Is it a crime to look older than 30?

Madonna's lip. She posted this pic on Facebook with the caption "cut my lip from rehearsing Girl Gone Wild"

BY MIA FREEDMAN When Madonna posted photos of her puffy mouth on Facebook last week, claiming she’d injured herself during rehearsals, this is what I thought: “Pah! That’s so not an injury! She’s just had too much lip filler! How brilliantly Madonna, to strike preemptively so that when her new mouth is snapped by the paparazzi, her alibi is already in place.”

I felt both smug and annoyed by this idea. Smug because I’d possibly ‘caught’ out the canniest self-marketer of our generation. Annoyed, because I’m tired of celebrities pretending they’re just born that way. Although I can certainly see the pressure they face.

Take a moment to kiss the ground and appreciate not being a woman in the public eye. Because there isn’t a moment when they can just….be. Let alone do. A famous woman’s appearance always comes into play whether she’s a news reader or the prime minister.

In the snarky narrative of gossip, she must be either too fat or too thin, trying too hard or not trying hard enough, desperately clinging onto her youth or letting herself go, suspiciously young or old and haggard. In other words, lose or lose. Sledge or ridicule.

It’s no accident that our most iconic beauties tend to die in their prime, immune to aging. Marilyn Monroe, Princess Diana, Natalie Wood, Jayne Mansfield, Grace Kelly, Talitha Getty, Carolyn Bessette Kennedy…these are the enduring images of beauty in Western culture. And interestingly, they all died before injectibles went mainstream.

Compare that to 80s and 90s celebrities like Joan Collins, Linda Grey, Bo Derek, Linda Kozlowski, Debbie Harry, Christie Brinkley, Elle Macpherson, Madonna, Cher and Demi Moore who seem determined to stop time at the peak of their fame which was invariably in their 20s or 30s.

What’s new though, is the ‘gotcha’ smugness and schaedenfreude suddenly swarming around celebrities who never used to be challenged about their miraculously youthful appearance. Now it’s all: Has she had work or hasn’t she?

Ashley Judd copped this recently after appearing on TV with a ‘puffy’ face and becoming the instant target of “gloating, self-righteous condemnation” by media outlets and other women. She wrote about it this week, claiming the frenzy of speculation about cosmetic surgery was  “blatantly gendered, ageist, and mean-spirited” and an insult to all women.

Blogger Kerri Sackville has a different view. She thinks we’re simply jack of being fed lies by celebrities who insist their youthful looks come from “nothing more than ‘sunscreen’, ‘good genes’, ‘drinking lots of water’ or ‘an organic diet’. We gaze upon these miracles of nature and think, ‘what is wrong with us?‘ Why can’t we look like them? We eat well. We drink lots of water. We use sunscreen. And yet our foreheads still move and our necks are getting crinkly and we keep looking older and they are frozen in time.”


Kerri concludes, “the speculation about Ashley Judd’s puffy face has less to do with pure spite, and more to do with us trying to deconstruct the myth of ageless beauty, so that us normal people in the trenches can stop feeling like failures for actually getting old.

Yes, it is odd that some women are looking younger as they grow older. It’s not natural. And yet it’s become normal.

As far as I can tell, there are only two ages for female celebrities: Dame Judi Dench and 30. At Dame Judi’s end, it’s pretty lonely. Just her and Betty White.  At the other end, it’s gridlock with everyone from Courtney Cox (47) to Lindsay Lohan (26) visually colliding at the age of 30.

This is weird. Especially when – like me – you fall into the twilight zone between 30 and Betty White.

I’m not suggesting we all stop dying our hair, fighting wrinkles or stop wearing make-up. Nor am I condemning anyone who has any kind of cosmetic procedure. Hell to the no.

I’m just thinking about The Emperor’s New Clothes and wondering if this new surgically enhanced, digitally altered aesthetic is a bit bonkers. Not to mention stressful and expensive.

Use of non-invasive cosmetic surgery techniques like Botox, lip-fillers and and laser surgery has doubled in Australia since 2008 and now costs around $644 million a year. A YEAR.

Will this new ‘has-she-or-hasn’t-she’ obsession dissipate as surgery becomes even more common? Will someone’s cosmetic surgery soon be as unremarkable as the fact they’re not a natural blonde?

I hope not. I hope we keep noticing – although with empathy and compassion rather than spite. Because it feels like the goal posts keep shifting and the parameters for what is considered attractive (or even acceptable) keep narrowing. Soon nobody will fit through them except computer generated images.

I shudder to think that injectibles are now baseline upkeep after the age of 25. Or that a surgically altered face is the new normal.

Because at what point do you go from looking ‘amazing for your age’ to just looking a bit…odd. And then really odd. And then Jocelyn Wildenstein.

My personal solution is to ignore Hollywood and take my inspiration from women closer to home. Women like Lisa Wilkinson, Georgie Gardener, Tracey Grimshaw, Natalie Barr, Melissa Doyle and Rachel Ward. None has ever looked better than she does now. And they are all as smart and accomplished as they are beautiful.