Nothing is going to convince Helen Walmsley-Johnson to buy your snake oil. Not even Helen Mirren.
There are a number of things that have made me think recently. Why do flies always beat themselves senseless on a window that’s closed when there’s one wide open a mere two inches away? Why is the cat always on the wrong side of the door? Why is one of my socks always inside out?
These are questions that can never be answered because the answer is mostly that that’s just the way things are. However, there is one thinking thing I wish someone would answer and that’s why on earth skincare/cosmetics companies should think we buy the idea that using their moisturiser will turn us into Helen Mirren and that we will be so bewitched by this idea that we will in turn, part with our hard-earned cash to buy their product. This was the basis for a healthy bit of debate on my Twitter timeline the other evening – apparently most of us are thinking the same thing but none of us are saying anything.
The ad works like this – Helen Mirren, wearing a beige mac, no makeup and the slightly pained expression of someone who’s just been offered a half-eaten sandwich, gratefully accepts a seat in a rain-spattered bus shelter (as if) and gazes forlornly through the glass at the camera, thus transmitting deep unhappiness at her perceived invisibility. (I’d like to pause for a minute here just to make the minor point that she is clearly not invisible because a) she’s Helen Mirren FFS and b) she’s just been offered a seat.)
“Frankly, Dame Helen, I’m a little disappointed, especially with the bit where you say, ‘show those age spots who’s boss’ with a fist pump to show you mean it.”
Anyway, a minute or so later, Dame Helen has applied her miracle cream and lo! She is again visible and eyeing up an energetic young man by the river. The ad omits to mention that in the meantime she has also found her makeup and a sexy black leather number, had her hair done and added a pop of bright vermillion lipstick, which she has thoughtfully matched to her bra.
Now, I don’t know a great deal (anything) about Dame Helen’s personal grooming or pulling habits but I do know that, having conducted exhaustive research on the subject, bright lipstick is the one thing that gets a middle-aged woman noticed and no one gives a flying wossname about what moisturiser we use.
Those of us in the know would perhaps also point out that it’s only when you get to middle age that you discover you can switch invisibility off and on again like a table lamp, which in fact puts us on a par with Mystique in X-Men.
Yes, I understand companies want us to buy their stuff – and in its simplest form that that is how the economy works – but I don’t understand why they think treating us like idiots will achieve that. And frankly, Dame Helen, I’m a little disappointed, especially with the bit where you say, “show those age spots who’s boss” with a fist pump to show you mean it. Speaking for myself, I have freckles and no one will persuade me otherwise.
From this energetic stream of thought prompted by just one 30-second advert you would be correct in assuming that I have a problem with the whole ‘anti-ageing’ terminology. I loathe and avoid anything which includes the following words on or in its packaging or advertising: ‘perfect’, ‘renew’ or ‘renewal’, ‘correct’, ‘revitalise’, ‘restore’, ‘firm’, ‘regenerate’, ‘plumps’, ‘lift’, ‘anti-wrinkle’, ‘smooth’, ‘rejuvenate’ or promises to ‘turn the clock back’, ‘blur’ or ‘reverse visible signs of ageing’. So that leaves me with… not a lot actually.
“Having conducted exhaustive research on the subject, bright lipstick is the one thing that gets a middle-aged woman noticed and no one gives a flying wossname about what moisturiser we use.”
That’s not to say that I don’t take care of my skin because I do and there are some things I consider essential in a moisturiser, like SPF for example, but I am under no illusion about the wisdom of spending the equivalent of a month’s worth of groceries on the latest miracle lotion – I won’t do it.
I don’t mind spending a little over the odds for something I enjoy using. If it smells exactly like summer roses, for example (thank you Ren) or if it solves the problem of rough elbows and knees (hat tip to Aromatherapy Associates) and I’m even happy if applying moisturiser to my face makes it feel as soft as a baby’s bum (double thumbs to Phytomer) but I will not succumb to 21st-century snake oil. And anyway, I like my face and I like my face as it is – lines and all.
Here’s an interesting fact, though: in the course of a year, my body, your body, all our bodies will replace 98 per cent of their atoms. Even our blood cells are never more than a few months old. Sorry, that’s two facts. Here’s a third: over that same time frame and in the UK alone we spend a staggering £2.2 billion on cosmetic skincare.
Thinking about that leads me to the fairly appalling thought that given our constant physical renewal we’re actually washing most of that couple of billion down the plughole. Even our bones rebuild themselves over a two to seven-year cycle. The only thing about me that is the original me, as conceived 60 years ago, is my DNA.
I wonder how long it will be before someone tries to sell me something to rejuvenate that?
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Helen’s book, The Invisible Woman: Taking on the Vintage Years, is out now.2013 Views
Helen Walmsley-Johnson is a journalist and author who writes as the Invisible Woman. She has a weekly style column for older women which she writes for the Guardian. Her first book, The Invisible Woman: Taking on the Vintage Years, is out now. @TheVintageYear