A Woman Ages (v)

In the question of whether art imitates life, it is often presumed that art will be more refined, more beautiful, than life. We see this portrayed in films consistently, with movie versions of real people often exceeding the physical attractiveness of the original subjects. The cinema has always been a distilled microcosm of beauty and escapism, ever since its inception.

Still, there has been a push in recent years for realism to take to the screen. Ambivalent endings, the occasional size 12 figure and gritty dialogue have arrived. Stories are told about ordinary people, living ordinary lives. Storylines no longer require a rags-to-riches transformation to have merit, nor are they just about the great and the good. They can be told about office work, wartime or governesses – anything goes, from living situation to occupation.

With all this realism around, surely we ought to have been prepared for a 51- year-old woman to look like a 51-year-old woman. I speak of Nicole Kidman in Destroyer.

Instead, commentary on the film never fails to mention her dishwater-coloured or grey hair, skin like sunburnt beef jerky and her overall demeanour as a dilapidated shell. Even the relatively progressive Guardian described her as such: ‘hellishly mottled, perma-dirtied skin and ravine-deep eyebags, under a mangy, unconditioned bison pelt of a wig’.

Clearly, reviewers are not ready for Nicole Kidman to look like a mere mortal.

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Courtesy of People.

But let’s take a step back here. Because Kidman does not look like dried beef jerky; she does not have a ruined face. Rather, she looks like a woman who has aged normally, in a normal community, without the desire for or requirement of facial enhancers – whether those be permanent, like Botox or surgery, or daily, like makeup. Normal women have lines, eye bags and grey streaks. Normal men, too, come to think of it. Stress and trauma can add to these outward signifiers, but, at the end of the day, they are just a sign that we have lived.

With this in mind, is it any wonder that women are afraid of ageing when a balding reviewer at their favourite newspaper can dismiss  female ageing so succinctly? In this film, Kidman may not look like the red carpet glamazon we’re used to; she may not resemble Satine in Moulin Rouge, beautiful even in the throes of consumption. And I may be making these assessments based only on photos of the film, not having seen the film itself. But this is not about the film: it is about the way that we, as a people, perceive female ageing.

I write this as I am contemplating making a few changes to my own appearance, in the hopes that a new hair colour will help me get some metaphorical bounce back, or that a new foundation will make me look more glowy. It is also as I’m facing my own mortality, with a scary screening lined up for tomorrow morning. Paradoxically, I hope that I get to live to be old and yet, in this moment, I want to look youthful.

Becoming Gene Marshall: Filigree

These past couple of months have been so dance-heavy for me, which has been great. Loads of classes, social dances and a couple of balls (don’t be rude). Most recently, I attended the Lewes Grand Ball, which had a piper, a live band, and a grand march to kick off the event. It’s been years since I attended a ball with a grand march, and it was quite refreshing to just be directed for a few minutes.

Held at the Lewes Town Hall, we had a lovely venue – though it would have cost an extra £60 (!?!) to go through the main entrance. Hence, we all went in through the kitchens. Not as glamorous, but at least I can save the money and buy some fabric.

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This Gene Marshall feature is for the dress called Filigree, which she wore to the Monolithic Black and White Ball. It was a good starting point for my own creation, though there were things I changed to suit me.

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Image courtesy of Ashton Drake.

After the state of Destiny by the end of the evening, I knew I wanted to make a shorter dress this time around so it wouldn’t get dragged through the talc again. This was the perfect combination of swingy skirt and fitted bodice for an evening spent dancing.

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For the bodice, I used Butterick 4443 – just a basic strapless top, interfaced and boned. Afterwards, I stitched the guipure lace on top to add some interest that wasn’t the strange moustache bow that Gene sported. The white fabric is silk dupion, which I was glad to use in something layered: the fabric had a large snag right in the middle that would have made it unusable in most other circumstances. However, I was able to patch it up and then the black lace hid it.

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In the end, I was able to get all of the fabric from eBay – silk, lace and guipure lace trim. The silk had been in my stash since December, just awaiting the right garment. So chuffed with that. Why is it that shopping from others’ stashes is more satisfying than going to the fabric store?

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The skirt was a full circle skirt in white, then the black lace cut in the same pattern but three inches shorter. The lace on the outer edge was the same as at the bodice, but I clipped it to make it more flexible; that straight edge wasn’t going around a circular hem easily enough, and I also liked the idea of having a larger white border. In the interest of full disclosure, my petticoat is from Banned, the belt is vintage Next, and my dance shoes are Bloch.

Of course, thanks go to Alex for photographing, and to the Laird Hamilton for supporting this rather eccentric hobby of doll-based dressmaking.