Misogyny of ageing: Why I'm trying to be kinder to myself, despite the eye wrinkles

If I am already giving myself a hard time for advancing a year in my 30s, what hope do I have as I grow older?

While some struggle to adapt to the years that tick by, Farah Andrews is attempting to remain rational. Farah Andrews / The National
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I read recently that we all have a mental age, the age you automatically assume you are before your rational mind kicks in with reality. For the pragmatic among us that will just keep up with the ticking years and be your actual age, for others there is a momentary delay, a millisecond of confusion.

Me? Mentally I am 26. So imagine my surprise when a series of birthday cards informed me that I turned 34 this week.

To date, ages have never bothered me. Granted, I have only had a handful of decade milestones, but I have watched friends struggle as the numbers tick up like clockwork or, worse, they need to start ticking new age bracket boxes on forms. Thirty-five seems to be a real kicker there, so I have that to look forward to next year.

Although I do remember being 19 and lamenting the prospect of turning 20 with a borderline stranger. I don’t think I was actually worried about turning 20, but pop culture had told me that being anything older than a teenager was, frankly, terrible. Bar, of course, the 21 loophole, which we celebrate despite the fact it has almost zero remaining cultural impact in the UK. That borderline stranger laughed at me and my faux woes. At the time I thought he was ancient, he was probably 34.

Rationally, of course, I know that ageing is a privilege. Every day I age, I am getting to do what many haven’t and should carpe every single diem. Try telling that to the voice in my head, the commentary that asks where the lines around my eyes have come from (and what I plan to do about it?), and spends a few minutes a night scanning for hairs on my chin and wiry greys emerging from my parting. And that is before I embark on the six-to-eight-step beauty regime I have introduced to curb any physical signs that I am now in my 30s.

Sarah Jessica Parker has spoken about having grey hair in recent years. Reuters

I think this is the root of my new annual woe, a deeply embedded notion that women just aren’t meant to age. And if we do, we should do it quietly, just without too many lines on our faces. Although, don’t go too far the other way, because we’ll be just as maligned (if not more) for an over-ironed, frozen expression.

We celebrate silver foxes, but sensationalise women who go “au naturale” with their grey hair. Sarah Jessica Parker is one such woman, who in recent years has allowed her silver hair to come through. She was described as “brave” for doing so.

“There’s so much misogynist chatter in response to us that would never happen about a man,” Parker told Vogue in 2021.

“Especially on social media, everyone has something to say. ‘She has too many wrinkles, she doesn’t have enough wrinkles.’ It almost feels as if people don’t want us to be perfectly okay with where we are, as if they almost enjoy us being pained by who we are today, whether we choose to age naturally and not look perfect, or whether you do something if that makes you feel better. I know what I look like. I have no choice. What am I going to do about it? Stop ageing? Disappear?”

This is the attitude I am going to try and carry this year.

I can’t promise I am going to retire the AHAs, BHAs and retinol from my evening routine, or cancel any upcoming laser facial appointments. But I will try and be kind to myself when I see a new line appear around my eyes, endeavour not to delete it from my camera roll and stop airbrushing my own self-image, muting an internalised misogyny.

Updated: March 10, 2023, 6:02 PM