Redefining middle age, one catwalk turn at a time
I am told I will become invisible soon. I am not yet 40, but it sounds as though my disappearing act will occur between now and turning 50.
It’s a topic that’s bubbled up a lot lately. For example, last week I was at a book event in celebration of a new anthology called “On Being Fortyish,” at which my friend, Lindsey Mead, the book’s editor, referenced this fate unique to women of a certain age as a moment of liberation, something a role model had shared with her. You become invisible, went the logic, so you might as well do whatever the hell you want, the battle cry.
In other words, women do not have an expiration date, our tolerance does — for the scrutiny and discrimination of the male gaze, unavoidable from adolescence to middle age and, in turn, absorbed by the rest of society.
But the gulf between talk of change and an actual shift can be wide. Which is why what happened with my best friend Christy Turlington at New York Fashion Week was such a (capital M) Moment.
I’m kidding. Turlington and I are not best friends. We tweeted each other once following the Boston Marathon, which she ran. I spotted her powering up Heartbreak Hill, the most punishing part of the course, and cheered enthusiastically. A friend and colleague remembered the social media exchange that followed and e-mailed last week to say that “my friend” had walked the runway at New York Fashion Week at age 50.
“How badass is that?” he asked.
The answer: very.
Supermodel Christy Turlington, of the era from whence the term “supermodel” originated, having retired 25 years ago, returned to the catwalk to close the Marc Jacobs show last week. To review: That’s one of the most influential shows on the biggest stage in fashion, and Turlington walked in the finale spot, reserved for the most show-stopping look and girl. “Girl” being fashion industry shorthand for model, a job where still working and walking the runway into one’s early 30s is a rare triumph.
Turlington is no girl. She’s also not disappearing. And, yes, she is doing whatever the hell she wants.
“I turned 50 this year and have arrived at a place where ‘Why the F not’ is the answer that comes up when I ask myself questions,” was what she said about the big fashion moment on Instagram.
Turlington is not the first of the original supermodels to return to the runway, nor does her walk represent demonstrable change in the world of fashion or society at large, both of which prioritize narrow standards of beauty and influence.
But she did shift the conversation, and that was refreshing — and, yes, badass — to many people.
Today, Turlington is an innovative and tireless activist for global maternal health, as the founder of Every Mother Counts and a mother of two. She referenced her teenage daughter in the post as another contributing factor for deciding to walk.
“I have a 15-year-old daughter who I desperately want to see and hear me and this is a medium that ‘speaks’ to her,” she wrote.
Turlington is speaking of a struggle relatable to many parents of teens, but plenty of women long past their teens were also watching and applauding.
And what we heard was a woman we admire not going anywhere. No, she’s not going to reprise the career of her girlhood. Nor would she want to. She’s doing life-changing work, which she clearly loves, bringing awareness and real change to an area of health care that’s often overlooked. Nevertheless, her dropping back into a world obsessed with youth on a platform that is, too, seems like evidence of a changing tide.
Culture has a long way to go before it’s less sexist and ageist and more representative of standards of beauty and influence. But on one highly visible catwalk, we witnessed a (well-heeled, fabulous at 50) step forward.
Yes, girl, work it.
Ignoring women in middle age and beyond is not just folly or peril, it means you’re likely to miss one hell of a finale.