Women beware women

Cheltenham Literature Festival
Sunday 9 October 2011
Event: Jane Shilling, Rachel Johnson and Harriet Walter on ageing

Jane Shilling is a novelist, aged 52 and has just posed nude for the photographic front cover of her latest book.
Rachel Johnson edits The Lady, a magazine for senior women.
Harriet Walter is an actor who’s played the ultimate older female role of Cleopatra and curated an exhibition and book of photographs of older women.

At the end of an hour’s discussion and debate about women and ageing, where the panel discussed how women are judged on their looks, questions were invited from the floor. A woman in the audience put her hand up and said, ‘It’s alright for you three, you’re all gorgeous.’ Had she entirely missed the point?

Yes, all three keep themselves fit and healthy, wear stylish clothes and subtle make-up because their jobs demand they appear in public. It strikes me that much of the pressure women may feel comes from other women. Aren’t we supposed to be the supportive, collaborative, compassionate gender…?

Could women’s magazines be doing something about this? Why the endless finger-pointing features about ‘celebs’ with cellulite/sweat patches/muffin top? Does seeing successful women being ‘brought down a peg’ make us feel better about ourselves?

Or is it an evolutionary trait? Knock down other women in a fight for the best mates? There is no longer any need for this: there are plenty of men to go around and women can live independently. Now we’re out of the swamp, shouldn’t we dump this evolutionary hangover and support each other?

Everyone grows old. Accepting it gracefully is the only way to do it beautifully. And if someone seems to be doing it better than you, cheer them on.

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