I have more than a few bees in my bonnet, and I share one of them with Isabella Rossellini. This is the one where beauty is redefined as youth, or looking young. In an interview that she did for The Guardian, in 2016 at the age of 65, she gave her opinion about that. As she put it, “when people tell me, ‘You look so glamorous, you look sophisticated or elegant,’ it’s wonderful. But when people say, ‘You’re beautiful.’ I find it a little condescending. Worse now, because they say, ‘You’re still beautiful.’ In Italian, we say it’s a knife with both edges, because I know that they mean it to please me, but it’s almost like saying to a black woman, ‘You’re not so dark, you don’t look so black.’ I am old: this is what 65 looks like.”
And recasting youth as beauty continues to be a potent marketing device. In a recent issue of the Woman’s Day, for example, a feature that was headed “Beastly beauty” turned out to actually be all about how to use disgustingly sourced products (“from snail slime to bird poo”) to….drum roll: stay young or look younger again. So, there was bee venom for “powerful anti-ageing goodies,” pig collagen to help “to repair and boost the amount [of collagen] we produce so our skin stays soft, plump and wrinkle-free for longer,” snail slime as “a pretty powerful ingredient packed with anti-ageing proteins, glycolic acid and elastin,” nightingale droppings “to leave skin shiny and smooth,” and so on and so forth.
Perhaps the most fascinating point in that feature was that the notion of beauty was not featured anywhere else in it, beyond its location as a hook in the headings.
And now, the unkindest cut of all is at my elbow. It is the current edition of Who magazine, with their annual feature of the “Most Beautiful People” of the year. And for someone who has been monitoring this seriously youth-oriented feature for many years, the beauty chosen for the cover should have been heartening: our very own Nicole Kidman, as she is about to turn 50. Certainly the oldest choice of a cover woman for that feature. And nothing wrong with the accompanying text: “Nicole Kidman exclusive – On family, standing strong and turning 50!”
What is sad, bad and so disappointing to my eyes is the fact that her face is as smooth and unlined as that of my four month old grandchild. And that is both as the cover shot, and the main photo set in the article itself.
What kind of message is that?