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Can we all stop pretending that ageing doesn’t have to happen?

An actress shoring up the tools of her trade via artificial means is seen as inauthentic, dishonest and somehow cheating

hugh grant nicole kidman the undoing
Hugh Grant and Nicole Kidman in The Undoing Credit: HBO via AP

In recent times a strange little dance occurs every time a famous woman of a certain age releases a photo of herself looking good. “Doesn’t so and so look amazing for 40/50/110?” gush the headlines, whether it’s about J Lo (51) or Michelle Pfeiffer (62), both of whom have been in the news this week.

“It’s all down to drinking lots of water and wearing SPF,” coos the woman-of-a-certain-age. “Are you kidding?” shriek the keyboard warriors. “Can’t you see she’s had her face pumped full of weapons-grade plastics?” Cue an exhaustive litany of the tweakments she must have had.

At which point a “reputable, A-list, celebrities’ favourite” cosmetic surgeon gets trundled out to give their expert view. At first I couldn’t work out how the people writing these homilies to so and so’s “incredible, unlined skin” could be so naive.

Then a colleague pointed out that far from naive, these headlines are designed to incite the very responses they receive. The female face is reinforced as a test site for everyone else’s hang-ups. An actress shoring up the tools of her trade via artificial means is seen as inauthentic and somehow cheating. But what choice has she really got? Nicole Kidman, who comes in for more of the gush-gloat routine than most, looks as though she’s not just from another generation to her screen husband Hugh Grant in the hit thriller The Undoing, but another planet – one with ultra -expensive lighting.

Instead of some old junk turning out to be worth a fortune, an ostensibly youthful looking woman is humiliated.

You could read this as vanity, or pragmatism. Why does Grant get to play a sexy-if-evil leading man with all his crags and sag exposed, while Kidman is expected to have the glassy, plumped up complexion of a two- year-old? Is she feeding those expectations or just doing what a woman has to do to keep working past 45 in Hollywood?

If she has had any work, she’s hardly on her own.

And yet still we do this hypocritical dance. Many civilians do a bit of Botox and more. Yet we get all censorious when someone is perceived to have crossed this indistinct line. Maybe that’s inevitable, or maybe more honesty on all sides would lay the stigma to rest.