The women came to the gathering looking rather skeptical, at best. These were serious minded professionals, after all, so why would they be interested in celebrating a book about beauty and aging?
Many were part of an already existing book group and agreed to come (upon the recommendation of one member) to determine if FACE IT: What Women Really Feel As Their Looks Change, could serve as a potential selection. But it was fair to assume that few in this Proust-quoting group considered that a likely possibility. Lo and behold, two and a half hours later, the scene resembled a consciousness raising meeting of our earlier Boomer years.
After some awkward chit chat, the hostess suggested the women all sit in a circle. Strike one. What next? Whispering a secret to the person next to you? Hang in there. The discussion officially began with asking the main author, former model and now psychotherapist Dr. Vivian Diller, how she ended up writing such a book. She told them about her journey from behind the camera to behind the couch, and how living in those two very different worlds had given her a unique vantage point. It was in her career transition, she explained, and the internal steps she took as she made the shift, that became the basis of the book.
Slowly, the women began opening up and what started on the surface as an intellectual discussion about career change, unfolded into talking about a topic that obviously evoked issues much more rooted in their identities than even they realized. Things got a tad heated when the subjects of feminism, (what happened to it?) and plastic surgery (is there too much of it?) emerged. The mood gently softened and it seemed everyone had some "uh oh moments," as they are called in the book, to share. You know: the first gray hairs; the first sign of wrinkled arms you associated with Mom; the first time the backhanded compliments struck.
Some of the women continued to insist the subject was inherently lightweight. Compared to health care and Iraq, who would argue? Still others admitted it was always on their minds, and probably on the minds of those women pushing health care through Congress and negotiating overseas! The overriding question became: can women take care of their looks -- particularly as they change with age -- without feeling vain, shame or guilt? Could these smart, accomplished women focus on their appearance and still be considered substantial?
One confessed she kept such thoughts to herself, secretly wondering if other women felt the same way. That feeling resonated and the concept of FACE IT groups (FIGs) did not seem so silly anymore. "Who wouldn't rather be a fig than a prune?" someone cracked. Would it be politically incorrect to rotate that book group with one that meets to discuss variations on the aging theme women face in their everyday lives? Or perhaps combine the two: one hardly can pick up a book these days without the subject coming up. The last two books I read were Mika Brzezinski's memoir All Things At Once and Jamaica Kincaid's Lucy. In the former, the author speaks honestly about the pain of aging in the public eye. In the latter, I was struck by this passage: "Mariah was forty years old. She kept saying it, 'I am forty years old,' alternating between surprise and foreboding. I did not understand why she felt that way about her age, old and unloved."
It may be a bit of a stretch to claim a new sense of sisterhood, but, as Dr. Diller said, "When I left, there was a feeling of "it's time to join together, rather than compete, hide or disappear." None of us is above wanting to look good while we do all this great stuff in our lives, In fact, we deserve to be more visible than ever. We just have to remember that there is no way to have done all that without the experience showing on our faces. Let's be proud of what people see as we age."
Michele Willens is the editor of FACE IT: What Women Really Feel As Their Looks Change." (Hay House)