Sunday 23 October 2016

'In a world obsessed by Kim Kardashian's arse, I'm happy being an older Mom without bee-stings or Botox'

Her mission is to save her daughter from the tyranny of the Best Before Date of womanhood, where years are not incremental but detrimental

Miriam O'Callaghan

Published 02/08/2015 | 02:30

AU NATURAL: Miriam O’Callaghan is bucking the trend in the struggle to defy time and gravity and has been inspired by Judi Dench and Hillary Clinton to become empowered by age not intimidated by it
AU NATURAL: Miriam O’Callaghan is bucking the trend in the struggle to defy time and gravity and has been inspired by Judi Dench and Hillary Clinton to become empowered by age not intimidated by it
Dame Judi Dench
Democratic U.S. presidential candidate Hillary Clinton

At the rickety school gates, I'm an older Mom. Not because of my years, but my unenhanced visage: no filler, lifter, plumper, smoother, bee-stings or Botox. A sensitivity to hair colour means a decades-long love affair that began with Hint-of-a-Tint and since left me broke, glossed and peeling in shades of plum, mahogany, chestnut and caramel, is ending in my showing my grey. At least for now.

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So when my son calls me Red, it's not the colour, but the character in Orange is the New Black. "You, but less scary". For years, he's called me Hillary. "The hands, the stand, the hair". But whatever about Red Reznikov and the sly "slocking" of my offspring (a crack to head with a lock in a sock) there's a lot to be said for Hillary Clinton. In her campaign to become the Leader of the Free World, she is a 67-year-old woman having the absolute gall to look like a 67-year-old woman. Without 'work'. In refusing to subject herself to the risk of general anaesthesia, clostridium botulinum, a scalpel, dermal facial fillers, or plain stupidity, she is a very public woman making a very public statement. Here's me. The sum of my experience. Yes, I want to be the first woman POTUS. But no, I won't be making myself look 20 years younger and therefore more 'acceptable'. Signally, she is saying this in a culture despising of age and idolatrous of youth.

Harrison Ford, aka President James Marshall of Air Force One is five years older than Hillary Clinton and I have yet to encounter many gasps about how great he looks. For his age. Terry Prone wrote recently about how Diana Rigg and Helen Mirren are doing superb work, yet, the story tends to be not their ability, but their appearance - even their very existence - as if a woman's social and physical 'expiry dates' were concomitant. From the coverage we might imagine, that appearance aside, Mirren freakishly channelled Queen Elizabeth and Rigg did for King Joffrey, between paring their corns, oiling their hips and sucking on their beakers of Complan.

At home, I'm a big fan of Katherine Zappone, Catherine Murphy, Sr Stan, Frances Fitzgerald, Aine Lawlor, Marguerite McCurtin, Margaret MacCurtain, Anne Enright, Hilary Fannin, Marian Keyes and Miriam O'Callaghan. Across the water, I admire Mary Kenny, Suzanne Moore, Julia Samuel, Angie Hobbs, Tracey Emin, Kirsty Warke, Gwen Adshead and Debbie Harry. As younger women Kate Tempest, Sarah Hall, Charlotte Church and Lisa Hannigan are forces to be reckoned with.

But for each of them their 'value' is their extraordinary ability and experience, not their youth, years or appearance.

Just as I'm getting used to looking tired - and found myself wondering how my contemporary, the French PM Manuel Valls, managed to look so notably rested on a recent visit to Dublin - I'm seeing hope in Hillary Clinton. In my 50s now, I've decided not to have any work done. Root canals, regular fasting and a zingy moisturiser are the limits of my maintenance. Yes, I want to be the best I can, but for who I am, not the age I am. In clothes terms, that can be tricky. For men it's Copeland or Canali. For women, there's the traditional gauntlet of Mutton and Lamb. But now, too, there's what I call Hogget. Suggested to us as the pinnacle of our womanhood and motherhood, Hogget would have us dress like our teenage daughters, and better still, be mistaken for them. Mine, though, will remain a Hoggetless household. As I see it, I've had my teens. My daughter has the right to hers without trespass by her mother.

The week my father died he told me he still felt around 16. Chronologically he was 81.

Spiritually a thousand. At my own chronological age, I'm resisting the sabotaging demands of a culture that equates looking good with looking young. Since we rear our children by example, I believe I have a particular duty to apprentice my daughter in seeing her own ageing as an achievement of years and experience, not a betrayal by time. Crucially,

I want to spare her and her generation the tyranny of the Best Before Date of womanhood, where our years are not incremental, but detrimental; where our rich experience becomes poor consolation for the loss of oestrogen, collagen, elastin; where women, particularly those in the public eye, are exhorted and expected to defy both time and gravity; where the older we look, regardless of our ambition and ability, the less publicly 'acceptable' or 'relevant' we become. To the point where we, our abilities and experience, become invisible or are erased.

My daughter is 14. Perfectly beautiful, fragile, invincible. We went to buy shoes recently and while I favour flats, in the shop she pirouettes in something requiring an aerial harness for her and nitroglycerine for me.

"Love them", she sighs.

"Dead body", I reply.

"At least they're not old granny."

"You're not going out in those. They're horrific". Her disgust.

Earlier this year, the must-read US author Meghan Daum wrote about Hillary Clinton's being like "a suitcase on a long luggage carousel". But, says Daum, it wasn't the suitcase reference that made Hillary contemporaries angry. Rather, it was her describing Clinton as "a 67-year old grandmother", the epithet being considered right up there with the worst detractions 'the Hillary haters' had conjured-up over the decades. Clinton's accumulated years being parsed and presented, not as winning experience, but as losing liability.

At this end, my daughter needn't have worried. The sandals were to race to the office, not to the White House. But when I challenge her on the "old granny" she looks at me blankly. "Old grannies can be 20. You can be Dench at 90. Normal people. Not you." Apparently, 'Dench' is 'sick' or 'cool', as discovered when her idol Judi was on with Graham Norton.

Of course, if women are Dench, sick or cool enough to have work done, they should fire away.

My friend has been filleted, buffed, peeled, plumped, pumped, reduced, enhanced, veneered, sculpted, excavated, irrigated several times. She feels as terrific as she is.

The loan applications read Renovations. In the mirror, when I see my mother staring back at me, I wonder idly about a necklift, which, according to Renovated happens not under general anaesthetic, but a gorgeous twilight sedation. It's like having a few G&Ts with tautness as the twist. Arrive like a turkey, leave like a swan.

But for those of us who, for now, are embracing our years and careers, without the desire to turn back time and obliterate the evidence of it on our bodies, we owe Hillary Clinton. Big time.

In her ambition to put her probably-sandpapery, not-so-firm backside firmly in the seat of global power, she is determined to show her best, experienced, 'unimproved' self.

In a world obsessed by Kim Kardashian's arse, Hillary is our light, our sweetness and our hope.

I applaud her.

Sunday Independent

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