Brian (not his real name) who is one of the kindest and most practical men alive arrived to organise my new passport. I admit, I have been putting it off and putting it off but when he asked me why, I told the truth. “I am afraid of the pictures” I said. “Oh Anna” he said with that mixture of patience and exasperation denoting affection. I am not proud of it, but it is the truth. Most of the time I am quite good friends with my face but images of it require process and process frightens me. The first lot were too dark so Brian came back and reshot lots more, one of which was acceptable to the Passport Office. One or two were even acceptable to me !
Let me be quite clear about this. I do not spend my life being afraid of old age.
It comes to us all. I never knew either one of my parents without wrinkles and they were attractive people. I do believe that what is inside shows by the time you get to the end days and if you have spent your life in disappointment and displeasure, that’s what shows on your face – never mind clothes, treatments, or any other of the so called aids pushed at us from every direction, men or women. (I promise not to go into one about hair colour but if you want to see panic in the streets, just withdraw the supply of peroxide.)
A couple of years ago, I walked into a woman round the back of Bond Street. I apologised while she said “Oh but you look wonderful – of course you’ve had work done !” “No” I said. “This is God.” I don’t think she’d say it now. I am older, things have happened but it is so difficult to have a candid discussion about this. You can only see what you see and think what you think, and you must know that there are only people who want to know what you think if it agrees with their notion of things or is flattering.
There are people who dread old age, whose lives were so spent as to give them meaning and without the work they loved, they are cut adrift. There are the good looking who don’t care, the good looking who do care and the good looking who are too busy to do more than get on with their lives which is probably a sub division of the first lot.
The camera image complicates all of this. I am sure there are wonderful pictures of anybody you have ever admired for their looks as an older person. Very few become ugly. There are some who were much better looking when they were younger and there are the magic few who, like wine, improve with age.
But the culture admires youth and so many people subscribe to what they see as the image of youth, believing that it must work for them, the snake oil of the present day. And it rarely does. You want to teach classes in colour because bad black is a killer to the youngest and freshest, let alone those who are just copying the same. And there is a lot of it about. Black eats light and nothing could be less becoming.
When I jib at having my photograph taken, it is after many years of bad pictures. Yes, there were some good ones but not many. Think of it – hours and hours of bad photographs – three hours with a photographer from a national newspaper who, when I asked why it was taking so long, replied “I am trying to make you look feminine !” How hard I learned that what I wore in life didn’t necessarily work in colour or shape on camera. I shall never forget myself in a voluminous taupe wool number, floating past a television monitor : I looked like a misplaced dish of coffee ice cream. Thank heaven there was time to change. In sum you either work with what you used to have or with what you have now and, even if frightens me, I do try to live in the present.