The Beauty of Aging
by Eve Marx
How did I feel seeing Joni Mitchell’s 71-year-old face splashed across the cover of a national magazine? What was my reaction to the image of writer Joan Didion’s 80-year-old visage shilling for the designer Celine? Was it shock? Amusement? Was it indignation I felt, or was it a touch of jealousy? I’m still sorting out how I feel, as I imagine are many other older women.
In the world of advertising, the use of older beauties isn’t unusual, in particular the ones who were considered in their younger days to be rebels, style icons, and the epitome of cool. In 2010, former covergirl and super model Lauren Hutton, then 67, got a load of press when she became a J. Crew model, a line of clothing not traditionally pitched to the older set. At 65 the singer Stevie Nicks of Fleetwood Mac fame, her hair still blond and hanging to her waist, has been widely photographed as she makes headlines reuniting with her band. Cindy Joseph, 63, a former model turned make-up artist, is having the time of her life promoting Boom!, her line of natural cosmetics with a pro-age message.
So you’d think I’d have been better prepared for Joni’s and Joan’s images implying that wrinkles, wattles, and thinning hair are timelessly cool and that we all should look to them as a model of aging with character and grace. (For the record, I’m not badmouthing either Joni or Joan. I’m a fan of both. Each is amazingly talented and has an impressive output that reaches across decades.)
I asked a few 55-and- up friends how they felt about the Joni and Joan promotions. While not specifically advertising any products, Joni’s New York magazine piece made sure to take note that Mitchell was wearing a necklace designed by Elsa Peretti for Tiffany. Duston Spear, a 60-something artist whose work has been on display at the Met, said she loves seeing the well earned age on a woman’s face. “I love seeing life lines. Bring it on,” Spear said.
A childhood friend now living in California said she didn’t care for the Joan Didion for Celine at all. In fact, she seemed incensed. “No like,” my friend said after seeing the image plastered all over social media. “Didion is ridiculously skinny; she looks like she has a terminal illness,” she said. She acknowledged that the choice of Didion might have been perfect for Celine, a label that’s been praised by Vogue as “cool minimal.” “For all I know,” my friend said, “this is perfect for them.” As for the Joni cover, my California friend said, “I don't think Joni’s ever been beautiful in the traditional sense; she was not so even in her youth, but, to me, she still projects a certain dignity, pride, and hard-won strength.”