Lori Anderson: A grey day for women to celebrate

US actress Jessica Lange. Picture: Getty
US actress Jessica Lange. Picture: Getty
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Evidence, writes Lori Anderson, suggests women no longer accept they will disappear at the age of 40

Whenever I hear Frank Sinatra croon “those fingers in my hair, that sly come-hither stare, that strips my conscience bare, it’s witchcraft,” I now see the smoulderingly sensual Jessica Lange, undulating across the screen in American Horror: Coven – all tousled hair, dark eyes and black heart. In this role she was hotter than hell.

Among those who have been scorched by the 64-year-old Oscar-winning actress is the designer Marc Jacobs, who in a surprising move cast her as the face of his eponymous beauty line. The advertising campaign, shot by David Sims, will soon be helping to redefine how women age and I couldn’t be more delighted.

The return of Jessica Lange to her earlier career as a model sees her following in the siren heels of Charlotte Rampling, who at 68 was recently hired as the face of NARS Cosmetics, while American Apparel chose the 62-year-old model Jackie O’Shaughnessy as the body of their new lingerie line.

These examples of “grey recruitment” add a slight balance to what Ulrika Jonsson revealed was her biggest disappointment: “Finding at the age of nearly 46 that you are no longer wanted by the TV industry.

Unless you are young and ‘of the moment’ – i.e. you’re in the papers for all the wrong reasons – you’re out of favour and that baffles me. I worked hard for my career, but now it appears to count for nothing.”

The absence of older women from our television screens is a cause for concern and, if we choose to believe her, is already being addressed by Auntie Beeb who has stopped holding up Kirsty Wark as a human shield and now seems intent on increasing the age of on-screen talent.

However, I do find it refreshing and liberating to see older women celebrated for their beauty and sensuality in advertising campaigns; two attributes which in the past, society tended to remove from them as soon as they departed their 30s for what was viewed as the harsh, barren tundra of middle and old age.

What I like about these advertising campaigns is, firstly, they are a symbol of solidarity for all those women who refuse to surrender their personal style to the dictates of age and how it is viewed; and secondly, it will surely encourage other women to refuse to surrender their femininity on the basis of an arbitrary birthday. Of course, no-one is proscribing mandatory body-con dresses for all 70-year-olds. Many women have never been followers of fashion and may well have been freer and happier for its absence.

But for those who have enjoyed a lifelong love affair with style it is refreshing to see them and their buying power being recognised by companies and ad agencies.

The final addition to my trio of contemporary heroines is celebrated not for her enduring beauty but for her brains. If Jessica Lange and Charlotte Rampling and their new advertising campaigns have helped dismantle the ancient archetype of the crone, then unfortunately Mary Midgley can do nothing to alter the other aged female archetype for she is indeed a wise old woman.

At the age of 94, the philosopher has just published her latest book, Are You An Illusion? which has led to a troop of journalists arriving at her home in Jesmond, Newcastle to be nourished with home-made soup, toasted cheese and an eloquent defence of human consciousness.

Almost mid-way through her tenth decade, Mary Midgley is once again crossing pens with Richard Dawkins and his growing band of disciples who view mankind as nothing more than a collection of cells.

I find it deeply inspiring that Midgley, who was born just after the First World War, studied philosophy at Oxford with Iris Murdoch and who did not write her first book until she was 56, has produced a critically acclaimed work just six years shy of her 100th birthday. Like many women of her generation she set aside work to raise her three sons, but then picked it up again to become a beloved lecturer at Newcastle University.

Midgley has always believed that philosophy was closer to the humanities and the arts than the sciences and argues against Dawkins’ view that life is “blind, pitiless indifference’.

As she said recently, the planet is “riddled with purpose… full of organisms, beings that all steadily pursue their own characteristic ways of life, beings that can be understood only by grasping the distinctive thing that each of them is trying to be and do”.

In a letter to the Guardian she also articulated the reason for a lack of female philosophers: “The trouble is not, of course, men as such – men have done good enough philosophy in the past. What is wrong is a particular style of philosophising that results from encouraging a lot of clever young men to compete in winning arguments. These people then build up a set of games out of simple oppositions and elaborate them until, in the end, nobody else can see what they are talking about.”

To some this means little – a book by an aged author, a couple of glossy advertising campaigns – but I’d like to think of these as evidence that Shakespeare’s words are true: “age cannot wither her, nor custom stale her infinite variety.”