“Dress your age.” “She’s someone’s mother.” “Why is she trying to compete with people half her age?”
More and more female celebrities are getting cosmetic surgery done to look younger or create the covetable body shape they’ve always wanted. They’re revered, hailed and lusted after – so why does that suddenly change when it comes to TV and film?
According to a study carried out in March, 14.8 per cent of women are married to or in committed marriages with men between two and 20 years younger than them. It’s becoming more commonplace in real life, but it’s still a rarity to see an older woman shown to be in her sexual prime on the silver screen.
What we’re shown suggests to us that it’s an oddity for a sexy older woman to exist, and ludicrous to imagine one with a younger man… but it’s OK for older men to be attractive and to have partners half their age.
In recent years, there’s been outrage around the choice of past Bond girls due to the significant age gap with the Bond actors – efforts have now been made to change this in the Daniel Craig era – but it’s not just Bond.
What about the not-so-funny jokes made about 47-year-old Leonardo DiCaprio ditching his girlfriends when they hit 25? Or classic movies like a favourite of mine, Pretty Woman – Julia Roberts was a mere 22 at the time the film was made, while Richard Gere was 42 – 20 years her senior.
The issue I have is that including a sexy woman over a particular age in a film still appears to be daring, despite the fact that a woman’s sexiness doesn’t suddenly end when she becomes a mother or hits 40. We deserve more than to be portrayed as dried-up, sexless grannies who need a hand across the road – or as large-bosomed comfort givers. After all, a study in November last year found that women tend to reach their sexual peak between ages 27 and 45, and yet in TV and film, women are more frequently shown to be sexual beings no older than 35.
Which brings me to Good Luck to You, Leo Grande, which has just been released in the UK: a story about widowed RE teacher Nancy (Thompson). A pillar of the community, Nancy has dedicated her life to helping those around her, but without her husband she’s reflected on her life and decided there are some things she’s never experienced (and would like to). Enter, gigolo Leo.
I won’t give away any spoilers, but I will say that to me, this story is about a life unlived. But here’s the real challenge, as I see it: we should be very careful not to repeat the major flaw that film producers have been making for decades. Because while age is intrinsic to the movie (Nancy chooses Leo because he’s younger), the film isn’t just about an older woman with a younger man. It’s about so much more than that: regret and taking life by the hands and making it yours.
However, when reading reviews, they are all focused on Thompson’s age and the fact that she “bares all” on screen with someone almost half her age. One review even read: “The 62-year-old actress has firmly refused to deny the ageing process, and gives us her all. And of course, Thompson is actually super-sexy.”
Thompson’s beauty is undeniable, but the use of the word “actually” suggests that it is somehow surprising. Why? Because she’s a 62-year-old who’s chosen not to artificially age backwards?
A woman seeking pleasure at an older age or after she’s had children is something that we should be celebrating, not just normalising.
More conversations about a woman’s pleasure in the bedroom (or wherever suits her) are finally being had. A recent Netflix limited series, The Principle of Pleasure, talks in abundance about the importance of sex, pleasure and reducing the orgasm gap.
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Women know, and have learned to accept, that we lose out sexually. It may be because we don’t know our bodies well enough or because we don’t have the courage to ask for what we want. Either way, women with male sexual partners are rarely the winners.
But Good Luck to You, Leo Grande attempts to change this narrative – Nancy is finally asking for what she wants. The film has been described as “ground-breaking” because of the age gap, but what is really breaking ground is a mature female protagonist depicted as sexy – and just as importantly, asking for what she deserves as part of a healthy, balanced life.
Rather than fetishising the allure of an older woman, there needs to be more balance in TV and film to represent what’s happening in real life. Let’s normalise, educate and celebrate the health and appeal of women at all ages, rather than objectifying and stereotyping them.
After all, if there’s one thing we know for certain, we are more than what men want us to be.