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Michele Willens

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Face It: The More We Know the Better We Look?

Posted: 03/12/10 04:21 PM ET

I had a great day yesterday: I mastered a fifteen minute routine in my jazz/hip hop class; I finally learned all the divisions of March Madness so I can enjoy the next few weeks with my son; and I managed to get a B on my Music midterm, which entailed quick listening to, and identifying, the masters we had studied. I promise I do not know Bach from Beethoven and homophony still sounds more erotic than melodic to me. But as a Boomer Babe, I feel equipped with a lifetime of experience that is keeping me alert, interesting, and dare I say...appealing?

I heard from an old acquaintance (and we are talking sixth grade here) recently who came across me on Facebook. She had retired after four decades working as a school administrator, was a grandmother, and asked if I too had retired. Steering clear of bravado, I told her in fact I had never been busier, co-authoring a book, chairing a non-profit; and opening a play in June. Oh yes, and the late-in-life college thing. Her quiet, stress free life, under the relentless Santa Monica sunshine, sounded pretty good to me. And she, god bless her, ran out and bought my book, a previous play, and called up all my posts.

It wasn't the first time such variations on a theme had occurred in my life. I recall vividly my first baby shower at which half the guests, like me, were just starting out (albeit close to 40) on the Mommy track, while the others were seeing their kids go off to college. The envy was palpable from both sides: We envied their still being vital and healthy as they could travel freely; they yearned to "feel younger," as those with new babies usually do. Now, many years later, some of that cross-cultural confusion continues. They are cool and still relatively vital grandmothers, (while our poor kids are going to get the old variety) but may not feel quite as involved with the world as they'd like.

The choices we were offered were many, and the results are all over the place. I do not compare or judge, though ultimately, I am glad I did everything late in life. (Marriage in 30s, kids in 40s, college in 60s.) Musician John Mayer (when he's not spouting racist and sexist comments) wrote one of my favorite lines that certainly applies to me and likely many others: "I'm scared of getting older. I'm only good at being young."

Do I look as young as I feel? Of course not. I walk around the campus and smile at the cute guys and expect for a moment they might see me as I looked four decades ago. But a few have become inquisitive in class, ("Michele, I googled you. Did you really coin the word tweens"?) and seem to enjoy my company and even my advice on what lies ahead. Speaking of what's ahead, let's face it: we Boomer Babes likely have a lot as well when looking at lives much longer than those enjoyed (or not) by our predecessors. "Many women of our generation are currently feeling unhappy and agitated and dreading the future," says Dr. Vivian Diller. "Obviously, there is a compelling desire for change, not only in what we see in the mirror but more importantly, how we feel about ourselves as we age."

I confess I don't do the close-ups so well anymore and I hate it. But I like to think I am filling the spaces with new life experiences that are keeping me happy, tuned in, and perhaps even a new kind of beautiful.

Michele Willens and her co-authors (models turned psychologists) of FACE IT: What Women Really Feel As Their Looks Change," will be speaking at Barnes and Noble at 150 E. 86th Street, in NYC on Thursday at 7 p.m.