Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony-award winning John Legend added yet another title to his accolades arsenal this week. The 40-year-old musician was named People Magazine’s Sexiest Man Alive 2019.
People also listed several other winners in various categories, including “Sexiest Silver Fox,” honouring the grey-haired men that fans love — this year George Clooney claiming top prize.
It immediately brought to mind the hoopla just a few short weeks ago, when Keanu Reeves stepped out with his “age-appropriate” girlfriend who also dons a silver mane. There were countless reports hailing Reeves as “brave” and a “hero” for dating someone remotely close to his own age (though she is still almost a decade his junior). Several even confused 46-year-old Alexandra Grant with 74-year-old Dame Helen Mirren, because of course all grey-haired women look alike. And there were the mean-spirited “granny” comments, too. Needless to say, the commentary was a far cry from “sexy silver fox” status.
“The fact that some people are mistaking Keanu Reeves’ age-appropriate girlfriend with Helen Mirren is wild. In Hollywood, if you’re not 24, you might as well be 70,” comedian Whitney Cummings poignantly tweeted.
All this to say, there are many reasons I admire Reeves and am genuinely happy to see him seemingly happy. His “heroism” for dating a woman in his age range is just not one of them. However, I can see how it’s easy to hold Hollywood’s men to such a laughably low bar.
From 44-year-old Leonardi DiCaprio, notorious for dating models no older than 25 years old (his current girlfriend is 22-year-old model Camila Morrone), to 65-year-old Dennis Quaid, who recently got engaged to a 26-year old grad student, to 70-year-old Richard Gere, who is expecting a second child with his 36-year-old bride, the list of older men romantically linked to younger women is exhaustive.
And as ludicrous as it seems to praise someone who strays from the expected, the contrasting salt and pepper stories of the past two weeks highlight (all puns intended) a glaring issue with ageism in Hollywood and beyond. It’s problematic when men like Clooney are literally lauded for their greys, touted as silver foxes, while women on the other hand are admired for maintaining the mythical fountain of youth — showing no visible signs of the aging process. When we hear the words aging gracefully it certainly doesn’t mean aging naturally. We want to see women wrinkle-free, crease-free and without a grey in sight. For women, defying age is the name of the game.
Think of the countless beauty campaigns targeted at women.
“The anti-aging sector of the beauty world when it comes to products is probably the largest and when it’s speaking, it is definitely speaking to women,” says beauty expert Bahar Niramwalla.
“There is a great deal of double talk,” she says, explaining that we are bombarded with ideas of “anti-aging ingredients” married with messages of “aging gracefully,” “be yourself, but better” and the like, all thrown into the same sentence.
In this regard, even when it comes to men’s products, that same mixed messaging persists. “They aren’t getting away from advertising without being told that they need to look younger, just like women are,” Niramwalla says. “It’s more about whether they are paying attention to it or buying into it as early as women are made to.”
With women’s beauty being a much larger market that dominates our social sphere, it becomes a lot harder to ignore the mass influx of messages aimed at us.
And while the beauty industry has certainly made significant strides forward in diversity and inclusivity, when it comes to age, after 40 years old, many women feel rendered invisible.
Since I turned 40 years old a couple of years ago, I’ve noticed a change in comments from “you look great” to “you look great … for your age.”
The discussions have also started among friends about which anti-aging treatments to try, along with well-intentioned practitioners recommending preventative anti-aging beauty treatments like Botox before the wrinkles get “too bad.”
Full disclosure, the day before I wrote this piece, I had my hair dyed — chocolate brown with caramel highlights, if you must know. I enjoy playing with beauty, and experimenting with different hair colours is part of the fun for me (that desire didn’t stop the moment I hit 40, like an automated switch) — and here’s the thing, it is my choice. And when I decide I do want to stop playing, there are definitely greys under that colour and it should also be my choice to wear those greys with just as much pride.
Why as a society do we not view aging as something beautiful, regardless of gender? Aging means our bodies and minds have sustained us.
As someone that has suffered health issues, having experienced moments where I have seen my life flash before my eyes, prayed fervently for another day, I am deeply grateful for every day, month and year that passes by. I make a point to celebrate my birthday because it is something to celebrate. I also share my age whenever the opportunity arises, because I am not ashamed of growing older, I am grateful to be growing older.
Maybe it’s time to move the aging conversation in another direction — one where we actually embrace the aging process. One where we see the beauty in living and growing older, whatever that may look like.
Because while ageism may be well and alive in Hollywood and beyond, so are we — and embracing our age is a beautiful, sexy thing.