Is “aging gracefully” only a myth?

Joan Rivers, the amazing and ever-funny comedienne made an eclectic and provocative appearance on the new Tonight Show; the same Tonight Show she used to host when Johnny Carson was still alive. She showed a picture of herself with Johnny: she was stunning. Now her face surreally resembles The Joker on an episode of Batman. She has been botoxed, pulled, and sown into a caricature of her former self. Why? While at the hairdresser I read an article on movie stars who have been “plastic surgeoned” to the point of bizarre and yes: ugliness. Again, why? Meg Ryan was beautiful and sweet, now she looks like someone hit her in the face with a baseball bat. What is more incredible the article noted, was the fact that some of these stars have gone from big screen draws to anonymity because of their “improved” looks. They lost the look that launched them to fame and they lost the scripts that went with it. Albeit the fact that both male and female stars have been sown into quilts, the number of females seems to outweigh the number of males. Again, why?

The double standard lies in society’s expectations of health and viability. Meaning: the younger a woman looks, the healthier and more active she is perceived to be. Getting the dream job, the best script, the youngest boyfriend is all about being young. In one of my favorite movies The First Wives Club, Goldie Hawn as the sexy 40ish movie star Elise, goes to her plastic surgeon for another lip lift. The plastic surgeon played by pan faced Rob Reiner, tries to talk her out it by telling her that at her age she looks terrific. She balks at him and says that in Hollywood there where only three ages for women: “babe, district attorney, or driving Miss Daisy.” How true is that? I think that Goldie Hawn struck a relevant note. To solidify that argument: in the same article about movies stars and enhancements, Jamie Lee Curtis told reporters that when she made the decision to allow her hair to turn gray and age “gracefully,” her Hollywood friends told her that she had just signed her death warrant as an actress. However, she maintains that she has remained popular and played a recurring role on the hit series NCIS; looking great and gray at 50+. Of course she now plays parts of “her age!”

Why the fear of rejection because we opt to let our looks grow with our age? The world has set separate standards for men and women. When a man’s hair turns gray he is “distinguished” or “handsomely middle-aged:” have you checked out George Clooney lately? His hair is grayer than my mother’s and she is 97. But he still draws the younger crowd into swooning. Now let’s turn the table 180% toward the woman: gray? “She is letting herself go; she is beginning to look her age.” Well, shut the front door and call me stupid, but aren’t we supposed to look our age? And what is wrong in looking our age? Now watch a paunchy gray-haired middle-aged dude strut with a woman young enough to be his daughter: the reaction is envy and a pat on the back for being such a sport. Check out a woman with a younger man: the reaction is generally border-line incredulity “Tut, tut, tut, he is young enough to be her son!” I once heard a joke about Sophie Tucker, an amazing provocative vaudeville entertainer of the early 20th century. She was healthy looking and funny. It seems (or so the story goes) that Sophie had a friend called Ernie, and both Sophie and Ernie were in their 80’s. One day Ernie told Sophie that he “got himself a 20-year old: how about that?” Sophie replied to Ernie that she got herself a 20-year old as well, but she reminded him “that 20 goes into 80 a helluva lot more than 80 goes into 20!”

The point is that we all grow older and old. Why are women under so much more scrutiny than men? Why are women more insecure when it comes to age than men? When a man reaches a certain age he seems to come to terms with the fact that he is losing his hair, losing his bowels, and gaining a gut. But society does not expect anything else from him. A woman still goes to the hairdresser kidding herself and the world that at 60 she has no gray hair. “It’s my natural color!” A woman spends a fortune putting creams on her face in the event that the wrinkles disappear overnight, the chin lifts like Cher’s, and the skin remains radiant. But is it our fault? We are fed visions of perfect bodies and ageless people on the covers of magazines in every grocery check-out counter. Have you counted how many men grace the covers of these magazines? I have. Two magazines: NRA and NASCAR. Women rule in the world of beauty, air brushing, diet, health, youth, and everything else that is expected of us to line the coffers of a multi-billion dollar beauty and entertainment industry. Has anyone ever seen a magazine on middle-aged women or for women over 60? To remain ageless in a generation where reality shows are as unreal as honesty in Washington, and social media is the oracle to every truth, is not only difficult but as impossible as chewing on water.

Aging is not a disease but a unique process that enables us to morph from ourselves to ourselves. We have the unique opportunity to change with time and gather more wisdom and experience. Instead we are asked to remain in the mindset of an imbecile adolescent because: I don’t know, do you? Why do we allow it? My 97 year-old mother is an amazing woman. She married young and raised seven children before, during, and after World War II. Estee Lauder hardly made an appearance in our house, and I do not remember my mother ever going to have her nails “done.” Today she barely has wrinkles on her face, and her skin is soft and beautiful. Despite her arthritic hands, her nails have a natural shine and polish to them. She claims that she owes her skin softness to the fact that she never indulged in sun worshiping or smoking. Her hair is a silver gray with a few dark patches, but full and curly. She never used any colorants in her hair, and as she aged her beauty within seemed to ooze without. I only hope to look half as good as she does when I reach 97, but right now I need all the help I can get. So pass on the Guerlain wrinkle firmer because I just noticed a new wrinkle under my right eye!

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