Why do wrinkles give men gravitas but mean women are over the hill?
Evidence in the Countryfile “ageism” and “sexism” tribunal case, which four former female presenters in their 40s and 50s have taken against the BBC, has been dripping with words that strike terror into the heart of every female over, well, about 22.
Botox, wrinkles, bald spots, hair dye ... old.
And the extensive media coverage of the tribunal also highlights neuroses about women and ageing, because however much we like to think we’re beyond all the -isms, the signs indicate we aren’t that grown-up.
How else to explain the kerfuffle over Carol Vorderman and her Victoria Beckham ‘zip’ dress, which showed off her hourglass curves? The real message: could a woman who is 49 actually work this look and be sexy?
Judging by the dropped jaws of the national media, you’d think it was impossible for a good-looking, more mature woman to have va va voom all of her own.
No, it had to be down to the fashion genius of Posh, herself quickly approaching that dangerous age territory of fortysomething.
Why was everybody so stunned? While Vorderman is no supermodel, she’s always been foxy, with a penchant for daring dresses.
Still, she’d be the first to admit looking that good comes at a price, having promoted a detox plan.
Of course, that’s the conundrum at the cruel heart of it all. If a woman over 30 doesn’t have people covering their eyes and turning away, how does she do it? It’s a subject of endless fascination as recent stories in the Press prove.
Could drinking coconut water be the secret of 48-year-old Demi Moore’s youthful glow? (Er, no. It’s the hugely expensive cosmetic surgery.) Is a pack of £29.99 Eye Secrets adhesive strips the secret to Jennifer Aniston’s fresh-faced look? (Er, unlikely. She’s only 41 and probably had a good night’s sleep.) Is good hair the reason Cindy Crawford looks great at 44? (Er, she might say that but we’d argue that she’s a supermodel who’s promoting a hair dye, so ... )
And that’s just the nice stuff. Usually ageism is used to stick the boot in. Last week, Caprice’s eye area was scrutinised. Under the gloating headline “Looks like it’s been a tough year”, close-ups of her face apparently proved she “was showing her age”.
Meanwhile, every week we are asked to marvel that Dannii Minogue (38) could possibly be winning the frock-offs against Cheryl Cole (27). Still, fashion queen or not, Minogue gets her share of flak, including endless speculation about the pressure of appearing beside a woman a good 10 years younger.
Every woman in the public eye is defined by her age (sell-by date) and whether she looks well for it or not. It’s a lose-lose. If she looks “tired”, she’s savaged. If she looks “frozen”, she’s savaged. Witness the abuse directed at Madonna, either fab fiftysomething or bizarre anti-ageing experiment. But who can blame her for trying ... ?
For us mere civilians, a glut of anti-ageing products is lunged our way. Creams, serums, fillers, and the kind of surgery that used to be the (literal) preserve of Hollywood, all promising to deliver miracles under an easy-to-pay monthly plan.
Perhaps it would be more acceptable if the same rules applied to men. But a cursory glance across our rolling news channels confirms that no male will be banned from the screen on the grounds he’s too old or ugly.
For him, high definition holds no fear: wrinkles mean gravitas; gut-spill over waistband means character and experience; red bulbous nose a life well-lived.
On Strictly, Felicity Kendall (64) and Pamela Stephenson (60) do the splits, as the public watches agog. But they’ll never get a primetime presenter’s gig on British TV.
They’ll never be Brucie.