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A WRINKLE IN TIME

For the second time in her life, my friend Carolyn is lying about her age. But she tries to be honest about it. “I’m 53 but tell Facebook I’m 23 so I don’t get anti-wrinkle ads,” her profile states.
She now gets ads for lip-gloss. “It’s much more pleasant,” she says.
The last time she lied about her age was at the age of 17 “to get into pubs”. Then, she wanted to be older and look older. Now that she is older, she prefers not to be reminded of it.
But there’s another reason, she admits. All those ads for anti-wrinkle cream do wear you down after a while.
Carolyn is a consumer advocate and like me has read the Choice brochure on wrinkle creams and how simple sorbolene, a vat of which can be bought at the supermarket for under $10, does the same job.
Like me, she eschews all that manipulative pseudo-scientific bunk spruiked by the cosmetic industry and instead opts for sunscreen, a hat and a healthy diet as the best anti-ageing defence.
But we admit that those ads where Penelope Cruz, who looks young enough to be our daughter, says, “because you’re worth it,” do sometimes leave a lingering doubt.
Are we undervaluing ourselves by not buying a better quality cream, we wonder? Will we wake up one day and find our faces in a state of sudden collapse – leathery and brown like the women in National Geographic?
It reminds me of how I felt as a teenager, faced with ads for pimple cream.
Adolescents and middle-aged women have a lot in common, Carolyn says. We are both at a turning point in our lives, where insecurities abound. Advertisers know it, so are able to sniff us out as mercilessly and accurately as Beagles searching for drugs at Melbourne Airport.
Our bodies are changing and so are our identities. One day we are wearing tight jeans, heels and bikini briefs and the next we are wearing the middle-aged ladies’ uniform: long-line patterned shifts (to hide big tummies and bums) oversized t-shirts, gigantic black pants with elasticised waists and moon boots – those soft squishy shoes with the Velcro tabs that can accommodate bunions as well as orthotics.
Men also suffer insecurities in middle age, but mostly related to what they haven’t done, rather than what they look like. To ease his trauma, a man may buy a motorbike and grow a ponytail to distract from a bald spot, whereas a woman may buy a new dress and grow a moustache.
Either way no one is fooled. As they say, if you don’t want to grow old, die young. For those of us who are still here, it’s easy to feel invisible as well as insecure.
In Western culture, the only photos of older women that are published in magazines are usually accompanied by ads for how to make them look younger.
To prove this theory, I recently bought a copy of Vogue, which advertised on its front page “Looking great as you age: What fillers can do for your body.”
The story, titled “Blow up” was finally found on page 314, 337 and 338 of its 340-page publication, and its only illustration was a pencil-thin model wearing a body stocking stuffed with strategically placed balloons.
The only other older person featured in the magazine was Vanessa Redgrave, in a story about her role in the musical Driving Miss Daisy. The rest of the magazine was replete with pictures of youth, because youth sells – perfume, bags, shoes, clothes and hair products.
There were six ads for anti-ageing products. Three of them used celebrities – Kate Winslet, Cate Blanchett and Andie McDowell – but they were so air-brushed and photo-shopped that they were barely recognisable. One used no model while the other used a model that didn’t look a day over 30. The only other photo of an older woman was in a National Breast Cancer Foundation feature, where a woman wearing a silver bob was labelled: “Age 50+. Have yearly mammograms.”
No wonder I got such a shock when I took a toilet break and looked in the mirror. This is the only place I see myself reflected these days.
Meanwhile, as I reach for the sorbolene I think of Andie McDowell, looking like she always has for these past 20 years, urging me to buy Loreal’s Revitalift because it’s proven to repair even the deepest wrinkles. “Do I see a difference? Every day.” she says, oozing air-brushed confidence.
If I buy it, I suspect the only difference I see will be in my bank balance.
If I don’t buy it, will I wake up one day and find that I’m a fully fledged card-carrying member of the Sultana Club, as my father-in-law used to call my mother-in-law?
Wouldn’t it be great if we really could just buy some youth in a jar, slap it on our faces and wake up looking like our 18-year old selves again, shaking off the past but retaining all the wisdom of the present?
That’s why anti-wrinkle cream works – for advertisers.

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