What does age mean to you? If you see a face with wrinkles, do you think old? If you see grey hair, do you think old?
I’m writing this post in response to some tweets I saw from Sunday night. People were tweeting that at the Grammy Awards Adele looked old, older than her 23 years and had “so many wrinkles”. This annoyed me for a few reasons. One reaction I had was “People are ignorant.” Another was “How dare you talk smack about my girl, Adele? I will CUT YOU.” Another was sadness, because it seems that our modern ideas of beauty means that having wrinkles means that you are old. Being old is BAD and even worse is looking old.
I understand that Twitter and the Internet are largely about the snark, about people wanting to be funny and clever and cruel, and I admit to participating in that to an extent. I find myself turning Twitter off during awards shows and the like more and more because it seems that people are being snarky just for the sake of being snarky. Perhaps I’m overly sensitive and indeed, hearing criticism about Adele bothers me because of what I see in her and in her music. I feel a kinship with this bubbly, lovable, genuine, stylish, immensely talented and humble young singer. But this time the superficial criticism of her lovely face went beyond that.
So let me bring this back to the realm of beauty. Grey hair. Sagging skin. Wrinkles. The visual signs of age and experience. But are they signs of those things alone? No. So for people to comment on Adele having wrinkles (of which, I cannot see in any photos from that night), and therefore she must be prematurely aging, or lying about her age, or just looking “old” is extremely superficial.
Who says that a 23 year old cannot have wrinkles? Who says that a 23 year old cannot have naturally grey hair? Broaden your sense of reality, please. It may not be common, but wrinkles and grey hair do not designate age. Think about the last time you went swimming or soaked in the bath or were out in the rain for a long time. Did your skin not pucker and crease and wrinkle? Did you suddenly become older for a short period of time?
Now I’m being snarky.
So let’s get technical. What causes the skin to wrinkle? The natural aging process causes skin to wrinkle, as the cells that make up the skin layers thin and lose their ability to hold moisture. Have you ever touched the skin of an elderly person? It feels papery, dry and very delicate. Touch the skin of an infant and you’ll feel plumpness and smoothness. It stands to reason that seeing wrinkles on someone’s face helps you to identify their general age.
However, there are other things that may cause the skin to thin and dry. Living in a dry climate, lots of sun exposure, too much moisture, smoking, drugs and medication, illness, dehydration - these are all factors that can contribute to the skin looking wrinkled and creased. Wearing lots of makeup on a regular basis can dry out your skin, drinking and smoking can dry out your skin, medication can dry out your skin, being out in the sun can dry out your skin. If you lose weight rapidly due to diet or illness, your skin may feel looser or saggy.
One trick I learned at makeup school was how to do aging makeup. We stood in front of the mirror and smiled, then frowned. Where your face contorts with these natural facial expressions can tell you how you might age. If your eyes crease up when you smile, you’ll get wrinkles around your eyes. If when you frown, you crease your brow, you’ll get the vertical lines between your eyebrows. If when you smile, you smile big, you’ll get laugh lines. This is how you know where to create wrinkles on people so that their aging makeup looks natural.
One of my favourite faces ever is that of Buster Keaton (1895-1966), a silent film star known as "The Great Stone Face". He conveyed a huge range of emotion although he maintained a stoic, deadpan expression through most of his performances. Look at his face in the photos below and see how it changed as he aged.
Back to the modern day (sorry Buster), and to the modern celebrity. 23 is young, no one (except maybe a pre-teen) will argue that. Adele is 23 years old, as is Rihanna. Lady Gaga is 25, Taylor Swift is 22, Katy Perry is 27 and Nicki Minaj is 29. Do these ladies actually look that different age-wise?
Let's look at the example of Amy Winehouse, another singer I adored and one whose death I mourn. The below photos are arranged roughly in order from oldest to most recent. Amy, as most of us know, was a drug addict and an alcoholic. Beyond that, she perhaps had an eating disorder, but she most definitely did not eat or sleep properly and did not take care of herself. Amy was 27 when she passed away last summer, so these photos range from roughly age 20 to age 27. You can see the difference in her face and skin texture, some of which can be explained from the natural aging process and makeup, some, obviously from her chosen lifestyle.
Or Google Lindsay Lohan, who is the same age as Adele.
There are a few factors that I can think as to why Adele may have appeared older than her years to some people.
Her look is one that's reminiscent of old Hollywood or the 1960s with her winged eyeliner. It's a look many people associate with a time period decades ago. The look requires heavy eyeliner, lots of eyeshadow, defined cheeks, lips and brows and a matte complexion. These things can make someone young look more mature.
Adele wears predominantly black. Her black dresses are very sophisticated and figure flattering but black can suck colour from your skin and make you look pale and unwell. Makeup is undoubtably used on her to counteract this effect.
The texture of the makeup Adele wears often looks matte. We associate youthfulness with clean, clear, glowing skin which is why many people like to look sit out in the sun or use tanning beds.
At the Grammy Awards, Adele would have been wearing a lot of makeup, suitable to be photographed in on the red carpet, to be on camera in, and to be visible onstage to a theatre full of people. She would need to look as flawless as possible for as many of those scenarios as possible. Ever see a photo of yourself where your face looks much paler than the rest of your skin? That's likely due to the flash on the camera reflecting off of particles in your makeup. A makeup artist needs to use products that will counter that effect on their celebrity clients. A television or film camera will affect the appearance of makeup on someone's face as well. Adele's makeup artist would have needed to balance what looks natural-enough, glam-enough and what is enough makeup to translate on camera. Trust me, Adele was wearing a lot of makeup Sunday night that you can't necessarily see.
See this FOTD I did a few years ago. It's not dissimilar to Adele's makeup and it ages me.
Adele is a smoker and has admitted to liking to have a drink or two. Both of these things can dehydrate the skin. She also has a hectic lifestyle involving lots of travel, late nights and early mornings. She also has to wear lots of makeup because the paparazzi are always around wanting to catch her not looking done up so they can post the pictures online and we can all snark and point out her flaws.
If you've seen any interviews with Adele, she's bubbly, funny and delightful. She's always smiling and laughing. Smiling and laughing make your eyes crinkle up. I don't know about you, but a life without smiling and laughing is worse than all the wrinkles in the world.
Perhaps as she was singing and talking and smiling on Sunday night, her makeup was creasing. It’s unlikely that any makeup artist or stylist would let that happen, but she was emotional that evening and crying. Perhaps nature was working against her finished look.
Adele recently underwent throat surgery to repair her vocal chords. There was a risk that she may not be able to sing ever again, but she quelled everyone's fears by performing flawlessly on Sunday night's Grammy Awards, her voice at full strength. Because she's been recovering from the surgery, she has lost some weight. Recovering from throat surgery must make it difficult to eat, so that makes sense. She's also undoubtably been on medication. Both a minimized diet and medication can contribute to drier skin.
Adele was recently on vacation in Miami. Perhaps she did not wear sunscreen and sunglasses and squinted a lot.
Adele is naturally fair-skinned. Fair skin is easily damaged by the sun and affected by wind, cold air and other elements. Perhaps her skin is naturally dry or on the thin side. Perhaps her genes will cause wrinkles to form on certain places on her face.
Adele debuted a much lighter blonde hair colour on Sunday night. Lighter hair can wash out the complexion. I don't think it looks bad on her at all, but if she wanted to soften her look, I'd recommend she go back to the warm red-caramelly tones she has had recently.
Is that enough? Shall I go on? Just watch (rewatch) Adele's Grammy performance here and see if you can see these wrinkles that make her look so much older than 23. See the difference between her makeup in the photos taken on the red carpet and her makeup on stage (more contouring on the cheeks and in the eye area and a change in lip colour).
The thing is, we can't change our genetics. We shouldn't change our lifestyle unless it's a dangerous, damaging one and we certainly should never stop laughing and smiling. We can wear no makeup, a little bit of makeup or a lot of makeup, however you prefer. We can however alter our points of view so that we're not looking through a narrow field of vision. Rihanna and Adele are the same age, but they do not look the same. Nor should they. Nor should we want our pop stars and celebrities to look the same.
I look at these photos of Adele and have seen the acceptance speeches she gave and her performance from Sunday night. I saw a stunning, healthy, talented, charming young woman who has the world at her feet and is yet humble and self-effacing. I felt like I was watching a dear friend, not a pop star and her success is, in my opinion well-earned.
She knows what works for her, style-wise and sound-wise, and she sticks with it. No one else is doing what she is. Without crazy hair colours, over the top music videos, back-up dancers and a camera lingering on every well-lit curve of her body, Adele has won the hearts of the world.
And I'll leave you with this, Adele on the cover of American Vogue for March 2012. Photoshopped? Most undoubtably, but not to the point where she looks artificial. She is 23 years old and her wrinkles, if she has them, are 23 years old. May she continue to laugh, smile, cry and sing her heart out as long as she wants to. Let the artificial popstars continue to scramble to keep our attention with crazy costumes and vocal manipulations. You had us enthralled with one song and one look at those soulful eyes.
Keep smiling, readers. Wrinkles mean experience, not age. Don't fight them. Feel lucky that we get a few different faces during our short time alive.