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Opinion| No, it's not shocking that Buffy the Vampire Slayer star Sarah Michelle Gellar 'got old' what's shocking is people's reaction to it - menopause, female ageing and Susan Sarandon's chest cleavage, what so scary about women getting old?

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The female ageing process has started many debates, funded billions in cosmetic surgery and inspired Tudor Kings to divorce their loyal wives.

Since the dawn of recorded history, youth and especially female youth, has been celebrated and coveted.

In popular culture, youth has always been given virtuous attributes, that aren't necessarily deserving. A fair maiden may posses elegance and innocence, yet the wicked witch is bound to be jealous, bitter and most importantly - wrinkled.

Charlize Theron, 46 in Mad Max (56790907)
Charlize Theron, 46 in Mad Max (56790907)

In 2022, film and TV are only just starting to recognise that female ageing is acceptable on screen, not just as a dusty counterpart to a 20-something lead character, but a strong main role.

Charlize Theron, 46, starred alongside Tom Hardy and Nicolas Hoult in Mad Max:Fury Road as the jaded but sexy female lead. She drank, she had flaws, but she wasn't the typical 'woman over 40 character' we are used to seeing.

She was neither mumsy or witchy and she also wasn't a hard nosed, cold blooded editor in chief (another common depiction of the older female).

These examples are encouraging, and inspire a necessary conversation, a conversation that lies directly parallel to the growing virus of female chauvinism.

Ageing is something inevitable, yet we are always shocked when a pin-up actress suddenly appear ‘looking old’ or ‘had too much work done’. For so many female celebrities who are immortalised in their ripest form, either in a calendar, poster or on the screen - is it any wonder they turn to the needle- as an act of preservation.

Like the magazine images of their 20-year-old selves, actresses and models attempt to seem unmoved by time, stretched across their canvas with botox and fillers, a caricature to be ridiculed and scrutinised.

Sarah Michelle Gellar, girl crush of millions of men and women alike, played the iconic role of the Slayer in the 90’s series Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Sarah Michelle Gellar as the iconic pin up Buffy the Vampire Slayer (56790913)
Sarah Michelle Gellar as the iconic pin up Buffy the Vampire Slayer (56790913)

She had dolls fashioned to look like her, her face was plastered onto t-shirts and school bags, she was on the cover of magazines.

Gellar and many of the other members of the Buffy cast have a cult following right up until today.

A friend said to me one day, while we were scrolling Gellar's Instagram: “She’s getting on a bit now isn’t she? She just doesn’t look right, she’s had too much work done.”

Sarah Michelle Gellar,45, on Instagram last year, looking beautiful (56790916)
Sarah Michelle Gellar,45, on Instagram last year, looking beautiful (56790916)

I was aghast, as Gellar looked really fit, healthy and beautiful, as she always has done.

What bothered me more, was my partner's reaction. He said: "Ugh! She looks old!" in such a way that made me feel it was deadly and contagious.

Here was a regular 37-year-old man, passing judgment on one of the most world's most beautiful women because she had gotten older.

Gellar herself often posts throwback pictures on her instagram page, harkening back to the glory days of the slayer.

Yet what my friend failed to see, as did my partner, is that Gellar, and other 90’s sex symbols are now mostly over 40. Ageing isn’t a shock, it’s happening to us all right now, yet when females change we all seem surprised by it. What did we expect? That a process as natural as sleeping would bypass certain women because they were famous? That beauty is not a finite resource as evidenced by science?

Gellar has probably had subtle work done, yet is still extremely attractive for her age, but it feels the echo of her youth haunts her like a perfectly coiffed ghost.

The problem isn’t Gellar having work done, the problem is the perception of female ageing.

If a woman has cosmetic surgery she is told to age gracefully, yet if she does not, she is told she has ‘let herself go’.

Oscar winning actress Susan Sarandon,75, has been publicly blasted for wearing low cut tops over the age of 60 being told to ‘cover-up’ and labelled ‘gross’ by trolls.

Sexy in her seventies: Susan Sarandon, 75, isn't afraid to bear all - pictured at Cannes Source: express (56790910)
Sexy in her seventies: Susan Sarandon, 75, isn't afraid to bear all - pictured at Cannes Source: express (56790910)

Why is an older woman displaying sexuality so offensive?

Was Sarandon meant to slink off on her 50th birthday and emerge with a perm and a cable knit cardi, blotting out her sexuality as if it were a nasty stain?

My own father, who is 78 and lives between Cairo and Lynn says he doesn’t want a woman over 30.

His three wives were at least 20 years younger than him. I look at my dad, at his age, and wonder where he gets the nerve to demand the tautness of youth, even though that particular ‘virtue’ left him long ago.

Germaine Greer said she felt ‘invisible’ after the menopause and validation of attrativeness was lost to her after a certain age.

She describes in her book The Change, that women are often harassed by men for much of their lives yet when they begin to age they fade into the background, in a process that is cruel.

Women have oft been seen as a commodity, to be replaced when worn and old. The word ‘barren’ gives feelings of emptiness. A barren woman becomes an empty woman, a husk, no longer of value.

Tudor King Henry VIII tore apart a country to marry the younger, more fertile Anne Bolyen and ditch his dutiful wife and Queen Katherine of Aragon. Records show she was menopausal and no longer able to carry a pregnancy to term. A source of great disappointment for the monarch, who saw her worth directly linked to her womb.

When I see stars like Jamie Lee Curtis vowing to age gracefully, it gives me hope that this toxic way of viewing women - as if they were cattle at a farm fair- is starting to change.

Some women see the menopause as ‘freedom’ and welcome the lack of ogling as a chance to express themselves authentically.

A Downham woman said: “At first I was sad, I noticed the men on the street were no longer looking at me, they were looking at my young daughters who were 16 at the time. I felt my time was over, that my husband would want a younger woman.

“But now, I see this as a chance for freedom. When I have a conversation with a man, I doubt he’s trying to sleep with me - so I see that as a more authentic form of validation.

“I love the freedom from periods, tampons, mood swings. Yes I cut my hair - all it ever did was get in the way. Men getting older isn't seen the same way, a lot of women I know are terrified of it. I admire the ones that aren't - men think they are silver foxes and so does society. We become 'hags' and 'dried up'."

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