Shades of grey: red lipsticks, leather boots
“I’m 70. Sinful, slurpy food and drinks. Claridge’s,” read the save-the-date from a friend, whom I had never known to be effervescent or indulgent. All his life, her short stature carried the weight of her PR firm and the rigor of discipline. She was generous only with her smile. So, that was rather unusual. “Well, no more worries. Lived for the responsibilities , time to live for me and celebrate my birthday in style for the very first time. Colorful Dress,” she tweeted when I called her.
I was happy for her. Happier that she prioritized herself. Glad she didn’t care how she was judged, an old woman about to lose her mind. She was not an aberration.
Two days later, amid an end-of-season sale at a trendy Delhi store, two women over 60 were scanning the beachwear section, planning a vacation to Thailand now that the pandemic was in pause mode . Friends since they bought their first bathing suits and after many losses in their lives, they had sworn to each other to stand tall, to hell with gray hair and troubling gout. They would wade through the waters.
And just when I was somewhat intimidated by their exceptionalism, came a third, this time my 75-year-old aunt. Partially immobile after a fall and suffering from a chronic vision problem, she sold her house and reserved her place in a retirement community, simply because the inmates went there on excursions every weekend. “I live alone, so I’m responsible enough to take care of myself, even in a wheelchair,” she told me. His older brother, my father, would never have that confidence. I doubted if I would.
Is a gray revolution brewing in India, where women past retirement age are proving they’re definitely not past their expiration date? That they are beyond illnesses, vanities, fears, anxieties, expectations and the tyranny of agelessness? That they can scream like a teenager because joy is everyone’s right? Furthermore, they have saved well and budgeted smartly to splurge and live their dream life, on their terms, proving that gender ageism is a myth, a fog of women’s insecurities, a trap of their own making. They realized that society can love victimhood but also love you if you dare to be Thelma or Louise.
Age appropriateness is really about pandering to everyone’s expectations except your own. The jersey top should cover the hips, the kurtas should be comfortable, the saree can’t be bright red, makeup should be minimal, and it’s better not to dye your hair anymore. Maybe the right word should be age appeal.
Some studies say that women over 65 are the most ambitious because they are free and totally comfortable embracing themselves as they are, regardless of success or failure, oblivious to how they look. or lack thereof. More importantly, the focus of judgment moves away from them because they are considered over the hill. Only there is a greener valley on the other side, where red lipsticks and leather boots can coexist with the maturity of good wine, the wisdom of years in barrel.
This completeness is then a new constituency of power, to which marketers are not immune. That’s why Gucci asked 82-year-old Jane Fonda, the all-time fitness icon, to model her sleek suit and eco-friendly bag. Pop goddess Cher features in MAC Cosmetics’ latest campaign while singer-poet Patti Smith, 74, is the brand ambassador for travel bag company Rimowa alongside the much younger Rihanna. The brand even uses its new poem, “Never still” as a punchline, asking people to “take back the movement.”
You could say they have always had brand value in public life, their accomplishments hiding every one of their warts and furrows. But no one knew Ong Bee Yan, a 65-year-old cafe owner, whom a young Singaporean designer discovered for his brand campaign. Since then, a reclusive woman, who feared dementia, has been the confident, lively and elegant face of many advertisements. “Old dogs can learn new tricks,” she said. There is still life in the old dog.