Is our country ready to embrace aging?
I recently came across an article in the New York Times, in which the writer described her reaction when she spotted an attractive woman walking along a street in Los Angeles:
She startled me the other day, walking down Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills: a middle-aged beauty with long, blown-out hair in a shade somewhere between butter and margarine, her body narrow and svelte but large-breasted. She perfectly hit a certain look: gently tanned face as smooth and puffy as the moon in a children's book, a delicate shine to the skin. Nose small, lips pumped up. The space between arched eyebrows a smooth plateau. Her age could have been 40, but then again it could have been 60.
While visiting Los Angeles a few weeks ago to talk with producers about television programming for women over 50 (applause!), I met someone like that: a smart and lovely 50ish exec who was so impossibly perfect -- hair, teeth, skin, body, sun-tanned glow (which I found out was from weekly visits to a tanning salon, one of the craziest things anyone of any age could do to themselves) -- I felt dowdy and old. But only for a minute. Because next to my 55-year-old laugh lines (okay... crow's feet), slightly turned front tooth (perceptible only to me, I'm told), and happily imperfect un-blow-dried curly hair, she looked... dated. The more she talked, the more confident I felt that my version of post-50 life would be the future of aging in America: embracing your age, laugh lines and all.
Perhaps because so many celebrities have turned the 50 corner -- Oprah, Madonna, Michelle Pfeiffer, George Clooney, Sheryl Crow, Bon Jovi, to name just a few -- that aging, and looking good (and real) while you're doing it, is cool. It's as though they put their own personal blessings on this next chapter of life, and it makes us feel a whole lot better knowing they're members of the same club we're in. If they are okay with it, we reason, then maybe we can be okay with it, too. After all, Americans follow the style trends set forth by famous people... why not their attitudes about aging? Can you imagine what would happen to the discourse if every celebrity stood up and said, "Embrace your age!"?
Unfortunately, there's still a dearth of well-known role models who age with grace and dignity... in public. Too many still choose the "must look young at any cost" route, which doesn't always end up being the best decision. Helen Mirren jumps to mind as a modern post-50 woman, especially since in "real life" her hair is a natural, beautiful gray, and was recently voted as having the "Body of the Year." Then, there's Meryl Streep, who gets more lovely and successful with each passing year. There are many well-known women over 50, a few who are true cultural icons who grew up right along side us, but I would never refer to them as positive beacons of light for aging without fear. Too many are soldiers in the anti-aging movement, marching through their 50's and 60's with hair impossibly blond or black, faces too smooth, bodies too taut and toned... an old-fashioned version of what a modern post-50 woman could be.
The writer of the article in the New York Times, though, seems optimistic about certain trends that are emerging. She referred to a few well-known women over 50 who have become spokespeople for major beauty and skin care companies, such as Ellen DeGeneres and Diane Keaton:
Once a middle-aged woman could sell cosmetics only if she was an ex-model, an official Aging Beauty like Isabella Rossellini or Andie MacDowell, and even they were airbrushed liberally. But Ellen and Diane are both average-looking people who look their ages.
This is nothing short of revolutionary. Yes, our society may be tiptoeing into this new way of engaging with post-50 women, but change is most definitely in the air. The cynical side of me thinks marketers see the immense opportunities that the post-50 demographic represents. We are, after all, a large and quickly growing group with lots of disposable income, especially compared to other age groups.
The idealist in me believes that we -- those over 50 -- have finally gotten our message across... and it's this:
Embrace your age, engage with life, take control of your future, and live. Care for your body, exercise your mind, be a part of the world, stay connected with people who are supportive, and you'll discover a secret that many women and men over 50 who are doing these things already know: If you feel good, you look good. And if you feel and look good, age will be the furthest thing from your mind.
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Turning 50 is more than an age . . . it's a movement!