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Lucy Mangan: "Age is really just another number"

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"I don’t know if you’ve heard – Stylist has not yet crunched the numbers for me and determined what percentage of our audience read us from WiFi-free, lead-lined bunkers in Nebraska – but Kate Moss has just celebrated her 40th birthday! I know! 40! And her a woman and a model and still thin and not even crippled by palsied limbs and smelling of parma violets or anything!

Leonardo DiCaprio will turn 40 later this year, too. I know! As if he were a person who happens to have been born exactly four decades ago! It’s crazy how it happens, isn’t it?

The differences in our – and I’m going to say ‘our’ because, despite my almost limitless egotism, I must assume that I’m not alone – reactions to landmark birthdays depending on whether they are being celebrated (or endured) by men or women are persistently infuriating. It’s difficult to see that we’ve made any progress at all in centuries. The threat of spinsterhood may have moved on a decade or so since Jane Austen’s day, when her heroines only had until about 25 to get married, but it’s been replaced by fertility worries (gotta squeeze out them sprogs before your ovaries start rattling like walnuts and your unused womb starts rotting where it uselessly, mournfully sits! Come on!) and ever-earlier efforts to hold back the effects of the years. Half the Bennet girls would probably be Botoxed already if we met them today, and I don’t even want to think about the state Mrs B would be in.

The whole age thing is getting increasingly confusing (unless of course that’s just my ancient, 30-something brain starting to pack up). This is partly the result of cosmetic surgery. Am I staggered by the fact that Courteney Cox turns 50 this year because I remember her as a 30-year-old playing 26-year-old Monica Geller in Friends, or because she now looks 30, despite her lead role in a comedy called Cougar Town? Or is it because I can’t believe that this means I’m nearly 40 despite feeling 18 on the inside? Although when I was 18, I felt 35 on the inside, so maybe I’m actually getting younger. Especially if the Estée Lauder Eight Hour Cream I’ve just bought for the first time lives up to the promises my friends have made on behalf of it.

Actual age versus internal age versus external age – these are the contradictions we wrestle with individually. Collectively, things are even more baffling. Middle age used to be a clearly defined thing – it started at 40, when you turned into your mother and started wearing navy shoes and elasticated waists (to cope with that middle-age spread) but now we’re all fitter and living longer (or were until we decided we quite missed the threat of death-by-mammoth/ plague/world war and replaced it with that of death-by-obesity-and- Type-2-diabetes), ‘middle youth’ is a thing. When I’m supposed to have my midlife crisis now, I do not know. Though that was always really only a thing for men – the Porsche, the 23-year-old girlfriend, the ill-advised wardrobe revamp – and Shirley Valentine. (Christ, I’m old enough for Shirley Valentine to be my go-to reference. Pass the hemlock.

And please don’t anybody bother to tell me again that the future alluded to in Back To The Future II, which came out 10 minutes ago in 1989, arrives next year.) And then we have the excuses trotted out by people defending Liberal Democrat peer Lord Rennard, recently accused of numerous instances of sexual harassment in the course of his career, and the various members of UKIP caught spouting various racist, sexist and homophobic diatribes: it’s their age, they can’t help it, they’re from a different generation and don’t know how things are now. Lord Rennard is 53.

The head of the lunatic asylum – I’m sorry, I mean UKIP – Nigel Farage is 49. That’s closer to most of us in age than they are even to our parents, let alone to the dinosaurs, as their supporters would like us to believe. Though it’s interesting how men’s age is never an issue unless they need to play the ‘too old to know better card.’

So much food for thought. So little time. Even though I’m way younger than Courteney Cox – though admittedly not on the outside, where it counts.”

Imagecredit: Rex Features

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