Exclusive: June 2018 cover star Zadie Smith weighs in on the great age debate
I grew up in a culture suspiciously eager to convince me that an 80-year-old woman with a 20-year-old man was at the best comically grotesque, at the worst, some form of perversity, while Chaplin and his youthful loves, by contrast, were an example of the ‘agelessness’ of men. But the truth is — as I think those teenage boys suspected — age exists for us all. It comes to you whether you believe in it or not. And I am now very grateful to be in a body that reminds me every day of this simple human truth. Which is not to say age does not bring me sadness, that I don’t sometimes mourn for my 27-year-old self, nor miss a certain version of my face, breasts, legs or teeth. I feel all of that natural, human sadness. And I do all the usual things — exercise, eat decently, dress optimistically — in the hope of slowing the inevitable process. But there are limits to that hope: limits like the menopause, limits like the end of my fertility. And thank God for them, because hope without limit is another word for delusion.
I can’t imagine discussing Charlie Chaplin with boys as a teen, but I’m no Zadie Smith.