Oscar Wilde said “One should never trust a woman who tells her real age; a woman who would tell one that would tell one anything.”
Well, that’s me bang to rights. As you’ll know if you’ve been reading my blog posts over the past four years, I will tell anyone pretty much anything.
I haven’t lied about my age since I was about sixteen, trying to buy a vodka and orange at The Shuckburgh Arms off the King’s Road in Chelsea.
Side note: For those of you now fondly remembering The Shuckburgh, notorious amongst school kids in the 1980’s for their lax checking of age ID. It eventually closed after a series of drug raids, and is now a branch of Baker and Spice.
I may not have told an outright age fib since then, but I am guilty of obfuscating, skirting around the subject and not correcting assumptions.
When I was promoted to Advertising Account Director at the age of 25, I was aware that I was unlikely to be taken seriously by my ancient, experienced clients (who were probably only about 35, practically babies), so I’d imply that I was several years older.
More recently, I’ve avoided telling people how old I am because I’m aware of all the assumptions that are made about women ‘of a certain age.’ I don’t want to be written off as irrelevant, past-it or dull. Age shouldn’t be important, but other people always seem to find it so.
“Age is not important, unless you’re a cheese.”Helen Hayes, American actress
I’ve discovered that avoiding telling people your age isn’t easy. In these days of endless security checks, the world and his wife seem to constantly need to know your exact date of birth.
I’m always doing the ‘scroll of shame’ on the internet, where I roll the date back further and further until eventually it lands on my birth year.
And if, like me, you’ve been unlucky enough to go through a major health issue, you find that every conversation with a medical professional starts with them asking for your birth date. I know this is necessary in order to ensure they don’t mix up two patients with similar names and lop a leg off someone waiting for a mastectomy, but even so, it just adds to the indignity.
Side note: I discovered that surgeons are so terrified of this happening, that – once you’ve disclosed your date of birth – they draw big arrows on your skin with an actual Sharpie, pointing at the body part requiring attention.
My children never let anyone forget my age either. They’ll announce to all and sundry, shop assistants, mums at the school gate and cold callers, whether they’re interested or not, that my mummy is fifty.
Lying about your age is even harder in this era of the internet and the digital footprint.
The singer, Sinitta, is often caught out lopping five years off her age. This made things tricky for Simon Cowell, who she dated in the 1980’s, since it implied he’d had a relationship with a 14 year-old. Knowing how upset Sinitta was about her approaching 50th birthday, Simon threw her a huge party. She told everyone it was actually her 45th.
Eventually The Sun published a copy of Sinitta’s birth certificate. It turns out she is now 55, but just two years ago, on Celebrity First Dates, she claimed to be 48. Viewers took to Twitter in their droves. There is no longer anywhere to hide.
The writer Liz Jones also found this out the hard way. She lied about her age for years, and talks openly about how hard it was having to remember that you’re supposedly too young to remember Bagpuss or The Clangers, having to hide your passport from your boyfriend and keep up with the endless cosmetic treatments required to maintain the illusion. Liz Jones only confessed her real age to her husband two weeks before her marriage, when forced to by the Hackney Town Hall registrar.
The truth is, denying your real age – either outright or by omission – means denying more than just a number.
For me, one of the great joys of the past few years has been reconnecting with old school and college friends. How can you go to a thirty year school reunion if you’re only 43? Liz Jones says “I was quite relieved when my mum developed dementia because it meant that she could no longer inadvertently blurt out my date of birth.” How is that okay?
Also, I have learned a huge amount over the past five years. I think I’m a wiser, more experienced, more compassionate person than I was at 45. Why would I want to deny that? Why can’t we celebrate everything that we’ve been through? Everything we’ve learned?
Anyhow, in denying our age, we are just accepting and propagating the horribly harmful myth that once a woman loses her youth, she loses everything. It’s no surprise that few men feel the need to fib about how old they are. Age is a feminist issue.
It’s time, my friends, to OWN our age, experience and wisdom. If we don’t, then how can we expect anyone else to?
I am 50. I got here via much trial and error and lots of ups and downs. I have much to teach, but still – I’m sure – a great deal to learn.
There’s lots more on ageing brilliantly and disgracefully on the Life in the Hot Lane Facebook page, including a hilarious article by Lisa Timoney on all those little things that make us realise how old we are. Anyone else find themselves fancying Captain Birdseye? If you ‘like’ the Facebook page, it’ll keep you updated.