Alice is turning 41 in a few weeks, but has found herself asking the question: What does 40 look like? Because it has dawned on her that she sure as heck has no idea what a woman her age is supposed to look like anymore.
I was sitting down, minding my own business last week, when a friend’s child began poking his fingers into my upper thighs in bewilderment.
“Wow,” he said. “These are kind of weird”. He hadn’t seen these “slobby bits” on his own mum’s legs and found the whole thing a bit odd. (Kids, huh?)
This came off the back of being asked by an eight-year-old about the “scratches” that show up my eyes when I laugh. Her mum – who regularly gets Botox and fillers – has nary a laugh line or crows foot on her smooth, unlined face, so mine were incredibly confusing to her.
(It’s worth noting here – for the added little insult to my self-esteem – that both of these children’s mothers are older than I am.)
A few moments after slobby-gate, still slightly rattled, I was scrolling through Instagram when I saw an image that stumped me for a few seconds.
I knew I was looking at three very famous faces, but just who did they belong to?!?
Eventually it came to me that they were Kim Kardashian, Oprah and J.Lo, but it hadn’t been at all obvious on first glance. Because all three women looked ridiculous similar – despite the fact that decades separate them.
I googled Kim Kardashian’s age immediately – 42 – even though I knew this already, because I tend to Google her every six-ish months in moments like this, when I worry that I’m having a psychotic break believing that she is older than me.
So, each of these women is in a different decade (Oprah is 69 and J.Lo is 53) and yet… all these women could be the same age in this image.
But just which age that is exactly, I’m not entirely sure anymore.
I turn 41 in a couple of weeks, now firmly in my 40s, and it has occurred to me that I actually have no idea what a woman my age is supposed to look like.
Most of the women around my age I see, are my friends. And the bulk of them are yet to touch their faces or bodies. A few are now embracing their little crops of grey hairs (one friend refers to them as her sparkles) and we often laugh about the fact that one of our eyes (just one!) appears to be shrinking, or the odd state of our belly-buttons (particularly after having children).
But I know the faces of these women all so well and have seen their lovely faces so many times in the last few decades that I’ve barely noticed any shift in them. I’d still swear to you that most of them are the same age as when I met them (except for one of my best friends who I met when I was six – I will concede she looks older than six now)
So I decided to turn to Google and search for celebrities who are born within 12 months of me to see if I could recognise what 40ish looks like.
Here’s that list:
That’s Rachel Bilson, Bryce Howard Dallas, Alexis Bledel, Michelle Dockery, Sienna Miller, Lacey Chabert (YES, from Party of Five!), Natalie Portman, Jessica Alba, Amy Schumer, Jennifer Hudson, Britney Spears, Nicki Minaj, Beyonce, Kelly Clarkson, LeAnn Rimes, Jessica Biel, Kirsten Dunst, Anne Hathaway, Priyanka Chopra, Alison Brie, Lizzy Caplan, Serena Williams, Nicole Richie, Meghan Markle, Kate Middelton, Adriana Lima and Colbie Smulders.
Now I don’t know about you, but if I was given that list with zero context and asked what all these women have in common, my first guess certainly wouldn’t have been age. I don’t know if it would have been my 25th guess.
It used to be that really only people who smoked, or spent a god awful amount of time in the sun, could look drastically different in age to their actual age – but now, thanks to Instagram filters, real life fillers and Botox, it’s darned hard to work out anyone’s actual age.
Cameron Diaz once lamented that, “It’s almost as if we have failed if we don’t remain 25 for the rest of our lives.” Is that what’s still happening? In all honesty, I’m not sure that stands true anymore, because even the 25-year-olds don’t look 25 anymore.
Maybe it’s just me (and my one shrinking eye), but sometimes I can no longer even guess what ballpark someone’s age is.
So, I looked it up and apparently it’s not just me and this is a real thing – we are all starting to blend into one person, who is one age. And we probably have the internet and the Kardashians to blame for it all.
Rachel Weingarten is a beauty historian (what a job title!), and says we’ve all been influenced up to the eyeballs by what we’ve seen online.
See, as humans we are social creatures by nature and have a strong drive for social acceptance. So, now – more than ever before – we can see what is literally liked the most by people around the world, and often have a strong urge to conform to that ideal of beauty.
People like the Kardashians now have the ability to completely influence consumer habits. Particularly Kylie Jenner, whose overly plumped pout became so lusted over that people were willing to actually physically harm themselves to get the look, temporarily (remember the god-awful Kylie Jenner Lip Challenge?!?)
Rachel laments that the pressure to look a certain way is now starting younger than ever – and its quashing teenager girls desire to experiment with their own personal expression.
“Girls don’t get to try on and fail anymore,” she says. “One of my fondest memories of being younger was trying on these ridiculous makeup trends, but [now] they’re just copying, there’s nothing original there anymore. It is sad.”
Psychology professor Renee Engeln (and the author of Beauty Sick: How the Cultural Obsession with Appearance Hurts Girls and Women), says it’s sad in a lot of other ways too. This idea of conforming to one idea of beauty is actually just robbing the world of more beauty.
Because when it boils down to it, the fact of the matter is we don’t all look alike, and that is what should be celebrated.
“We don’t all look young and we don’t all have full lips and smooth skin, and when you see this kind of uniformity, it’s a real denial of human physical features,” she says. “I think that’s ugly no matter what. That kind of denial hurts people. It makes them feel erased, and for women in particular, it makes them spend God knows how much time trying and trying to reach that look that they may be genetically unable to reach.”