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Gwyneth Paltrow, a nude photo, and the complexities of ageing.

Listen to this story being read by Laura Jackel, here.

As Gwyneth Paltrow celebrated turning 50 this week, she shared a striking nude image of herself spray painted gold to her socials.

The comments from her celebrity friends such as Reese Witherspoon and Laura Brown are congratulatory and complimentary because Gwyneth looks great both in this photo, and the one posted just a few days before where she is leaping through the air in a bikini. 

She also looked amazing in her nude birthday bathtub photo posted 12 months ago when she turned 49, and her sunny outdoor nude photo to celebrate turning 48. 

It's a theme and we get it - Gwyneth has a great body and she likely works hard for it. 


But while I scrolled through her various nudes and the rest of her glowy, LA based images, I thought I might as well be looking at a beautiful UFO. 

Her life is so far removed from our normal everyday experiences of living and ageing that it's like being a kid wandering through Disneyland and wondering why my grey south-of-London hometown doesn't look as good. 

Similar to Jennifer Lopez and Nicole Kidman, who are both now in their 50s and equally famed for their toned and taut midlife physiques, Gwyneth does not represent the reality of midlife for most women. 

I am 43 and my body has never looked as good as Gwyneth's, nor will it ever, and I accept that. 

Would I share an annual nude photo of myself if I looked that good? Maybe. 

But what irks me most about Gwyneth's annual nudie posts is that as a multi-millionaire wellness guru and owner of lifestyle brand Goop, her job is to sell products that will apparently make me feel (and look) good. 

The underlying vibe is that us ordinary ageing folk could look like Gwyneth if we would only buy that infrared sauna blanket for $500 or the GOOPGENES clean serum for $120. You can literally click on the image of her golden body for some behind-the-scenes photo shoot commentary and read about how nudie Gwyneth is wearing her own super moisturising moisturiser. Then you can click and buy that exact cream as showcased on her lithe body and golden ageless face. (I have to say, I'm pretty tempted.)


Of course, Gwyneth can post what she likes and hustle how she wants, but when she writes in her essay on approaching 50 that she 'accepts her wrinkles' and is 'letting go of the need to look perfect', I'm just not sure I believe it.

Aside from making me feel like I need to buy all the pretty 'clean' beauty things from her highly aspirational website, her giving an interview while being covered in gold paint and saying that 'ageing is beautiful' feels unfair. Especially when she looks closer to 25.

I don't think I'm alone in having a complex attitude to ageing and unlike Gwyneth, I struggle to find my personal ageing journey 'beautiful' in a culture that prizes youth and those that still fit that youthful mould - even in midlife. 

The celebrity 50-year-olds with smooth faces and arms like 12-year-old gymnasts are literally living in a different world. 

I look at these beautiful magazine covers and Instagram images and wonder why my aged neck or abdominals don't look a thing like Gwyneth or Nicole

Then I remember why: I have a job, a family, stress, a much lower income, and no time to spend at a fancy health retreat each month. I am also not willing to spend two to three hours working out each day or heavily restricting my diet. 

The older I get, the more challenging things I see the people I love endure, and I realise I am lucky simply to be alive with loving family and friends. I want to be healthy; less so I can look like Gwyneth and more so I can be around for my family for years to come. 


I try to remember this and be positive and not overly vain about my wrinkles, grey hairs, sagging skin and peachy chin fuzz. I tinker at the edges by dabbling in some occasional Botox and having my hair dyed but I attempt to keep it all in perspective. But that doesn't mean I don't find ageing difficult. My WhatsApp exchanges with friends are often about our complex attitudes to getting older. 

Just recently, I was chatting to my UK bestie online about seeing my beautiful growing son on the cusp of young adulthood and how I felt this mix of great pride and raging jealousy. 

I remember when I had what felt like infinite time and opportunities ahead of me and how now, with my various physio appointments for dodgy joints and my rising skincare costs, my time left on earth feels a lot less infinite!

On the one hand, we are living in an era of 'pro ageing' where 76-year-old Cher is strutting on the catwalk and Helen Mirren has become a legitimate sex symbol. 

I follow lots of gorgeous women on Instagram who are embracing going grey and owning their wrinkles proudly. I applaud and support them and attitudes have certainly changed towards ageing in certain communities. 

In previous decades, being a woman over 40 would have meant I needed to disappear into a life of knitting and cat ownership. Not anymore, thank goodness, but there is still much work to be done.

I read about how record numbers of young women are turning to injectables to get the Kardashian look and I see the ageless celebrities (like Gwyneth) once again reminding me I too could look that good at 50, if only I tried harder. 


The mixed messages are intense and hard to process. So what to do?

I am sure Gwyneth and her contemporaries work ultra hard for their fabulous physiques, but with immense wealth comes immense privilege and time.

We can all buy as much of her serum as we want, but none of it will replicate clever and expensive cosmetic procedures, a private personal trainer, fancy pilates classes, and a healthy home chef.

Gwyneth, JLo, and Nicole's version of 50 is very nice to look at on Instagram and we can feel inspired if we want, but it pays to remember that there are many ways to be 50.

I am gradually learning to accept my ageing self and perhaps by 50 I too will be proudly showcasing my nude body on Instagram covered in gold paint. But I doubt it. I rather hope that instead I'll be embracing my greys, celebrating with family and friends, and not giving much thought to what anyone else thinks. 

I expect in reality I'll still be a work in progress; navigating the complexities of ageing in our youth obsessed culture while trying super hard not to click on Goop's latest serum.

Laura Jackel is Mamamia's Family Writer. For links to her articles and to see photos of her outfits and kids, follow her on Instagram and TikTok.

Feature Image: Canva/Instagram/@gwynethpaltrow.

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