Jane Birkin on Ageing

Jane Birkin, a style icon of the 60s, turned figurehead of a more practical, androgynous style with the Birkin bag which resonated with mothers in the 90s, is now recognised for her wisdom and insights into ageing as a woman. Birkin has always sought to find her own definition of femininity through self-expression. Her philosophical take on the ageing woman is immensely moving.

Jane Birkin grew up in a French boarding school where she was often teased for her ‘boyish’ figure and compared to her ultra-feminine Broadway star of a mother, Judy Campbell. In her diaries which she published later in life, she marks her surprise at being perceived as graceful when she started her acting career and then when she married Serge Gainsbourg. Birkin never believed herself particularly the motherly type, even when she had children of her own, Kate Barry, Charlotte Gainsbourg and Lou Doillon. Though as a little girl, she always saw herself as a mother, and though it may not seem so ‘emancipated’, Jane wonders if she would have been happier if she had focused on that sort of life.

Perhaps it is due to her constantly feeling like she did not fit the ideal of a woman that drove her to create her own meaning. In 1984, after securing eternal stardom through her work with Serge Gainsbourg on Je t’aime moi non plus, she was seated on a plane next to fashion designer Jean-Louis Dumas. Jane Birkin was known for carrying a wicker basket bag everywhere she went, and when she moved to put her basket in the overhead compartment, its contents spilled out. Dumas resolved to design a practical bag which would suit Mrs Birkin. The two spent the rest of the flight conferring ideas and the distinguished Birkin Bag was born.

For a star renowned for her pretty, girlish features, Jane appears to care very little for her earlier years. In an interview, she says: “I think the important things in a woman’s life happen not when she is 20, and not when she is 30, but at age 40. That’s when you’re through with pretty and cute and suddenly people take you more seriously.” Jane Birkin struggled with identity as a young woman. She felt that she relied on her husbands to appear ‘brilliant’ rather than ‘dumb’. Despite this, Birkin cared little for convention. As a mother, she always felt lacking, like her children were judging her imperfections. However, her daughters’ intrigue of her life shown in Charlotte’s 2021 film ‘Jane’ about her mother’s life indicates the opposite.

As a woman, ageing seems an impossible feat. When, for so long, you have relied on others’ perception of femininity to define you, mirroring celebrities, following trends that always cater towards the younger generations, it is difficult to navigate your own identity. In the words of Jane Birkin, “We girls all had to have eyes like daisies and long hair with bangs. It wasn’t about personality at all”.  Makeup embraces your face like a sister, she has grown up with you, let her continue to.

Beauty is so often synonymous with youth that without it, we struggle to find beauty in ourselves. With time, it becomes less about the soft curve of a rosy cheek or eyes adorned with blossoms, and more about who you are at your core. To find enchantment in simply being is the highest form of self-love.

At Signature, we support residents in exercising their individuality.  Find out more about Signature’s person-centred care here.

Image adapted from photo by Avala