In Spanish the word 'vejez', meaning old age, is feminine. So are the words for grey hairs, wrinkles, invisibility.... but then those for acceptation, dignity, beauty and struggle are feminine as well. And that is what this article is all about: three women who left their youth behind them some time ago and have become successful in the public sphere talking about how being middle-aged, or even elderly, doesn't mean having to hide or camouflage anything.
Model Pino María Montesdeoca, actress Benedicta Sánchez and writer Toti Martínez de Lezea say that even without a voluptuous bosom, heart-stopping curves and perfect skin - and even without teeth! - you can still be a star, a 'visible' person and recognised for your talent. Respected, in fact, and applauded.
An increasing number of studies confirm this. Susan Douglas, professor of Communication Sciences at Michigan University, has written a book about the power of older women in which she says that this group is shouting, "We are still strong and have a lot to offer; we will not be relegated to invisibility."
She believes they are reinventing "the meaning of being an older woman" and fighting the idea that men's 'value' increases with age while theirs reduces.
The same theory is shared by Deborah Rhode in her book The Beauty Bias, in which she explains that, while white hair and a wrinkled brow have traditionally been interpreted as signs of "distinction" in men, women of a certain age, under pressure, have tried to hide them to avoid feeling marginalised.
These academics say prejudice against age is one of the last biases of our culture and is intimately linked with sexism. However, it has begun to look stale - very old and decrepit, in fact - these days, and is now, little by little, on the way towards extinction.
“Those younger than us need to realise that 50-year-olds are fabulous, and so are those over 60!”
Pino María Montesdeoca.57, model
Whenever we see Pino María in publicity photos or on the catwalk, she looks like a queen, sure of herself and serene. No 20-year-old could justifiably feel superior to her. She radiates strength. And we love her for that, because nothing is more unsexy than insecurities. The model, who is in great demand among brands such as L’Oréal, major firms like Pedro del Hierro and designers at the level of Duyos, flaunts her maturity and loves it.
“You have to understand that women over 50 are fabulous, and so are the over-60s! If I am adding my grain of sand for that to be the case, then I’m satisfied,” she says.
She is nearly 58. ”She’s not that old!” I hear you say, and you’re right. She isn’t, in general terms, but in the world of fashion and advertising in which she moves, where the tyranny of youth used to force many professionals to retire at an early age, Pino María is a ‘super-veteran’.
There are more like her nowadays, too, because the firms have finally realised that women over 40 are vibrant, have aspirations and, which is of most interest to these companies, greater purchasing power.
“There are elderly people with beauty, dignity and authenticity,” says Pino María, and she says she doesn’t do “much” to keep herself looking good, nor does she have cosmetic treatments “because it saves me money and time by accepting myself as I am”.
Isn’t it harder for beautiful women to cope with getting older?
“Oh, you get into a panic at least once a day!” she says, laughing. “You look in the mirror and say, ‘Er... that didn’t used to be there’. But that happens when you’re 50 and when you’re 30 too. So we need to get rid of this pressure.”
For this model, the secret of seduction is “to love yourself and enjoy life, because that shows on your face. If you look bitter, people stay away from you as if you have something contagious”.
“Every wrinkle is a diploma for me. I have learned from experience that you have to accept how things are”
Benedicta Sánchez.84, actress
“I don’t mind people calling me old, as long as they do it affectionately,” says Benedicta Sánchez. The 84-year-old actress, who won a Goya recently for the film ‘O que arde’, in which she plays the mother of a pyromaniac, speaks with a soft and melodious Galician accent, which changes suddenly when she starts humming an Argentinian song: ‘Viejo, mi querido viejo, ahora caminas lento’. “So the word ‘viejo’ [old] is rather lovely, don’t you think?” she says.
She poses the question and her words seem to remain in the air (they have floated above all women of a certain age like a black cloud for too long). But Benedicta has never minded getting older. “Every wrinkle is like a diploma for me. Imean, obviously I’m 84, I can’t pretend to be 50,” she says, laughing. “Also, I consider myself a spirit, rather than a body.”
She never dreamed of becoming an actress - in her colourful and varied life she has been a photographer and bookseller and has lived in Brazil and a kibbutz in Israel - and she is delighted that her recent success is helping older women to be noticed.
“We really do exist,” she exclaims, and points out to directors that the camera can also love people over 80. The public too, as was obvious at the Goya awards ceremony, when she appeared with no teeth and her mane of white hair. She is breaking moulds. She was surrounded by beauties who had taken great care over every aspect of their appearance and were young enough to be her granddaughters, but she was the one who shone and couldn’t have cared less.
“Why would it matter to me? This is who Iam, although Isee myself on screen and I only need a broomstick between my legs to look like a witch,” she laughs. “And yes, I went without my teeth in, but I’m waiting for new ones.” At a certain age, do you stop caring about things? “Noooo. But I have learned from experience that you have to accept them,” she says.
“Older women are only used to advertise denture fixatives or creams that they generally don’t need”
Toti Martínez de Lezea. 71, writer
Yes, older women are becoming less ‘invisible’ all the time. They are recovering the place they should always have had in public life, too. But it is not time to ring the bells yet: the process is under way, but there is still a great deal to be done.
“It’s true that there are women holding top posts in politics now, which was unthinkable until not long ago, but they are rarely over 70. And in films, for example, you can count the number of older actresses in leading roles on the fingers of one hand. They only appear in adverts for denture fixatives, incontinence pads or soups. Sometimes you see them advertising anti-wrinkle creams, but generally those are women who don’t need them. And as for fashion - don’t even go there!” says writer Toti Martínez de Lezea about the ‘progress’ in this field.
On a personal level, she says she has never felt invisible because she is an older woman, “maybe because I have never cared about it”. She is a great fan of Meryl Streep and Helen Mirren, “who look fantastic in their 70s”, and also Queen Elizabeth II, still on the throne despite being 93 now.
Toti doesn’t try to hide the effects of age. We are all likely to have grey hair once the coronavirus lockdown is over, but she says hers are part of her identity.
“I’ve had them since I was very young. I coloured my hair for a while, but then in my fifties I stopped, partly because it was such a bother. My mother never dyed her hair and she looked great. I don’t know why other women leave their hair looking natural, but more of them are doing so these days.”