Cork women who are saying no to ageism

As today marks International Women’s Day, SHAMIM MALEKMIAN talks to mature, outspoken and influential ladies about celebrating all women, regardless of age
Cork women who are saying no to ageism
Anne McSweeney posing for Upfront Models

THEY say age is just a number and Cork’s 47-year-old fashion model and beauty blogger, Anne McSweeney, wants all women to believe it.

“We tend to limit ourselves,” she says. “You know that feeling when you get up at 4 o’clock in the morning, and you talk yourself out of a very good idea? That is just our self-limitations.”

After turning her battle with Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (EDS) into an opportunity to inspire women to live their lives to the fullest, Anne is no stranger to fighting self-limitations.

EDS is a genetic connective tissue disorder which can cause chronic pain in the joints. Coping with the disease became so challenging that Anne was forced to quit her permanent job.

But she says fighting EDS has made her more determined than ever before.

“It made me very determined, even though at that point I had lost a full-time job and it was a job that I loved doing,” she says.

Out of such determination came the idea of writing a beauty and fashion blog dedicated to women over the age of 40.

“When you’re young, you have an amazing skin and everything, but as you become older things become more challenging and you need more information on how to stay healthy. But I noticed that there weren’t many blogs out there for older women,” she says.

Despite being relatively new — launched in 2017 — Anne’s blog has more than 6,000 followers on Facebook, at Anne’s Fashion & Fitness

She says she did not want to mention anything about her ailment on her blog; after all, she had created it to spread good vibes and positivity to women her own age and older.

“I didn’t want to blog about EDS, that is only a part of who I am,” she says.

Anne McSweeney - far right.
Anne McSweeney - far right.

The blog became so popular that she went on to present CorkLive TV’s fashion programme. Soon after, she met Orla Diffily, RTÉ’s Today Show fashion stylist and owner of Ireland’s well-established modelling agency, Upfront Models.

From then on, Anne contemplated the idea of pursuing a modelling career. However, she had to fight off her self-limiting thoughts yet again.

“I sent Orla a direct message on Instagram and said ’Am I a bit too old to model for you?’ She said ‘No, you’re probably what I am looking for,” Anne says smiling.

By January the Cork woman was the new face of Upfront Models.

Orla Diffily.
Orla Diffily.

For Orla, age is the least important factor when it comes to choosing models — her company is in the process of signing up a woman in her 70s.

“When I met Anne, I was taken away by her. Obviously, she is a very beautiful woman, but more importantly she is a size 12 to 14 which is more representative of real Irish women than somebody who is a size 8,” Orla says.

Anne saw her new career as an opportunity to inspire other women to say no to ageism. She receives many messages from women who thank her for the inspiration every day — including her own 86-year-old mother.

“I think society pre-conditions women to feel that they are old once they turn 40,” Anne says.

Activist Noreen Murphy.
Activist Noreen Murphy.

Noreen Murphy, a 53-year-old political activist from Cork, has a similar view.

“I think society labels women over 40 as ancient,” she says. “I had a shower this morning, and I had a look in the mirror and thought, god I’m so fat, we’ve been trained to do this, we’re not consciously doing this. we are conditioned by society.

“By profession I’m a Montessori teacher, and I’ve actually given up looking for work,” she adds.

Noreen says every time she goes to a job interview they inquire as to her children’s age and are shocked to find out that the mother of a 29-year-old man is after a fresh start.

This seasoned activist believes age discrimination is felt even within the city’s activist groups.

“Political activists seem to be younger now, and you’re almost dismissed by some people if you’re older,” Noreen says.

Anne says educating and empowering women is vital in tackling age discrimination.

“Education is very important, installing confidence and self-esteem in women, telling women that as we are getting older, we all have that Helen Mirren effect, that kind of swagger and beauty,” she says.

Noreen finds Anne’s initiative to show off grace and vitality of a mature woman to be very empowering.

“I met a woman a few years ago who decided to be an air hostess when she turned 50, she works for KLM now she just went and did it, you have to find your passion and then you have to put your blinkers on and follow it.”

Both Anne and Noreen think International Women’s Day — a celebration of all women regardless of their age — is an excellent opportunity to raise a glass to Cork’s mature, outspoken and influential ladies.

Noreen praises women such as Cork’s 41-year-old activist and radio journalist Bairbre Flood, who was arrested during water charge protests and has been a tenacious campaigner for the rights of refugees and asylum seekers in Ireland.

Anne thinks Women’s Day is also a good occasion for sending a message of positivity to Cork women who might be feeling a bit overwhelmed about turning 40 or older.

“You’re not old, even 80 isn’t old anymore, age is a number and life is very short so get up and run at it, every day you get out of bed and put one foot in front of another, live it to the fullest,” she says.

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