I’m about to tell you a story.
It’s the story of a global television legend, a world-famous actress and a 22-year-old Australian babysitter – my babysitter – called Emma.
It’s as complicated as all meaningful stories are. So, let’s start with the global television icon and the world-famous actress who go by the names of Oprah Winfrey and Cameron Diaz.
This week Oprah sat down to do a one-on-one interview for her Oprah Prime series with Diaz. The topic? Beauty, ageing and the pressure on women to forever look 25 years old. (I wanted to do a fist pump even before I’d even seen 30 seconds of this interview, quite frankly.)
There’s a reason Oprah chose Diaz to talk to about this subject. The 42-year-old actress has been on record for a long time as saying she refuses to do Botox and recently penned the New York Times bestselling The Body Book on beauty, fitness and ageing. Far from being a cookie cutter do-yoga-drink-green-smoothies-and-smile-loads tome, Diaz’s book has been well reviewed and is well respected. She extols the benefit of taking care of our bodies and cultivating strength whilst railing against the futile obsession with looking young and feeling bad about ageing.
So, OW and CD sat down to discuss ageing, specifically the nonsensical expression that has spawned an entire industry: “anti-ageing”. And you know things get feisty because Oprah swears right off the bat.
Here’s how the interview went down according to The Huffington Post:
41-year-old Cameron Diaz is sick of the resistance to age gracefully — and one beauty slogan in particular.
As the actress writes in her New York Times bestseller The Body Book, Diaz says there’s no such thing as “anti-ageing.” Oprah emphatically agrees during their interview for “Oprah Prime” and shares Diaz’s frustration over the idea that ageing should (or even can) be avoided. “As somebody who just turned 60… it just pisses me off,” Oprah says.
“I know, me too,” Diaz says. “I get so mad when I hear commercials on television where [they say] ‘anti-ageing.’”
“Like we’re supposed to now apologise for being who you are and where you are and what it took you to get here,” Oprah adds.
That’s the point, Diaz explains. “We don’t honour the journey and who we are and how much we have to offer,” she says.
The pressure to look younger often translates into women feeling at fault for not being able to achieve a certain standard. “It’s almost as if we have failed if we don’t remain 25 for the rest of our lives. Like we are failures… Oh, I’m sorry, I apologize,” Diaz says sarcastically. “I wasn’t able to defy nature.”
AMEN to that.
I cannot even imagine how exhausting it is to be a female in Hollywood, where the pressure to be forever skinny, hot and young would – I imagine – grind you down day after day after day. It must chip away at your spirit along with your self-esteem and self-worth. So I applaud Diaz who has more to risk than most (like, you know, never getting cast in another movie ever again) for drawing a line in the sand and flipping the bird to anyone who expects her to cross it.
Here’s the thing though: we all need to draw that line in the sand. We all have a role to play in this anti-ageing BS and we need to stop buying into it. What do I mean? We need to stop whinging, whining and despairing about getting old.
A few weeks ago a friend of mine admitted to feeling teary on her 39th birthday.
And I get it. I do. Part of it is that it’s an ‘Oh God, I’m really a grown up now’ age and it can make us feel stressed when we haven’t achieved all the things we thought we would have ticked off by now. But the other part – and dare I say the bigger part – is because we feel depressed by the number. We think 39 is old. More to the point, 39 isn’t young.
At 39, as women, we start to wear the cloak of invisibility. We start contemplating $200 wrinkle creams that we know are total BS. We start thinking about Botox. We start to deride our appearance in the mirror. In photographs. We start to get depressed.
And I understand that part of the reason (or maybe the whole reason) is because society keeps telling us we are unworthy. Old has no value. No currency. And you need to do everything you can to not look your age.
But that’s total BS and you know it.
And it turns out Cameron Diaz knows it, too.
So it’s at this point that I want to introduce you to my friend Emma.
Emma is 22. She’s smart as a whip, funny, wry, feisty, (like me) loves a good maxi dress, and has a penchant for super cute stationery.
She happens to be my babysitter and is an expert at wrangling Fin most mornings in my kitchen, successfully stopping him from eating 37 cheese sticks in one sitting. She’s a good woman.
She also happens to have been diagnosed with Stage 4 melanoma (a diagnosis which in Em’s case is unrelated to sun damage, just so you know).
Stage 4 melanoma is terminal.
That diagnosis was delivered to Em in August 2013. In January this year, Emma’s doctors gave her just three months to live. We’re hoping, hoping a trial drug will extend that by a few months. But right now, Emma isn’t allowing herself to assume she’ll still be here at Christmas.
Do I even need to point out how utterly f*cked that is?
So now this beautiful girl who has spent the past few years volunteering in East Timor is now being forced to plan her funeral. Instead of planning her future with Serge (the love of her life whom she married last week), Emma is now coming to terms with the fact she won’t get to grow old.
So here’s the thing.
When it comes to our feelings about ageing we need to draw our own line in the sand and say we’re not going to do this dance anymore.
We’re not going to stress and angst about looking old. Or not looking young. We’re going to get over it. Suck it up.
Because while we’re whinging and sooking about turning 30 or 40 or 50 or whatever number freaks you out, Emma would give anything – do anything – to have another year with her husband, her sisters, her nieces and nephews, her mum and dad, her best friend.
While we’re complaining about crow’s feet or grey hair or varicose veins, Emma is wishing this whole damn diagnosis was a bad dream she could wake up from.
While we’re fearing old age and trying to run from it, Emma wishes she could run towards it.
Growing old is a privilege. And it’s not guaranteed for any of us.
Let me say that again.
Growing old is a privilege. A gift. And it’s not guaranteed for any of us.
Emma’s life is worth far more than merely serving as some kind of cliched cautionary tale for the rest of us about having skin cancer checks (although I urge you to do that nonetheless).
But her story is the reality check many of us need to GET A GRIP.
Don’t be anti-ageing. It’s pointless.
Be pro-ageing instead. And if you want to be anti anything – be anti-melanoma.