This spring, Maggie Gyllenhaal told The Wrap, “I’m 37 and I was told recently I was too old to play the lover of a man who was 55.”
In a clip from Amy Schumer’s sketch comedy show, which has been viewed more than 4 million times on YouTube, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, 54, gave sarcastic thanks to Hollywood for letting her stay sexually desirable into her 50s.
Rebel Wilson, 35, tweeted to her more than 2 million followers in response to a brouhaha over her allegedly shaving six years off her age: “OMG I’m actually a 100 year old mermaid.”
In what seems to be a flash point in popular culture, women in entertainment are taking on aging in humorous and subversive ways.
“I am so open about my age, when I can remember it,” said Marta Kauffman, 58, a creator of the new show “Grace and Frankie,” starring Jane Fonda, 77, and Lily Tomlin, 75.
The show remains an outlier in a business in which age-blurring starts young. A former MTV writer who asked to remain anonymous (because she may want to keep lying about her age) took a decade off her age when she worked at the network.
“I was in my 40s and told them I was in my 30s because I realized that the corporate culture was informed by the youngest intern, not the 42-year-old mom of a toddler,” she said.
The new hit TV Land series “Younger” follows 40-year-old Liza Miller, who passes for a 26-year-old in order to land a job as an assistant at a publishing firm. While on the surface it may seem that the show is feeding into the youth-obsessed culture, Miller is played by Sutton Foster, who is also 40. “I didn’t want to cast a woman who was 33 or 34 — that would be too much cheat for the audience to play 26,” Darren Star, the show’s executive producer and director, said in March.
For some, age-claiming is a feminist issue. Suzanne Braun Levine, 74, the first editor of Ms. Magazine, says numeric honesty is a matter of principle.
“Whenever I am with groups of women, I always try to make a point of urging them to be courageous about their age,” she said. “It’s basically a variation on the theme of what has kept the women’s movement moving forward: telling the truth about our lives.”
Braun Levine said her mother starting lying about her age at 50. “When she died at 94, as far as the world was concerned, she was in her 70s,” she said. And when Braun Levine’s mother received her Ph.D. from Adelphi University at 82, she was unwilling to take recognition for the being the oldest Ph.D. at the university.
“I just keep thinking what she could have done for women of her generation in terms of making them feel less invisible,” Braun Levine said.
Age shame, ironically, may dissipate with age. “The people who have the hardest time with aging are the 20- and 30-somethings,” said Ari Seth Cohen, 33, who is the founder of Advanced Style, a popular street-style blog dedicated to women over 60. “They freak out with the first wrinkle under their eyes.”
He credits his grandmother Bluma Levine, who lived to be 95, as the inspiration behind the site. “She made me see aging in a very positive light,” he said.
But even for the most intrepid age claimers, like Braun Levine, there is a lingering fear about coming clean. “I’m afraid that the age 74 turns off women in their 50s with whom I want to relate to as comrades,” she said. “I worry we have internalized this ageism so much.”
Ultimately, though, what’s the harm in taking part in the female rite of passage of being vague, withholding or just plain dishonest about one’s age?
Those who study and write about ageism say that it’s psychologically damaging. “When we lie about our age, we are distancing ourselves from our future selves,” said Ashton Applewhite, who just turned 63 and who runs the Tumblr “Yo, Is This Ageist?”
“And then we feed this notion that there is something terrible about aging,” she said. “But aging is living.”