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The Death of Jane Birkin: What It Tells Us About Ageism

by Charlotte Gollogly

Jane Birkin, an actress and singer most famous for dazzling us with iconic Parisian looks, tragically passed recently at the age of 76. 



While she stared in movies such as The Swimming Pool, Evil Under the Sun, and Death on the Nile, as well as enjoying a successful career as a singer, you may know the name Birkin from somewhere else. 


She was notably known in the fashion industry for her effortless French style which led to the creation of the Hermés Birkin bag that solidified her position as a fashion icon.

 

But how come no one can pinpoint what the ‘1960’s It Girl’ looked like in her old age?

 

Birkin’s death seems to be taking the media by storm, with magazines like Vogue and Elle praising her accomplished career. 


Despite all the well-deserved love, something seemed to be missing… pictures of an older Birkin. 


While scrolling down my social media feed I noticed a recurring theme of people posting tributes to Birkin exclusively using pictures of the actress from the 1960s and 70s. 


At that time, she would have only been in her twenties, ‘coincidentally’ her most sexualised age. Intrigued, I looked online and to no surprise, there was scarcely any pictures of her past her thirties. Which was more than 40 years ago!

 

While the twenty-first century has made exceptional strides towards inclusivity, ageing women still remain stigmatised. 


Aging is often implied to be a daunting process. Heavily rooted in misogyny, it pushes the agenda that women are less desirable once they reach old age and feeds into societies sexualisation of young women. 


Why do we panic about turning 30 when that is less than halfway through our expected lifespan? 


With the increasing presence of social media and advancements in technologies, we are flooded with images of unrealistic beauty standards. This creates anxiety about our beauty inevitably fading, pressures us cling to our youth as tight as possible. This is highlighted by the commonality of plastic surgery today.

 

Even after Birkin’s death, her image is still reduced to her physical appearance, contradicting what she stood for. 


She has been vocal about ageing naturally, wisely reminding us that happiness is the true secret to long-lasting beauty for years. 


Birkin told Vogue, “You take off about ten years if you smile.”


Her inspiring approach to ageing creates a refreshing and reassuring perspective for women struggling with these common anxieties, reminding us that wrinkles are often ‘smile and laugh lines’, which shouldn’t be something to be insecure about. 


When searching up ‘smile lines’, I found a ridiculous number of articles informing us ‘how to get rid of laugh lines’ which completely contradicts the name, reinforcing insecurities over our body’s physical signs of happiness.

 

In a 2022 film by Birkin’s daughter, Charlotte Gainsbourg, titled ‘Jane by Charlotte’, Birkin tells her daughter how she used to hate her wrinkles, revealing, “At one point, you no longer recognise yourself.”


She echoes the fears that many older women also experience. But, eventually, Birkin reached “that point of not caring”, reminding us that ageing is a natural process as it symbolises our unique bodily journeys.

 

Birkin was not only an inspiring figure for fashion but also an icon for older women, so the next time you’re worrying about wrinkles just think: What would Jane Birkin do?


Edited by Emily Duff

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