Sitting on an eleven and a half hour Virgin flight to LA on Saturday, having finished reading my book, I was flicking through the pages of Grazia (thank goodness I had a stack of mags, as well as my book - the in-flight entertainment had died, despite several attempts by the crew to reboot), and was stopped in my tracks by a page of pictures of celebrities all scaried-up for Halloween. I liked the originality of Dermot O Leary and his wife who went to a party dressed as Karl Lagerfeld and his pampered kitty, Choupette; Nicole Richie doing the sideways lean as Danny de Vito in Twins reaffirmed her coolness for me; Kate Moss and Jamie Hince were pretty unoriginal as white-faced zombies..... but wait, who is the sweet old lady, and why is she on a page of stars dressed-up to be either scary, ridiculous or topical?
Peering more closely, it turned out to be Heidi Klum - dressed up as an old lady. According to the article, Heidi had even had blue veins painted onto her legs, and prosthetic loose skin hanging off her. In fact, the exact words beside the picture said "Heidi Klum gives good granny". Seriously?? WTF??? First of all, who the heck has this much time on their hands, to take the trouble to go and get prosthetic skin? How lucky must her assistant be to have such a varied job; I can just imagine the instructions from her boss, "today darling I need you to go get me some kit so that I can be totally ageist and offensive, given that the scariest thing I can imagine is to be old". Apparently, according to Heidi, there was so much media interest in her turning 40 this year, that she decided to really show people what old looked like.
To me, this speaks volumes about our attitude to age, and also to old(er) people. Sure, the transformation from a 40-year old supermodel to elderly woman was definitely a great disguise, however isn't the idea behind dressing up for Halloween also supposed to be primarily about being something scary, if the trick-or-treaters ringing our doorbell are anything to go by, or, it appears, to be something amusing or ironic. Nicole Richie did a send up of a short or vertically challenged actor, if you want to be politically correct - but she is already petite, so she was gently mocking herself too. On the same page, Jenny McCarthy went to a party dressed up as Miley Cyrus' tongue. Hmm, no comment. What if Heidi had dressed up as a pregnant woman, or had accessorised herself with a buggy and a couple of kids? Or what if she had decided to portray an ethnicity, and had done what a Student Union reveller did this year which caused upset and "blacked-up" (probably would not have gone down well with her hubby, Seal, though). It would have been deemed offensive or controversial, but somehow pretending to be a fairly normal looking but elderly woman was fine for an occasion that calls for depicting something silly or grotesque.
She opted for a total transformation which while well-executed is actually just as offensive, because it sends a message that growing old is scary, and possibly that growing old is unattractive. Somehow we have bought into the idea that ageing is something to be resisted, and this isn't new - for centuries people have searched for the elixir of youth, something to keep them, like Oscar Wilde's Dorian Grey, forever young, desirable, attractive. However, Heidi Klum dressing up as an old lady on Halloween specifically seems to send a message that getting old is scary and unattractive. The beauty industry makes millions yearly from the anti-ageing cosmetic products it touts, and we all buy into it, myself included. Who doesn't want to slow down the process? I wonder whether it is a way of us trying not just to accept change in ourselves physically, but also to do battle with time, to slow down the inevitable.
Why do we look at older people as less attractive - women, quite specifically - when the very wrinkles that mark out their age are what maps out the journey, lets us know that they are full of knowledge, experience, history? The recent documentary, Fabulous Fashionistas, celebrated women in their 70s and older who were still very much into fashion and style, and while it was wonderful to see them heroed, Honest Mummy and I were discussing recently the fact that there was a bitter aftertaste of surprise and condescension. Isn't it terribly amazing that they still care about what they wear at this age? Well, why shouldn't they? I don't anticipate no longer being interested in fashion just because of putting several decades of birthdays behind me. In fact, on Honest Mummy's Wonderful Women series last week (along with Mother.Wife.Me, we all run weekly interviews with great working women), film-maker Rebecca Brand talked about the verve and vivacity of her 76 year old grandmother. This is how we should think about older people. My own grandmothers were forces of nature, and still very chic right to the end. And even if they are not, they deserve our respect for the lives lived, for the paths they have created for us, for the lives that they have given to us. Not to be made into a Halloween joke.