Ayesha Hazarika, MBE, former advisor to Gordon Brown and Harriet Harman, television commentator and stand-up comedian, 42
Ever since I was a wee girl, I’ve been obsessed by the beauty industry, particularly skin care. My mother has excellent skin, which is largely down to her genes. She was always very much a soap-and-water woman, so an early act of rebellion was to be really high-maintenance. I treasure my lotions and potions. It’s a nightmare for me to travel, as I have to cart about a small laboratory of products. I love conducting PhD levels of research into eye creams, for some reason, before a very excited trip to Space NK. And it’s the same drill. They ask me what I’m looking for and my fierce, feminist façade crumbles as I whisper, “something anti-ageing…” I then spend a fortune on a microscopic pot that probably doesn’t make a jot of difference. I often ponder why an intelligent and highly sceptical woman is so taken in by the sales patter. I routinely challenge senior politicians and commentators on television yet totally buy into the promise that the purity levels of this particular active ingredient will absolutely change my life, by bringing me eternal youth and happiness, without so much as a raised eyebrow. It’s the hope, isn’t it? It’s a scrap of optimism that gleams and seems possible, while the rest of your life is chaotic, toxic and full of bad news. This tiny eye cream will save you. I realise how ludicrous it sounds but, in these mad times, you have to cling on to something.
Ayesha Hazarika: Girl on Girl: The Fight for Feminism is currently on tour
Suzi Grant, author, blogger and founder of Alternative Ageing, 68
I hate, hate the term anti-ageing! We’re anti-war, we’re anti-poverty, we’re anti-cruelty, why on earth are we anti-ageing? My attitude is: if you’re ageing, how lucky are you? The only alternative is dying young, so to be ageing means I’m still alive and healthy. Why would I be anti it? I actually won’t work with a brand that calls its products anti-ageing. I’m very happy to turn down work if it doesn’t match my ethos. Penguin is publishing my book, which was first published 12 years ago. I’ve made them take out all of the times I wrote “anti-ageing” and replace it with “positive ageing” or “ageless” as those are the terms I use now.
Twelve years ago, I think the general public found it a more acceptable term. Or maybe it was my age. Maybe in our forties and fifties, we’re far more into anti-ageing, but by the time you get to your sixties, you actually think, hang on a minute – why am I anti-ageing? I think the whole remit has changed out there. Because of women like Helen Mirren and because of diversity and the need to be far more politically correct, I think anti-ageing is a really old-fashioned term.
I think it’s an issue women face more than men, because I don’t think women age as well as men – I don’t know if that’s because I've had [that idea] pushed in my face my entire life, and I worked in TV for years and years and you’re constantly looking at your own face on the monitor, thinking, ‘oh, God, I need to tighten it around the jaw’. You become completely paranoid when you’re on camera. Whereas with men, I mean look at Phillip Schofield – how gorgeous does he look?
There’s more and more older women on TV, now. Admittedly, it does tend to be token, but even if we’re token, we’re getting out there. Very recently, I was featured by Revolution make-up in a really diverse campaign. It’s quite rare in make-up – we’ve got make-up for the over fifties, but you don’t often see a brand aim for every skin type, mature, young, black, white, male, female.
I’m much more comfortable in my own skin, now. What can I do about it? I’m not going to have a face lift. I don’t believe in them. I am growing older as holistically and naturally as I can. I love styling and being young at heart, which encompases all the stuff I do: going to festivals and gigs, eating healthily, getting plenty of exercise. But I’m the same as any person on this planet. Because we’ve just been doing a shoot, I’ve been looking through the photos and I thought, ‘ugh, I can’t have any of these – look at my chin!’ So, I will delete the ones that are really unflattering and keep the ones that are alright.
Half of my 17K followers are under 35. The youngest often write under my posts, “I hope I’m like you when I grow up,” which I think is absolutely lovely and, for the women over 50, I hope to be inspiring them to try a headscarf or try a bit colour.
Fiona McIntosh, co-founder of blow LTD, 51
Anti-ageing isn’t a term we use at all at blow LTD, because it just isn’t relevant to anything we do. We have a wide age range of customers, from teenagers to women in their sixties and seventies, and they all share the common goal of feeling good about themselves. For them, having a beauty service, whether it’s having their hair blow dried, a professional make-up look, a massage or simply getting their nails done, is something they do for themselves. It has nothing to do with that terrible expression, “turning the clock back”. It’s about feeling confident and happy in your own skin.
Do I find the term anti-ageing offensive? I just find it old-fashioned and redundant. Being healthy and strong is now far more important than looking thin and “worked on”, no matter how old you are. Among my generation, I’m seeing a move away from the fillers and surgical procedures that we all know don’t make you look young, they just make you look weird. Much better to have a healthy glow from exercise and eight hours sleep, no matter what your age, which is why wellness is taking over as a far bigger focus in our lives, now.
Ageism is definitely still an issue for women and, to a lesser degree, men, particularly in the workplace, and the term “anti-ageing” only compounds that. Looking the best and healthiest we possibly can is a goal that is not age specific, or gender specific, and something we shouldn’t be ashamed of striving for, either.
Farrah Storr, editor-in-chief of Cosmopolitan and author of The Discomfort Zone (Piatkus £13.99), 40
I don’t personally use products that have the word anti-ageing on them. That’s not because of a political stance against them – every woman should be able to make the right choice for her, and if that means she wants to cover her grey hairs or look younger, then more power to her. But what I do, however, find slightly problematic is the language, because it reinforces the idea, in quite a stark way, that getting older is not desirable. And I have personally found that getting older is one of life’s great unspoken joys. I’m happier with how I feel, look and think at 40 than how I did at 20. Companies have tried and are trying different ways to express the same idea – pro-ageing is catchy, for example. But I don’t think we need the word ageing in there at all. The minute you use that very word is the minute you make a big deal out of a natural process.
Anabel Kindersley, co-founder of Neal’s Yard Remedies, 47
I’m not anti-ageing, ageing is inevitable and it’s a part of life. Instead, I have always talked about “ageing well”. We start ageing from the moment we are born and it’s always been important to me that I’m the best version of myself, whatever my age. But I don’t think it’s a bad thing to want to defy your age, either. That concept is multi-faceted in itself and can mean so many different things to different people. To me, it doesn’t mean turning back the clock or completely eradicating lines that denote the laughter or tell your story. It means celebrating who you are through every life stage, challenging yourself while also feeling confident in your own skin. The more we can inspire each other to feel happy and confident, then our inner beauty will shine through. These are the messages that I want to pass to my 17-year-old daughter and the reasons behind our Age Well campaign.
Our entire business at Neal’s Yard Remedies supports women (and men) to Age Well, with our inner health and outer beauty products, so they can look and feel their best no matter their age. The purpose of our Age Well campaign is to celebrate this and we asked women from all around the UK to share their inspiring Age Well stories, as part of a competition to bring women over 40 into the spotlight. Alongside the co-founders of the British Beauty Council, we selected six women to be the faces of our Age Well campaign. These amazing women spanned all ages, from their forties to their eighties, their stories and their expressions capture something we all felt would resonate with women everywhere and further inspire us all on this journey of looking and feeling our best, whatever age we are.
Sarah Cooper, comedian and author of How To Be Successful Without Hurting Men’s Feelings, 33
Being on stage, now, and doing more engagements, what I wear and how my hair and make-up is, is dissected in a way men just don’t have to deal with. I also believe women probably have to think about their personal brands more than men do. For me, I want to be perceived as someone who is smart and savvy, but also funny and approachable, and I have to feel like I don’t want to be too stuffy or too relaxed, so you never really know what to wear to get your personality across.
I feel like I would love to go back 10 years. Especially because of social media. It is so easy to compare your career and how far you’ve got to where someone 10 years younger has gotten, and get frustrated thinking you’re behind the curve and you’re never going to catch up.
Ageing is definitely something I think about. I definitely spend time taking selfies and finding a filter that makes me look as appealing as possible. And I’m conflicted; you're so aware of the feminist conversation around it and in some ways it is so messed up and you shouldn’t have to deal with these rules. But then, all of a sudden, you find yourself doing it. I do think being aware of it is part of getting out of it, slowly.
In the tech space, younger ideas and younger perspectives are put on a pedestal and wisdom isn’t valued as much, it’s like, what’s the newest, latest thing? So, I think for older women it’s about having to fight a bit more for your presence and opinion to be heard. I feel like there’s so many women in their forties and fifties that I admire. Comedians like Tina Fey and Amy Poehler and musicians like Janet Jackson. There’s a lot of amazing women in that age group and maybe we forget that because they’re trying to act so young. And so, you forget that they’ve had these decades-long careers and that experience is something we shouldn’t discount. It’s something to really admire and look up to. Because a lot of women in careers, especially in entertainment, they give up because it’s such a harsh environment to be in, in terms of having your looks dissected, so for them to persevere and keep being hilarious and working their arses off is something to really admire.
Elle Turner, The Pool’s fashion and beauty assistant, 25
I’d never really thought too much about the term anti-ageing, before I started my job as a beauty journalist. It’s a term that’s been used so constantly throughout my life that, in truth, growing up, I never paid it much attention. It’s only in these last few years that people have started questioning why ageing is something we’d ever be anti and why wrinkles are something to be avoided.
To me, ageing is a privilege and the sooner it’s treated as such, the better. Certainly, the beauty industry is widening up into a more inclusive place. All ages, genders and skin tones are being celebrated – it’s just insane it’s taken this long. But, while there’s more inclusivity, it seems there’s also more anti-ageing products than ever being thrown at us, too. Botox has become more easily accessible than ever and people are considering it from increasingly younger ages. To me, that’s frightening. It’s frightening that we’re brought up to think that ageing is something to fight against.
This has been the first year that I’ve experienced anti-ageing products being directed at me personally. Along with smear tests (the joy), turning 25 has brought me into the age bracket where products like retinol are marketed to me as “a prevention” rather than “a cure”. It’s language like this that’s damaging, isn’t it? Must we really prevent and cure what our faces are naturally supposed to do? And is it right to be targeting women from such a young age? Of course, I want to look my best, I’ll always love make-up and experimenting with it. But I’m happy for my face to go the way nature intended. As for a few wrinkles? Bring them on.