I am a woman in my 40s with a face and right now, I feel like a target has been slapped right on it.
Last week, I watched with growing astonishment as Renee Zellweger's 45-year-old face and the obsessive global speculation about it blasted all other news stories out of the way.
Ebola and ISIS? Meh. All we want to know is WHAT HAPPENED TO RENEE'S FACE?
And this week, 46-year-old Julia Roberts confessed that she'd "taken a big risk" " in her career by not having a facelift in her 40s. Her 40s.
And here is my take away from more than a week's worth of obsessive media coverage about 40s faces like mine: Whatever you do, don't get old. Because old is ugly.
BUT if you get surgery and have Botox or fillers injected in your face, you will look visibly different and be mocked and ridiculed for it.
Looking your age is not OK because to look old or even 'your age' (whatever that means) is the worst thing that can happen to you. Having work isn't OK either because it's try-hard and who are you trying to kid, Old Lady?
Your face cannot win and neither can you.
It feels to me like the scrutiny of women growing older in the public eye has ramped up to impossible and brutal levels. And for those of us fortunate enough not to have our incomes indexed to our faces? We're all watching this scrutiny and wondering what it means for us.
Last month, 40-year-old, Penelope Cruz had the title of Sexiest Woman Alive 2014 bestowed upon her, which involved the privilege of being photographed for the cover of Esquire magazine with her boobs squeezed together. This was followed by the media breathlessly declaring that women in their 40s (Sofia Vergara! J-Lo!) are The Hot New Things.
I'm kind of embarrassed to admit that part of me was grateful. Part of me was relieved that as a woman in her 40s I was still in the game. Part of me was irritated with myself for caring. And part of me wanted to say 'get stuffed'.
Somehow, this shocking discovery that women could STILL be sexy in her 40s felt a little patronising. As if before a men's magazine said it, women had been surrendering their sexy status at the border of 40 in much the same way you have to hand over any miscellaneous fruit to customs officials when you enter Australia.
Us 40-something women may be the hottest new thing, but the burning heat through the microscope lens is starting to give us a sunburn.
And yet I still can't look away because for me, as a woman around Zellweger, Cruz and Roberts' age, I feel like I'm looking for clues in the faces of the women around me. I'm trying to work out what I should or shouldn't do. How I should or shouldn't look and what I might or mightn't do to turn back time? Should I even try?
The reason women seek out pictures of other women in media and on Instagram is that we're absorbing a constant stream of unspoken messages about how we're meant to look.
What does society say is acceptable and desirable? What does a normal woman look like?
We also listen to - and often partake - in conversations about other women and how they look for their age. "You don't look 43" is something I long to hear and I don't even know why because I am 43 and this is what 43 looks like FOR ME.
For you, for your sister, your girlfriend, your workmate, your boss, it might look entirely different.
Our faces are not a competition. Nor are they a prize. They're the result of a million facial expressions and choices and experiences. Now we just need more space and less scrutiny so we can enjoy the freedom and power that arriving in your 40s brings with it.
Russell Brand weighs on the media coverage of Renee's face:
So what does 40-something look like now? Add to our collection of faces by uploading your own selfie to Facebook or Instagram and hashtagging #MM40s. We'll add your pictures to our gallery of excellent women.
This post was originally published on mamamia.com.au