SPECIAL FROM Next Avenue
By Donna Sapolin
Two nights ago, I went to New York’s 92Y to hear Diane Keaton, one of the country’s most acclaimed and beloved actresses, read from her new book, "Let’s Just Say It Wasn’t Pretty."
The book, as disarming and personable as the actress herself, casts light on her insights into beauty, parenting, growing older and doing things your own way. The latter is something Keaton, 68, knows something about — after all, she’s an iconoclastic style icon whose roles and costumes, both on and off the screen, helped boomers embrace imperfection and fly in the face of societal conventions.
Clad in a wide-brimmed hat, leopard booties and a belted camel overcoat, Keaton regaled the audience with blunt, funny and poetic stories about her relationships with Hollywood’s leading men, her ‘cut-and-paste’ approach to fashion, the deeper meaning of senior train tickets and the magnificent beauty of chance encounters and friendship.
Through an often self-deprecating lens, Keaton delivered a wry commentary on how perspectives shift with time’s passage.
After attending her talk, I read her book and boiled down its core messages into the following 10 points and quotes. I hope they inspire you to read "Let’s Just Say It Wasn’t Pretty" in full; it captures the Keaton we’ve come to know and love in all her rambling, insecure and inspiring glory.
1. Your eyes are the best part of your body. “I’ve learned to see beauty where I never saw it before. But only because my expectations are more realistic. My favorite part of my body is my eyes. Not because of their color … but because of what they see. When I was in my twenties and thirties I wanted my appearance to be more interesting than the beauty that surrounded me. It was a fool’s folly.”
2. Don’t be afraid to defy expectations. Don’t try to appeal to everyone. “I respect women who aren’t afraid to push the envelope, women who are inappropriate, women who do what you aren’t supposed to.”
3. The nature of true beauty is deep and mysterious. “I knew this because on the cliffs of Laguna Beach I cried from the sheer wonder of what I saw. Beautiful makes you come back for more. It makes you ask questions. It’s vast, unknowable and magnificent. That’s part of its power. It makes you think about the experience it’s giving you. That’s when I knew what I wanted. I’ve been chasing it ever since.”
4. Your brand of imperfection can be your most powerful asset. “I’m talking about finding whatever works for you to get out the door every day, I’m talking about the flaws that eventually take on a life of their own. The ineptness that makes you who you are. I’m talking about women who make us see beauty where we never saw it; women who turn wrong into right.”
5. Bravery is a kind of beauty. “As a girl I didn’t think about Gary Cooper’s looks, or the difference between Grace Kelly’s age and his. I didn’t care. Would he ever see her again [in the movie High Noon]? Would he die? Did he have to be so brave? I remember their goodbye. I remember Tex Ritter singing “Do Not Forsake Me, Oh My Darlin’.” I remember crying. Looks weren’t the issue. Courage was. I didn’t know that courage was a form of beauty, but I must have felt it.”
6. The best and most authentic thing about a face is its ability to express feelings. “With one mouth, one set of lips, one chin and lots of skin that’s still a working vital organ, I’m not complaining. I know from experience how lucky I am. But the most thrilling aspect of my face is its ability to express feelings. All of my feelings and all my emotion come out on my face ... You see, my face identifies who I am inside. It shows feelings I can’t put into words. And that is a miracle, an extraordinarily ordinary miracle, one I’ll think twice about before I change."
7. Wear whatever feels right; invent what’s missing. “As for shopping? Think Big. Think Small. Think Different. Beauty Outside. Beast Inside. American by Birth. Rebel by Choice. Make the Most of Now. Because You’re Worth It. When the World Zigs, Zag. Decry Complacency. Think Outside the Bun. Have It Your Way. Just Do It. If You’ve Got It, Flaunt It. Does She Or Doesn’t She? The United Colors of Benetton. We’re not liberal America or conservative America — we’re part of the United States of America. You’re you. I’m me.”
8. Beauty is whatever you think it is. “So what is beauty? For me, it’s a collection of images, and objects, and thoughts, and feelings I’ve gathered over the course of my life. Dad would have numbered beauty. Mom wrote it down. Dexter [Keaton’s daughter] listens to it. Duke [Keaton’s son] wants to own it, all of it, in every shape and form. Sometimes beauty, like today, is a closed book I can’t open. Sometimes it’s hanging in my closet. Like my dad’s old sweaters. Sometimes it’s a message saved on my voicemail … But one thing for sure: all of it is personal…."
9. Learn to take compliments. “I haven’t, but you should. Compliments linger. Someone once compared my legs to Lucille Ball’s great gams. Like I cared. She was old. Now it’s my turn to be old. If someone said the same thing to me today, I’d be overjoyed.”
10. Focus on the gold that matters. “It’s ironic isn’t it? I was never a fan of gold. I’ve never owned a gold watch or enjoyed looking at gold-leaf details on buildings or even church altars. I passed on gold gowns with gold accessories for the red carpet. 'The golden years' is my least favorite metaphor for the period of life I’m living in. I have no interest in espousing the golden age of movies. I can’t stand CNN’s endless retirement commercials where two attractive elderly people smile at each other as they hold hands while walking into a soothing landscape, as if to say, It’s so peaceful accepting the autumn of life. Golden Oldies. The golden rule. A heart of gold. Worth its weight in gold. Gold shmold. The one saying that resonates through example, the one that has heart, the one that’s worth its weight in gold is simple and true: "Old is gold.”
In Keaton’s case it definitely is. As I faced off against a soaking downpour on my way to hear her speak, I heard a joyous shriek near the 92Y entrance — it was Keaton, splashing through puddles as she dashed for the doors.
I had just seen that same buoyant smile and sprint on The Tonight Show while watching Keaton chase Jimmy Fallon around the stage in a zany game of improvised beer pong. Both then and after the 92Y reading I thought to myself — she's unbeatable.