Updated on 10 Feb 2020: Keanu Reeves melted hearts all over the world when he brought his mother along as his date to the 2020 Academy Awards. However, as red carpet photos of Reeves and his mom, Patricia Taylor, began to circulate, the world’s press decided to pick up the thread of an old age-shaming narrative.
You guessed it: Taylor was initially misidentified by both Getty Images and Associated Press as Reeves’ girlfriend, artist Alexandra Grant (pictured above).
It’s worth noting that, yes, mistakes happen sometimes – especially when it comes to reporting from the biggest celebrity event of the year. However, tabloids decided to rub salt in the wound, gleefully pointing out that many people watching the ceremony from home mistook Taylor for Reeves’ long-term girlfriend, too.
“Keanu has actually been dating 47-year-old visual artist Alexandra Grant for years and she also sports a shock of white hair, much like his 76-year-old mother,” noted one.
To paraphrase comedian Whitney Cummings, the fact that some people are mistaking Keanu Reeves’ age appropriate girlfriend for his mother is wild. And the uproar has confirmed something we’ve long suspected: if you’re not 24 in Hollywood, you might as well be 70.
As reported in Nov 2019: In news that shouldn’t really be news (but we’ll take it, because anything that isn’t Brexit-related is fine by us at this point), Keanu Reeves has a girlfriend. His first in decades, if the Mail Online’s breathless reportage is to be believed.
That girlfriend, if you’re wondering, is artist Alexandra Grant. The couple walked the red carpet together at the LACMA Art + Film Gala and posed for “dozens of photos in front of the international press, proving they had nothing to hide” – which is, if I may say so, very interesting phrasing indeed. After all, why on earth would the couple have anything to hide? A relationship isn’t a crime, is it?
Well, apparently this one is, judging by the slew of hateful comments that have poured in online. Because Grant is “too old” for Reeves, apparently. Despite the fact that she is nine years younger than the actor.
“She looks like his mother,” said one, as another disgusting troll quipped that “men age like wine, women age like milk.”
Still one more added spitefully: “I hope he finds someone younger so he can have children.”
And yet another said: “Good to see he’s happy, but she looks older than his mom.”
Some compared Grant to Helen Mirren, adding that they originally had mistaken the pair for each other because, we can only guess, both are women with grey hair. (Mirren later had the perfect response to the comparisons, proving that she has no time for any ageist nonsense. You can read her response here.) Others still, excited by Reeves’ choice of partner, insisted that they found it “incredibly refreshing” that he’d chosen someone “his own age”.
The gushing praise prompted Alanna Bennett to tweet: “I love Keanu and agree that who he’s dating is refreshing and age appropriate but lol that Hollywood’s conditioned us to see a 55yo man and a 46yo woman as the same age.”
She later added: “People are taking this as me saying something bad about Keanu and this woman, to which I must scream: PLEASE LEARN BASIC READING COMPREHENSION. They are cute and fine and are not even the subject of this tweet, our collective sexist ageism is!”
She’s right. Of course she’s right. Hollywood’s toxic beauty standards have a lot to answer for, don’t they?
At Stylist, we prefer not to judge people on their appearance: we like to let their achievements speak for themselves. However, while I could list off all of Grant’s many brilliant qualities – she’s a celebrated artist, documentary-maker, author and recently founded a small artist book publishing company with Reeves, after all – I’m not going to do that.
Instead, I’m going to ask you a question: what do you think of grey hair on anyone under the age of 60?
It’s an enduring taboo in the world of beauty. Despite all the body neutrality and positivity movements, despite the fact that so many of us are embracing our cellulite on Instagram, despite the fact that we are all learning to embrace natural beauty in all its forms, too many people still believe that a woman choosing to go grey or silver can only mean one thing: that she has ‘given up’ on herself. (Remember the outrage when Kate Middleton was seen with a couple of grey hairs? The tabloids had an absolute field day.)
Our culture tells us that youth and beauty are mutually exclusive, and any sign of age on a woman is… well, is unacceptable, in some way. Think about it: there really aren’t any grey-haired women under the age of 50 in the public eye – so where are the women who are genetically wired to go grey early? I know they must be out there, but I imagine that they, like myself (confession time: I got my first grey hair at 17), feel that they have to dye their hair because… well, because that’s what women do.
And that much is made plain by the images that Hollywood repeatedly shoves down our throats: in 2015, a US study analysed the age difference between on-screen couples in films from the past 30 years, and found that some leading men are up to 15 years older than their female love interests or co-stars.
As I’ve pointed out before, the most depressing part of this statistic is that so little has changed in three decades. In the film Alexander, we saw Angelina Jolie play Colin Farrell’s mother, despite the fact she’s only one year older than him. Winona Ryder played a mother to Zachary Quinto, an actor just under six years her junior, in Star Trek. In Riding In Cars With Boys, Adam Garcia played Drew Barrymore’s on-screen son – even though he’s actually two years older than her. Sally Field played Tom Hanks’ love interest in Punchline and just six years later, was his “mom” in Forrest Gump.
The list goes on, and on, and on. Forever and ever. And the same is true of the small screen, too. In fact, research compiled from figures taken from the main UK broadcasters found that just 18% of presenters over 50 are women (look at this damning list of news anchors who were replaced by younger women, if you don’t believe us).
As The Guardian explains: “BBC television and radio, Sky, ITN and Channel 5 combined have just 26 women over 50 working as regular on-air presenters out of a total of 481 presenters. Overall, women over 50 make up just 5% of on-screen presenters of all ages and both sexes and 7% of the workforce, both on and off screen.”
Not only is this grossly unfair, but it’s also hugely damaging to our society as a whole.
As I explained previously, Channel 4’s Gogglesprogs recently saw the show’s children sit down to watch an episode of Schofield’s South African Adventure. Reacting to a clip in which Phillip Schofield and his wife, Stephanie, head out on a South African safari together, the children were immediately confused: after all, they already knew Schofield’s ‘wife’ from watching ITV’s This Morning.
“That lady is Holly Willoughby?” asked one little lad, confused.
“No,” replied his sister, with a roll of her eyes. “This is Phillip’s mother,”
“Yes, it’s Phillip’s mother,” echoed their cousin, also perched on the sofa alongside them.
It’s worth pointing out that Schofield is 55 – and that many children believe it’s more plausible for him to be married to 36-year-old Willoughby rather than, y’know, a woman closer to his own age. More worrying, though, is the fact that they assumed Schofield’s wife – whom he has been married to for over two decades, now – was his mother. But it’s absolutely not their fault: this confusion stems from the fact that so few women over the age of 50 are offered prominent television presenting roles.
Thankfully, things are changing, albeit slowly. This year saw the “grombé” (a play on ombré, referring to various stages of grey and greying hair) trend take off on social media. Indeed, a search for the grombé hashtag nets more than 74,000 results on Instagram, the majority of which are from those appreciating, or showing off, their silver strands.
Despite this, though, there’s no denying that we have a big problem. Impossible beauty standards are terrifying women into feeling they have to look a certain way, be a certain way – and buy all the anti-ageing products that will help them achieve this. We are putting out a toxic energy which suggests any woman over the age of 50 is invisible. We are making women believe that youth and worth are intrinsically linked, and that they should do everything within their power to stay as young as possible. And I’m calling bullshit on the whole bloody thing.
Yes, Grant has grey hair – so what? A woman’s age should have no bearing on her relationship. And Grant and Reeves – if a scattering of red carpet photos means anything in this world – look blissfully happy together. Surely that’s the only thing that matters?
For far too long, the representation of women by both mainstream and social media has failed to reflect who we see in the mirror, and its impact on our mental health is worrying. Stylist’s Love Women initiative promises to change that. As well as the launch of our Body Politics series, we’ve partnered with Dove, whose latest project (in conjunction with photo library Getty Images) aims to increase the supply of diverse pictures of women – which we will be using going forward.
Our editor-in-chief Lisa Smosarski has also made five pledges to Stylist readers:
1. We will ensure the women you see on our pages represent all women – inclusive of ethnicity, body shape, sexuality, age and disability. When we create content and ideas, we will ensure that all women are represented at the table. We commit to featuring one fashion or beauty photoshoot a month that uses real, diverse women.
2. We will ensure that we never sell an impossible dream. We believe in aspiration, but not in selling a lie. We will work with influencers, celebrities and other partners to encourage them to reveal their truths, too.
3. We will celebrate the so-called flaws of women to prove the normality in all of our bodies. We will run videos, photoshoots and honest accounts of our bodies and how they behave.
4. We will hold regular huddles with our advertisers and brand partners to challenge the way they portray and reflect women in their branding and advertising. We will call out and challenge brands, media and people who refuse to represent women with respect and truth. We will call on the government to support our goals.
5. Through insight and anecdote, we will teach everyone about the issues facing women, what needs to be done and how we can all work together to resolve this self-esteem crisis.
Find out more about Stylist’s Love Women initiative here.