HOLLY WAINWRIGHT: 'I need to talk about not talking about my face.'

A version of this article originally appeared in Holly Wainwright's weekly newsletter Interesting. You can sign up, here.

Are we obsessed with ageing? Or are we obsessed with not looking old

There’s a difference. 

If we're lucky enough to make it through tonight, we're ageing a little every single day. But that's not really what we mean when we talk about ageing, is it?

We mean - wrinkles. Saggy bits. Greys. Disappearing waists.

Watch: Here's what ageism looks like in the media. Post continues after video.

Video via YouTube/Centre for Ageing Better.

Last week Mia Freedman wrote about the load added to women's mental health by the choices available to them about ageing.

She wrote:

“Should I get Botox? When? Where? How much and how often? FillerNeedling? What about those LED facials, do they work? How can I get rid of pigmentation and all this damn sun damage? Do I need my forehead to move? What about those pesky 11’s between my eyebrows that make me look permanently angry? Is there something that can make my knees look younger? I heard Elle Macpherson did that. Do I need filler in my cheeks or will it make me look like a chipmunk? How can I get my eyelids to be less droopy? Can Botox fix that or do I need to get my eyelids chopped like Julia Morris did? What’s that thing I read about laser? What can laser do? Will it fix my wrinkly neck? Will anything?”


And Mia’s so right, it’s like she’s inside my head.

But also, when we were discussing it on Mamamia Out Loud, I realised something.

I’m not helping ease that load.

Because if I'm completely honest about how my internal monologue plays out when I see a woman around my age - or a little older or a little younger - on a screen in my vicinity, it's not pretty.

What has she done? Is it “good” work? God, she looks 25. Gosh, she looks 75. Is that what I look like? That's probably what I look like. The brow’s good but is it frozen? Why does she still have a jawline?

And the thing is, nine times out of ten, that woman is on my screen for a reason other than to show me her face and body.

Maybe she's an actress, and she’s promoting her latest show or film. Or, she’s appearing in that show or film, trying to tell me a story, while all I’m doing is assessing her wrinkles. Sometimes she’s a journalist, a newsreader, a commentator, there to impart information and opinions from her hard-fought experience or expertise and again, I’m thinking “She looks older than she used to”. Sometimes, she’s a business leader, politician, or spokesperson for a cause, and she’s trying to convey a message that I am likely only listening to after I’ve assessed her age. 


Again, I am not proud of this.

Mia argues this is just us trying to make sense of our own faces as we grow older, but I suspect it’s my own internalised misogyny and ageism, distracting me from letting women just be, live, and get on with their lives and work.

You know, just exist and create and care and make free of all this noise that doesn't buzz around the wrinkles of their male counterparts.

I am complicit in this game. I write articles about skin care and foundation and lipstick. I adore it all. I am determined not to fade into invisibility as I age, and in the world I work in, that means aligning yourself with the prevailing beauty standards to a point. And we all know that the prevailing beauty standard is youth. Look as youthful as possible for as long as you possibly can, is the memo.

But it’s an unwinnable game.

If women allow themselves to age, they are mocked. “Cute” is the best of it. “Confronting” is more accurate, given that nothing quite confronts your mortality than a surprise glimpse of your own wrinkly shoulder, signalling the years slipping by.


And if women do not allow themselves to age, they are mocked. For being vain, for going “too far”, for refusing to face the reality that she is no longer 25.

Listen to Mamamia Out Loud where Holly, Clare and Mia share their thoughts on ageing and why it's a "choice" for women. Post continues after podcast.

It’s unclear what we want from women over the age of 40. To never change? To never look like they’ve tried too hard?

Skincare and foundation and lipstick remain among my favourite topics. But they’re not going to stop me from ageing. Or even from looking older. And those are, as I say, two different things. Ageing is happening to me every day, if I’m lucky enough to be around for it. Looking old is an inevitable by-product. But looking old doesn’t alter my intellect, dull my ideas or take away any of my experience. So why am I letting it cloud my view of the women around me?

I'm going to shut up about my face for a while, and see if my mind follows my mouth.

Right after I've put my lipstick on, of course.

Feature Image: Instagram @wainwrightholly.

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