Judy Murray and the art of growing old as you please. Opinion, Alison Rowat



TURKEY neck. As terms of endearment go, it is hardly Burnsian in its grace and eloquence. Yet that is what Judy Murray’s sons (they are something in tennis, I believe) started calling her a few years ago in “a loving and jokey way”.

Eventually she decided to do something about it. One £4,500 non-surgical facelift later, and Ms Murray is delighted with the results and telling everyone about the treatment, and the place in Glasgow that provides it.

In doing so she has become the talk of the media steamie. Quite put the micro-needled cat among the wrinkle-relaxed pigeons she has, with opinion divided over whether her decision to have such a treatment is to be applauded or sneered at. One of the kinder responses was, “She would have been better rubbing some Nivea in and sending me the money.”

Others, surely unfamiliar with Scottish humour, have criticised her sons for being unkind.

Anyone would think we were a country in desperate need of a distraction. But there is a point here. A woman, and an older one at that – Ms Murray is 61– has put her head, turkey neck and all, above the parapet and is attracting attention. She is woman, hear some roar their disapproval.

I was portrayed as an overbearing mother 

Society has a thing about older women, and not in a Mrs Robinson way. Mostly, it treats them – correction, us – as if we are invisible. You can sit in meetings, at parties, walk along the street, and it is like you are not there.

This can be amusing at first, and far preferable to the kind of attention you once might have attracted. But the joke wears off when you realise such treatment has real consequences. At work you might not get the promotion and wage rise you deserve, thus making you worse off when you retire. Your general competence can be called into question, in work and out of it. Being patronised is an everyday occurrence.

Some people will be just plain nasty, as Mary Beard, the historian, finds every time she appears on television. The abuse she, and for that matter Judy Murray, receive on social media is appalling. As Beard wrote a few weeks ago in the Radio Times: “Throughout many periods of history in the West there has been a real worry about what you do with women who are past their childbearing years. As I can confirm, women with long grey hair can make people anxious”.

You do not even need the long grey hair to have people resenting you for littering up the place with your wrinkles and sagging flesh (before there were turkey necks there were bingo wings). There are plenty of other women ignored by society, denigrated, even loathed, because of the date on their birth certificates.

Take the response to the recent announcement that Sex and the City (SATC), a comedy drama series about four women making their way in New York, was making a comeback. Some were horrified.

It was fine for glamorous thirty-somethings to fall in and out of love and other people’s beds (always keeping their bras on, of course), but the stars were now in their mid-50s for heaven’s sake.

Jaws, a lot of them male, clattered to the floor when Guardian journalist Hadley Freeman mentioned SATC in the same tweet as The Sopranos. She found it fascinating that SATC, “a show about a bunch of white women” making jokes and having sex, was “considered embarrassingly retro and borderline offensive, but The Sopranos, a show about a bunch of white men killing each other, is considered an untouchable classic”. Cue cats, pigeons, feathers, and lots of them.

Before and after, the transformation

The Sopranos is infinitely better than SATC for lots of reasons, but the response was revealing. Women can be as undervalued, invisible, in the arts as in every other walk of life. Have you ever seen a programme about great artists that featured a woman as painter rather than subject? Why do so many novels by women writers have candy-coloured covers? Why are they described as “chick lit”? Why is there even the phrase “chick lit” if not to make women writers and readers feel they are not worthy of being taken seriously?

Nor is any of this the stuff of yesteryear. Only this week, a woman composer, aged 50, revealed how she had finally managed to get her work on the airwaves. Annabel Bennett said: “When I sent out my music under my own name as a woman it got nowhere. But as soon as I sent it out as a man I got noticed.”

Welcome to 2021: not as bad as the gruesomely misogynist 1970s, but some way to go yet.

Many women in the public eye, whether it be politicians or television presenters, grow wearily used to comments about their appearance and intelligence. And yes, women can sometimes be the worst. I once got a letter (this was long ago) taking me to task about a column I had written about Annabel Goldie and the Scottish Conservatives (told you it was long ago). The gist was how dare I criticise Ms Goldie and her politics when I had such thin lips. It could have been worse.

Looking good matters in many ways. The beauty industry is a multi-billion dollar business employing hundreds of thousands of people worldwide (most of them women). All of us strive to make the best of ourselves, even if that simply means washing our face in the morning. It is good for mental health as well as physical health to take care of your diet and appearance.

If Judy Murray, or any other person, chooses to go further and spend money on treatments then good luck to them. As for directing the money elsewhere, she already does a lot for charity, bringing tennis into deprived and rural areas through her foundation.

If it was major cosmetic surgery she was advocating, such as a facelift, that would be another thing, but it is not. As long as the treatment is safe, regulated, and makes her feel better, why not?

For all these reasons and more, I am glad Judy Murray and women like her are out there and feeling confident about themselves. Ageism is as ugly as sexism; combine the two and it is a bad business for those of us directly affected, and all those women who come after us.

In time, and we all come to the point eventually, no amount of money can halt the ageing process. There is only one guaranteed way of doing that, but I hear it is a real bummer.


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