OLDER women have suddenly become visible in all their mature glory. We had the handsome, snow-haired Christine Lagarde (59), managing director of the International Monetary Fund, in town last week, charming all with her power suit, which was accessorised with a Newbridge Rose of Tralee broach and a €7,000 Hermes bag.
Broadcaster Marian Finucane (64) also looked every inch the fashionista at her wedding to her long-term partner, John Clarke.
Although society still worships youth and women are expected to ‘fight ageing’, big-brand cosmetics names are
eventually waking up to the pulling power of older women in beauty campaigns.
Twiggy, that icon of 1960s cool, is now the face of L’Oreal. Not many 65-year-olds look like Twiggy, who has long, skinny legs, huge eyelashes and enviable, blonde tresses.
She is following in the footsteps of that other paragon of mature beauty, Helen Mirren, who was also signed to L’Oreal.
Mirren has said that she would not rule out cosmetic surgery and it is rumoured that she has had work done, but, either way, like Twiggy, she looks great.
Mature beauty is a natural, interesting, characterful face. Take actress Charlotte Rampling, for example.
She has just returned to our screens with a part on the hugely popular drama Broadchurch, playing a respected QC who comes out of retirement to adjudicate a court case.
On-screen, Rampling is as mesmering as she was in her heyday. She has also been signed as the face of another cosmetics company, Nars, and looks like a woman who has not succumbed to any surgery.
She has, of course, largely steered clear of Hollywood, having made many films in France, where older women have always been appreciated for their innate beauty, regardless of their age and whatever ravages it may have wrought on their faces.
Another ‘real’ woman whose face has always been interesting, as opposed to classically beautiful, is folk-rock singer, Joni Mitchell. Now in her 70s, Mitchell has been unveiled as the star of the latest advertising campaign of luxury French fashion house, Saint Laurent.
Rocking her wrinkles in beautiful black-and-white images, Mitchell looks as God intended and her face is as quirky and as attractive as ever.
Finally, there is the American writer, Joan Didion, who is the personification of cool, at 80 years of age. Ms Didion’s untouched photo is being used in the spring campaign of another luxury French brand, Celine.
So should all ladies of a certain age move to France, where they can be appreciated for their innate, unaltered beauty, or is this a trend that is here to stay?
Have advertisers, particularly against the backdrop of recession, realised that the women with the most disposable income are older? Is it this that has encouraged them to connect with a more mature audience?
Denis Goodbody is managing director at Goodbody Creative Communications, and has decades of experience in advertising.
Quoting the motto of McCann Erickson Advertising, Denis says that “good advertising is truth well-told” and that advertisers are merely recognising the diversity and variety of life.
He also says that with healthy ageing, “we are all now younger for longer” and, therefore, active consumers for longer, too.
“Advertising cannot risk consumers not understanding its message. It is always reflective of something that is happening in the world anyway. I don’t think that this is just the latest fad. If it wasn’t working, they wouldn’t be doing it,” Mr Goodbody says.
All of which sounds like good news. More good news is that other mature women are rocking the world. Britain’s Queen Elizabeth is now 88 and still active.
The very lovely Mary Berry (79), of the Great British Bake Off, is pioneering the older woman on a prime-time TV show.
But the woman I aspire to be in my twilight years is Dame Maggie Smith (80), as the Dowager Countess of Grantham, who owns every episode of Downton Abbey with her sharp wit and ‘oh so clever’ put-downs. She is everything a matriarch should be.
Hollywood actresses are curtailing their use of face-freezing procedures that might temporarily make them look younger, but which inhibit their ability to express themselves. So they lose out on the few parts there are for mature women.
Actresses Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts and Julianne Moore are all against the use of cosmetic surgery or Botox.
As is British actress Emma Thompson, who said of botox, “it’s not a normal thing to do, and the culture that we’ve created that says it’s normal is not normal”.
So are we finally embracing a more positive view of ageing, especially for women?
Louise Glennon, of the National Women’s Council of Ireland, says “the increasing visibility of older women in the mass media is a very positive move, and one that we welcome.
“The use of older women in advertising represents a cultural shift in how brands understand and value women, moving from a relentless and limited focus on youth to recognising the full life cycle, and, indeed, purchasing power of women,” Ms Glennon says.
Women are the predominant purchasers of goods and services and control 70% of consumer spending globally.
How society chooses to represent women can impact on the relationships that women and girls have with their bodies and sense of self.
I am reminded of a classic line from the movie, Shirley Valentine. ‘Our Shirley’ is mortified when her Greek holiday lover kisses her stretch marks.
“You kissed my stretch marks” she says.
“Don’t be too stupid to hide these lines. They are lovely” says our Greek hero, “because they are part of you and you are lovely.”
But I will leave the final word to Irish comedian and writer, Tara Flynn, who, in her book, You’re Grand — An Irishwoman’s Secret Guide to Life, says (tongue firmly in cheek) “many women start to feel invisible as they age. Not old Irish women. We’ve been invisible for years. We know how to use it to our advantage.”
How to make an older face striking
: Don’t keep using the same products. Changing products every so often revitalises your skin. There are great serums that can be applied before make-up to tighten skin that is losing elasticity.
: Less is more. Foundation should be finer and lighter, because heavy, darker make-up just emphasises lines.
: Good eye-liner is vital to restore shape. Matte eye shadows work best on older eyes.
: Good lip liner restores shape and bright colours can look great on older lips.
A good hair-cut is vital at any age and, as for clothes,, creative director at Make Up for Ever, does not believe in rules.
She says wear what suits your figure and what makes you feel good.
However, she says that it’s easy for older women to give up. “Often, mothers-of-the-bride at weddings say to me, ‘oh, don’t mind me, I wear very little make-up anyway’.
After they’ve had their make-up done, they can’t get over how good they look. I’ve seen women who seem to actually get taller from feeling so good.”
Annie recommends that as women age they should regularly revisit their make-up routine with a professional. Her top tip is to invest in a magnifying mirror with a light.
She says: “you might not like what you see, but if you can see it you can fix it.”