to pat someone on the back for looking younger than they are is one of the weirdest examples of doublethink in our culture."

We spoke to two Dublin women to find out what their views are and whether or not they believe in taking steps to make ourselves appear younger than we really are.

Patricia Morone is 57-years-old.

With three grown up children and six grandchildren, she believes we should respect people of the older generation but says it is important to keep looking good for as long as possible.

I do not agree with Mary Beard. If you have a car that is old and needs some maintenance do you not look after it? Women should do whatever they feel comfortable with, if you wish to wear make-up, colour your hair, using anti-ageing products, then good for you.

I have always dressed well and maintained my appearance and that will never, ever change. Yes, I do believe that there are certain pressures on women to look and dress a certain way - but I do it for myself and not for anybody else.

I am a total advocate for keeping the ageing process at bay. I cleanse, tone and moisturise my skin twice daily, drink plenty of water and eat healthily. I wear make-up every single day and I do this because I feel great when wearing it. My daughter has her own make up business called Decadent Beauty, so it obviously runs in the family.

But regardless of looks, I think older Irish women are ignored in Irish society. Particularly in the work place, their life skills and experience are constantly overlooked for a younger candidate, who will most likely not have the knowledge and life experience that an older woman has.

On that note, think it would be wise to encourage the younger generation to treat older people with respect because we will all be there too one day, and sooner than we think. We can learn a lot from Italian and Spanish families who hold their grandparents in the highest regard and rather than leave them out to pasture they are the focal point of the family."

Pauline Walsh is 69-years-old, is married to Michael and has three sons and one daughter.

She lives in Drumcondra and while she agrees that older women are somewhat overlooked in society, says the only pressure on them to look younger comes from their own peer group.

I think there isn't too much pressure from society on older women to look younger, mostly because of indifference, and perhaps it is thought that older women don't jingle the tills as much as younger women.

I notice that in magazines and newspaper fashion supplements there is little in the way of features and advertising aimed at older women. Also, I have noticed that the clothes aimed specifically at older women are lacking in style. There is not enough consideration and effort put into producing attractive clothes and accessories for the mature woman.

But even though I admire women who don't feel the need to enhance their appearance, I don't belong to that genre. I must say I envy them as well, because it is much easier for them to wash their face and not bother about creams and the never-ending hair-colouring hassle and expense.

Age is a cruel foe and very few women feel good when they look in the mirror and see a visage with wrinkles, grey hair, (and let's face it, hair sprouting where it shouldn't be at all), staring back at them. It's not easy to let go of the younger you, so I think it is a natural instinct to want to mask the decline in our appearance a bit.

If all the older women in Ireland were to go au naturel tomorrow, I don't think a shockwave would shake the nation.

It's true also that most men feel the need to conform to society's expectations by dressing in an uncomfortable suit and tie, keeping their hair in a neat short-back-and-sides style and performing the shaving ritual every day. I also notice more men sporting hair where previously there was a sparse spot. But, having said that, women in Ireland are at a disadvantage. There is a very low representation of women in the Dail and other decision-making organisations. In this respect, older women have even less of a voice. However, there are a number of organisations, mostly voluntary, which promote their interests.

I'm thinking of Age Action Ireland, Age and Opportunity, National Women's Council, etc. Unfortunately, due to cuts in funding, other fine organisations like the Older Women's Network and Older and Bolder were forced to close, lessening the effectiveness of the older citizen in fighting for their rights. But older women are great for getting out and making a life for themselves and participating in clubs. Also, I think families and the local communities value their older members.

So my advice to younger people would be to remember that we're the people who have prepared the road for them and who have lived through and survived all that life brought our way and are mostly optimistic. Even though our bodies have aged, our essential beings are still the same, and we're not so different from them inside. We have fun and laughter to share with them, given a chance. After all, we're all just human people on the same journey.

Louise Glennon is the Women in Politics and Decision Making Officer at the National Women's Council of Ireland.

She says society is youth obsessed and more should be done to enhance the lives of older women in particular.

The focus on women's appearance by the mass media, and as a result by wider society, is extremely intense. The focus on youth is one significant element of the physical scrutiny of women. Without doubt, women are judged on their appearance more than men, and are under a great deal of pressure to achieve a defined ideal of beauty.

NWCI believes that how each person chooses to present themselves should be a reflection of their own personal style, regardless of age or gender. We would encourage all media institutions to assess their editorial policy on gender and the impact that their coverage might have on the relationships that women and girls have with their bodies and sense of self.

Large numbers of women, particularly older women, do not work outside of the home, and have spent much of their lives taking care of the family and of housework. Once children have moved on and family dynamics change, many women can struggle to redefine their role both within the home and as a contributor to society. But, unfortunately, women's work in the home is not recognised or rewarded by the State.

Pension inequality is a significant factor with only 16pc of those who get a full contributory pension being women. Government must recognise the unpaid contribution made by women to society in the provision of care for children, and for the elderly by delivering the long-promised homemaker's credit. This would enable women to lead more independent lives, and feel more valued by society on a whole.


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