Can we really rewind the biological clock?

Patricia Feehily


Patricia Feehily

Can we really rewind the biological clock?

Miriam O’Callaghan is a poster girl for looking fab well into your 50s. Patricia says pressure on women to look young is 'unprecedented'

WHATEVER happened to the concept of venerable old age? The answer is simple: nobody grows old anymore – at least not without putting up a heroic fight.

Old age must be resisted at all costs, which, by the way, is not the same thing at all as lying about your age.

To be honest I can’t get my head around it at all. In my book, there’s no point in looking young if you have to admit your age. But I’ve got it wrong apparently. There is no point in looking young when you’re 25: the real achievement is to look young when you’re 65. So, while others are bragging about how fab they look at 65, I, though well on the wrong side of 65, am lying through my teeth announcing that I’ll probably look like a right ould hag when I’m 65.

This obviously is not what they mean by ‘rewinding the biological clock’.

Anyhow, it has come to my notice that older women are under immense pressure these days to at least try and look amazing like Miriam O’Callaghan, 56, walking her dog on Sandymount Strand, dressed to the nines, with long blonde locks floating like a vapour in the summer air. Sadly some of us don’t have either the energy or the motivation, and most of us don’t have the money.

Now all these celebrities who look fab at 50 and even more fabulous at 70 are causing me no end of angst. It’s not because of sour grapes, mind you, but because the idea of eternal youth doesn’t fit in with either my expectations or my philosophy of life, and it is, I’m told, even more high maintenance than an old house.

Anyway, there’s too much talk these days among therapists and counsellors about the terrible pressures being exerted by the fashion industry on young women and teenagers to ‘look a certain way’. Funny enough many of them are now sporting grey hair, which is too big an irony for me to even contemplate. I certainly hope it’s not a parody on our ageing predicament.

On the other hand, there’s not a word about older women who are now expected to look fab at 60 and run a marathon at 80. The pressure on the older woman to look young is, I tell you, unprecedented. So if you don’t mind, I’m taking up the cudgels this week on behalf of all women who have no great problem with looking their age, whatever about admitting to it.

This of course is not in keeping with the spirit of the age. We are living longer than we ever did. But we have no problem, it seems, with people getting on in years so long as they don’t turn decrepit in the process and remind younger people of their mortality. It’s not exactly a new phenomenon, but it is getting worse and there’s nothing we can do about it apart from apologising for not looking like Miriam O’Callaghan who is getting better looking the closer she gets to the camera and the pension. I can’t even take a selfie anymore without getting a fright.

Look, don’t mind me. Maybe I am a teeny bit jealous that I didn’t inherit the good looks and wrinkle free genes that some people are born with or that somebody didn’t tell me in time that the god of youth, whoever he was, certainly wasn’t Bacchus. Maybe I just took life too seriously and fretted so much that age, in the end, had no option really but to wither me and time could do nothing else but destroy my infinite variety. But what the heck! I’m glad that I didn’t spend my youth on a treadmill or my middle years drinking liquid egg white every morning like the 77 year old body builder recently who looked in the mirror when she was 50, and didn’t like what she saw one bit.

I’d be more in tune now with the philosophy of actress, Helen Mirren who told a tabloid newspaper last year when she was 70 that she didn’t expect to look so good as she aged. “But I don’t give a damn,” she said. Or with the down to earth Jennifer Tilley, 55, who attributes her youthful looks to lots of photoshopping. “I put a million filters on my pics and I blow out the wrinkles,” she said breezily.

But that hasn’t stopped the media idealisation, or idolisation, of older women who fight off the ravages of age and turn back the biological clock. They appear everywhere now, described as ‘stunning’, ‘amazing’ and ‘heroic’. Okay, I made up the last adjective, but there is a bit of hero worship there. There is also a bit of ageism, because they wouldn’t have made the ‘wow’ headlines in the first place if they hadn’t the years clocked up as well.

But how do you think it makes the rest of us feel. The most annoying thing of all is that most of them insist that there is no great effort involved in defying gravity and ageing. Forget about the plastic surgeon, the botox, and the multitudinous multinational elixirs of life. All you need is positive thinking, aerobics and maybe a bit of mindfulness, although former model Martha Steward, 73, says she also drinks the juice of a whole lemon every day. Forget it!

Now, on behalf of all older women, I am calling on society to stop putting pressure on us to look like spring chickens when the first flush of youth is well and truly gone. Otherwise there’s no telling where we’ll end up. We can live with the deep seated anxieties etched on our furrowed brows, but we could also do without adding to them at this late stage of our lives.