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So the Duchess of Cambridge has some grey hair – who cares?

I always wonder, when people say a woman has lost her looks, what she did with them. Where did she last see her looks? If she were to rummage down the back of the sofa, would she find them, a bit crumpled but otherwise nice and youthful? It would be like finding your lost keys, only better: you’ll be able to leave the house again, and with your looks intact, people won’t point and laugh, or run away covering their eyes.

The Duchess of Cambridge is in danger of losing her looks, if you believe the front page of the Daily Mail this week. I know: big news. “Oh Kate, are you really showing grey roots at 33?” it asks in the weary tone of the terminally disappointed. Well, yes, as the picture of the back of her head showing an inch of greying hair clearly demonstrates. If only all questions were as easy to answer. Sadly, we have come to expect this treatment of older women, but it is Kate’s age, highlighted by the paper, that makes her transgression so despicable. How could a woman in her early 30s show such careless signs of ageing?

The beauty industry has widened its net of consumers so that before they’ve had a chance to stop using spot cream, young women are encouraged to start buying youth-preserving products. Some are having Botox in their teens. Fear of ageing leaves young women vulnerable to unscrupulous practices. When I was in my mid-twenties, I did a piece for a women’s magazine which involved going around plastic surgeons to see who would give me Botox, liposuction and a boob job. All but one agreed to do it.

Making women frightened and ashamed of growing old is nothing new, but by age-shaming younger and younger women, you have to wonder what “perfect” age we’re all trying to get back to. The creams the huge beauty corporations want you to buy are trying to sell you the skin of your twenties. But try to really remember that. I had a few wrinkles then, and the last of my teenage spots; I had the pallor of too many late nights. And if your twenties are now to be spent hating your hideously ageing face anyway, do you have to go back even further?

At what age would I have been deemed acceptable by the Daily Mail’s high beauty standards? In my twenties, I started noticing crow’s feet and grey hairs. As a teenager, I had cellulite. I’m pretty sure I was born with visible veins, what with having pale skin and – shock! – tubes carrying blood around my body and stuff. Like most humans, I have never had perfect, smooth, Photoshopped skin. Perhaps 10-year-old me might have been considered peachy enough. Is this where we are headed – that any female over the age of 10 is going to be considered past it?

“We’re living longer, healthier lives than any previous generation but, curiously, worrying about ageing younger,” writes Anne Karpf, writer, sociologist and author of How to Age. “This means that we are going to be worried for an awfully long time.” And worrying, as anyone will tell you, is incredibly ageing.

I have realised a few things over the past few years that have made me care less about looking older. One, just ignore all beauty advertising – I tell myself that, like adverts for cars or those collectible plates that you find in the back of Sunday colour supplements, these just don’t apply to me. I’m not your target market; I do not believe your claims (blusher works better than any miracle cream). Two, don’t buy or click on bitchy articles that shame other women, it only encourages them – and it rarely makes you feel better about yourself.

Lastly, realise that while trying to look attractive to men is an appalling reason to care about your appearance, many women will have been conditioned to think that way on some level. But – and this is the thing most advertisers won’t want you to remember – most men, kind men, don’t care about cellulite, or wrinkles or streaks of grey. I doubt most even notice. I didn’t think like this a few years ago, back when I hated my newly landed crow’s feet and thought I’d be doomed after the age of 30. You get wise with age, a few grey hairs and all.

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