Opinion: Mirror Mirror

Food is more carefully photographed than old people. Food is celebrated while old age is marginalized. Margaret Morganroth Gullette pointed this out at our conference last week, Mirror Mirror, discussing representations and reflections on age and ageing held here at the College last week.

For her, representation of ageing is the new frontier, where are the images and narratives that don’t patronize, pity or undervalue age? We need to see those who have understood that ageing is liberating and that how you style yourself to illustrate your defiance is crucial. The message throughout the conference was that what you wear and how you wear it isn’t dependent on money. It’s about using thrift and charity shops, bargains and sales, clothes made, re-made swapped and shared. Above all, as one of the Fabulous Fashionistas put it: ‘Don’t wear beige it might kill you!’ For clothes are there to show that you won’t fade quietly into the background.

The conference showed all of us who attended that the process of ageing is about how you carry your own experiences and self-image at different stages in your life and successfully integrate them into the person that you are now. Those who are successful know it’s about working with this stage in your life, not trying to turn the clock back or chase after some remembered aspect of yourself. As Linda Rodin one of the women quoted on the blog – That’s Not My Age puts it ‘You can’t chase youth, you just look older with a face lift’, or as Ines De la Fressange said ‘Look you start ageing at 18, and now I’m 55 I’m pretty used to it.’

The conference was inspiring because it told us that ageing should be about attitude, defiance and resistance, not to the process of ageing itself but rather a rejection and challenge to how we are supposed to age. The media in particular and society in general are all too ready to put us under pressure to either become invisible, you shouldn’t wear this it’s not appropriate at your age, or that as age has become more mainstream and increasingly part of fashion, ageless style is promoted and so age is effaced. We are all supposed to age without appearing to do so. Where in the media are those who have defied ageing and stereotyping? Why are they not visible? They were certainly at the conference, whether in the talks, the performances, the audience members, the blogs of Alyson Walsh or Ari Seth Cohen or the members of the Fabulous Fashionistas.

What this conference demonstrated was that despite the fact that the 21st century is characterised by having more people over 60 than children, the cult of youth still predominates in the media and society’s conventions. That is something we all have to challenge after all we face our ageing every day.