From lead roles to magazine covers, brand ambassadorships and modelling contracts, older actresses have re-emerged as the new young. They represent the other side of youth – what it really means to rediscover the value in youth, during every decade of your life and how youth never really dies, if one really agrees with the meaning of the much loved “African proverb”, Gug’othandayo (Getting old is a choice).
The May 2019 issue of British Vogue magazine’s Ageless Special supplement featured 81-year-old actress Jane Fonda, whom the median age audience of the magazine’s current target market might not have even seen on screen. A risk by Editor-in-Chief Edward Endful, which paid off because he, like the many minds on the pulse of that which defines pop culture, knows that the industry of film & tv transcends beyond the ages. Among the many valuable lessons Fonda reflects on in her lifelong career, one of the most stand-out ones she highlights is that as she says, “It takes a long time to become young”.
Perhaps there is a lesson beyond the obvious in this observation by Fonda.
Unlike 2 – 5 years ago, these days the badge of honour related to breaking the internet no longer requires a nude photoshoot, sex tape leak or anything of the sort that exposes what many would deem “necessary”. Sixty-one year old actress and producer Sharon Stone who recently graced the cover of Vogue Portugal’s May 2019 Sex Issue replicated her infamous image from the 1992 film Basic Instinct, in a way which kept a sense of dignity – not because of would be deemed inappropriate for her age but because of what she’s reminded us that her age comes with – from others, respect and from herself, knowing her boundaries and choosing how to represent herself without fear of a career limiting “no”. Closer to home, actress and producer Connie Ferguson’s spotted IG story six-pack had us all arrested and wondering under which dusty treadmill or outdated gym membership card we all left our body goals. Two children and years behind her, she like so many of her peers is evident that there is a new young in choosing the role age plays in this industry.
Miles away, actress, producer and director, last year Angela Bassett posted an image of herself on her 60th birthday, relaxed in a chic black bathing suit, gazing out from under a wide-brimmed hat, serving impeccably glowing skin. The truth is, in this industry especially, the world is preoccupied with the way women look as they age. Angela Bassett, who at 60 covered the October 2018 issue of Allure magazine, has never been in greater demand – from career role springing up to the perpetual questions from younger actresses facing the same beauty scrutiny trying to figure out what she does to maintain that aesthetic. Bassett, an 80s graduate of Yale who in 2017 received her honorary doctorate of fine arts, her third degree from the institution said, “As we advance, 60 is the new 40, or 70 is the new 50. It keeps getting pushed. But you have to keep the stress down and the attitude hot.”
Part of keeping that attitude hot, lies also in allowing oneself to speak up for oneself in the moment by clapping-back, unapologetically. Forty-six-year-old critically acclaimed Director Ava Duvernay brought a whole new meaning to that when she schooled the young ‘ins on how to do just that sans profanity – a true display of the type of grace that only comes with the benefit of age. Similar to how Basset’s not a fan pf being told how young she looks since she doesn’t feel old, let alone look it, DuVernay took offence to a fan on Twitter who referred to her as “Auntie”. After “auntie” trended, Duvernay went on to issue a clarification by tweeting, “For the record, I respond to: ‘Hello, Ms. DuVernay,’ ‘Hello Sis,’ ‘Hello, Queen,’ ‘Hello, Family,’ ‘Hello Ava’ (safest bet),’ Ms. Ava is fine if you’re under 18…”
The policing of how women age in an industry which demands the vast majority of their work to be their presentation, is at an all-time high yet at the same time seems to open up a world of opportunity for those who find a way to keep the stress down and attitude hot consistently and sustainably.
Take Jennifer Lopez for example – the actress who through years of consistently building her stress-free lifestyle has seemingly defied the laws of gravity and at 49 carries an aesthetic easily admired by any younger phenomenon actress whose career is just kicking off. Actress, director and producer Jada Pinkett Smith and her mother sure make it hard to differentiate who comes first in the tri-generational host panel of their Facebook TV phenomenon Red Table Talk. Then of course there is our local gem in Leleti Khumalo – a veteran actress whose choice to courageously embrace her vitiligo has scored her a lead role in soapie Imbewu: The Seed and, akin to her USA counterparts, a stream of press and national magazine attention of-late.
Whatever the rise in resurrected career glory is for actresses post an unexpected age is due to, as women who are still considered youth by calendar age, it sure is a welcomed shift. Not only is it inspiring to have visual representations of what it means to rediscover the value of one’s youth at every decade in these industry women, it’s necessary. If the beauty of women is to continue to be policed for as long as women are not the key decision makers and opportunity creators, then we might as well be the ones redefining the laws of what that beauty is and in the process turning our perception of “youth” as we know it, on its head.