08/01/2013 05:29 pm ET Updated Oct 01, 2013

FACE IT: Aging Is Relative But Don't Give up


A lot of attention has been paid (at least in the sports world) to the return of retired tennis great Martina Hingis. Of course, she is starting with doubles only and in tournaments that hardly matter except for those happy to watch any former champion. If one didn't know better, one might assume this is some old biddy making a foolish last stand.

Hingis is, in fact, a beautiful 32-year-old.

Meanwhile, over on the fields of dreams, Yankee Stadium practically levitated with the long-awaited return of injured shortstop Derek Jeter. It didn't take long, however, for the reports to say things like, "He looked more like Old Jeter than the old Jeter..." The man is a strappingly handsome and charismatic 39.

Obviously, the moral of the story is, if you are concerned with the "aging" issue, get thee out of the athletic arena. Great as your ability may be -- with the possible exception of golf, where a 40-something Phil Mickelson can still win the biggies, though his dwindling years are always mentioned -- male and female athletes may as well be measured in dog years.

So, where is aging less hazardous? Clearly, performers can ply their musical and dramatic trades throughout their lives. But those 70-something rockers are always regarded with skeptical, albeit respectful, amusement. And ask any Hollywood actress over 40 how things are going, and those botoxed lines may betray fear and concern. And they will thank their fading stars for cable.

Even writers -- who theoretically do their thing quietly in their own home or office -- must often overcome ageism. One friend who has written 82 children's books was asked to forego the usual photo on the back flap. "Why let young readers know they are reading someone in her 60s?"she was told by her publisher.

Just to get the jobs, creators often have to face that horrid combination of ignorance and arrogance. One need only recall the time when the great film director David Lean (Bridge on The River Kwai, Dr. Zhivago) was sent to an American network to discuss an idea. "So what have you done"? asked the young exec. "You first," responded Lean.

The TV news world seems to be a more forgiving place for shall we say, veterans. Graying hair was almost considered a pre-requisite for anchormen, but women like Diane Sawyer, Barbara Walters, Andrea Mitchell, Lesley Stahl, Candy Crowley, Katie Couric and many others are well past 50 and shining brightly still. (Yes, I know they dye theirs and then some.) The only bad news is theirs is a shrinking business, with everything pointing digital and online. And let's face it, that Skyped look doesn't do us ladies any favors.

Politics remains sort of the 'anti-athletics' in terms of how age is considered. A politician under 60 is still considered youthful. Hillary may yet provide the test of how far this country has come in accepting an "older" woman as a candidate for the top office. (Didn't seem an issue for Ronald Reagan at the same age) It takes gate-crashers like Hillary -- if she succeeds -- and yes, even Reagan -- to remind us that age need not be a barrier to strong leadership. (I have been in Europe this month where older women are running countries, and have for years)

There are other folks and factors to celebrate. We rejoiced when Meryl Streep became the first woman over 40 to grace covers of magazines like Vogue and Vanity Fair. (I remember pitching a story to a woman's magazine on Glenn Close and being told, "too old, think twenty years younger") Mike Nichols, at 81, is about to direct Betrayal in a much-anticipated Broadway revival. Cicely Tyson, at a splendid 88, just won the Tony for Best Actress. It can be said that the stage "disguises" age somewhat. Denzel Washington has just been signed to star in A Raisin In The Sun, in a role usually played by actors 20 years younger.

The Preakness this year made headlines not just for the winning horse, Oxbow, but for the man who rode him. Gary Stevens, 50, (and a grandpa!) came out of retirement to show how it's done. Golfer Gary Player has posed nude in the latest issue of ESPN's Body Issue. The headlines everywhere trumpet his age: 77. At 87, author James Salter has turned out one of his best works yet, the well-reviewed All That Is.

There is no denying that some arenas are resistant, but hopefully not impenetrable, to those beyond a certain age. It is the 14-25-year-olds who are inventing apps and the like and selling them to Google and Microsoft for millions. We of a certain age may think of a good idea, but then roll over until we can't remember what we just thought of. We may be determined to join all those youthful hardbodies at Soul Cycle, but odds are, we won't last as long. (My good friend loves her weekly visit there, but is taking time off to nurse her bruised coccyx.)

The saving grace is that our kids are not only going to love us till the end, they may not even be aware of all the pain associated with the idea of those hovering numbers. I remember when my son, at about 3 years old, asked, "Mommy, how old you are?" I told him I was 46. "How old Daddy?" I said 45. He thought for a minute and asked, "Why Daddy is smaller than you?" I laughed through my tears.